Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No Joy

I had gone to bed on Sunday night and was asleep when the phone rang. The caller told us that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. I thought, “OK, fine”, and went right back to sleep.

In the grand scheme of things, Bin Laden’s death means little.

I can’t imagine the pain and hurt that the families of 9/11 victims are experiencing. And if Bin Laden’s death provides them with a modicum of relief, that’s good. But the demise of Bin Laden does not guarantee the demise of Al Qaeda. Even if it did, the demise of Al Qaeda would not guarantee the demise of other terrorist groups, whether they be based in radical Islam or American right-wing lunacy.

Nor does my ambivalence toward Bin Laden’s death take away anything from the brave feats of the military force that took him out. These men (and women?) are the ultimate heroes - their willingness to risk their lives for a just cause knowing that even in success their names must necessarily remain anonymous is unparalleled.

The euphoria sweeping the nation is contagious, but I did not catch it. Even Rachel Maddow, arguably the best broadcast journalist this country has to offer, was giddy with excitement as she reported on the events of Sunday and Monday.

Part of the reason for the nationwide jubilation is the fact that there has not been much for this nation to be happy about since the turn of the century. The Bush recession and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were both unnecessary, and the 9/11 attacks themselves framed the first decade of the millennium. The elation after the election of Barack Obama was short-lived when we saw broken promises and the capitulation to corporate interests in issues such as health care and net neutrality. The world’s inability to confront global climate change and long-term energy policy was punctuated by Hurricane Katrina and the Fukushima disaster. So the assassination of Bin Laden filled a void for a nation longing for some good news.

Good news is legitimately good news when it has relevance to the arc of history. In my lifetime, I can think of a couple of examples. The eradication of polio has eliminated a scourge that today’s generations never will fully comprehend and has saved millions from lives of suffering and premature death. The manned landings on the moon were important, not for the victory in a contest with the Soviet Union, but for the impetus they provided for advances in science, technology, medicine, and a myriad of other disciplines. The killing of a terrorist leader, while important, does not stack up to these events.

Pundits have noted that recent events have unified the nation. Who would have thought that Republicans would praise President Obama about anything? But with the 2012 contest around the corner, this unity will be short-lived.

We do, however, have the opportunity to use Bin Laden’s death to make meaningful progress. Keeping in mind that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed more Americans than Bin Laden did, we can declare victory and bring our troops home in a more expeditious manner. Not only will this save countless lives, but will also save trillions of dollars in defense spending and military benefits. We can take the money we would have spent on destruction and use it for construction - construction of jobs at home, building our long-neglected infrastructure for the next century, providing education to our kids to compete with Europe and Asia, fulfilling the broken promises of the last half dozen presidents on energy independence, and ensuring that access to good health care is not restricted to the wealthy. If we do these things, America will be stronger - stronger from an economic standpoint and stronger from a security standpoint. The Navy SEALS who took out Bin Laden did so on resolve and bravery. If we as a nation use the death of Bin Laden to invoke the same resolve and bravery to tackle the real problems facing us, then I will rejoice in the events of last Sunday evening.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, good article, I enjoyed reading it.
    >>fulfilling the broken promises of the last
    >>half dozen presidents on energy independence

    I read that Europe and Japan get twice as much economic activity per barrel of oil than does the U.S. these days. To me, that is an astonishing statistic.
    In other words, if the U.S. were simply as energy-efficient as Europe and Japan, we could cut in half our gigantic oil consumption.
    These nations have shown that it is possible. All that's lacking in the U.S. is leadership.