On the evening of May 1, I was heartened to see crowds of mostly young adults waving American flags and chanting “USA! USA!” in front of the White House, near Ground Zero, and elsewhere to celebrate our military’s killing of Osama bin Laden. Sadly, my sentiments are far from universal.
The next morning, certain of their elders, from perches of alleged moral superiority, began wringing their hands in an ongoing critique which lasted the rest of this week. At the Washington Post, petulant Petula Dvorak called the apparently spontaneous festivities “crazy” and “almost vulgar,” while “Spirited Atheist” (that’s really what she calls herself) Susan Jacoby was “repelled by the scenes of mindless jubilation.” A professor at Iowa State University, where 1,000 students reportedly celebrated on campus, told the Des Moines Register that he found it all “unseemly” and “tacky.”
The topper came Wednesday morning on the Today show, when contributor and psychiatrist Gail Saltz criticized the celebrants for messing with the heads of today’s kids by creating “a contradictory image” of joy in bin Laden’s death, claiming that the revelers “reacted in a way that later on they may not be happy about.”
Let’s talk about kids and trauma, Gail.
On September 11, 2001, grade school and high school children around the country saw giant jets crash into two 100-story skyscrapers. They saw those towers, with thousands of people still inside, collapse one after the other into horrible and previously unimaginable heaps. They saw the carnage at the Pentagon, and they heard about how Flight 93’s heroes died preventing an additional attack targeting either the White House or our Capitol. Children shouldn’t have to see these things, but it was of course unavoidable.
Many of them, especially in and around New York and Washington, either lost relatives or dear friends that day, or know someone who did. Unlike the Kennedy assassination which shook the baby boomers, the September 11 generation saw it all unfold in real time. Unlike the kids who saw the Challenger explosion live in 1986, everyone who witnessed 9/11 in school soon learned that the building takedowns were acts of war perpetrated by an unprecedented type of enemy.
This enemy had and still has no respect for life, not even their own. This enemy was and still is bent on destroying Western civilization and taking the world back to a seventh century existence which would enslave everyone who won’t subscribe to their oppressive Islamofascist belief system. This enemy recognizes no norms of conflict, will kill anyone and everyone they can in the process, and will broadcast and brag about their murderous “accomplishments” in the hope of instilling fear and anxiety in everyone else. Adults can, and thank God we did, push back against this. Kids can only hope that they will.
Once old enough, many of them joined the military to fight the war on terror — a war brought about by their elders’ complacency — in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Many if not most members of the 9/11 generation outside of elitist circles either know someone who has served during the past decade or know one of their relatives or close friends. The wars largely pinned al-Qaeda down in the Middle East and at least partially distracted it from planning attacks in the Western world. Those who claim that Iraq was somehow not part of the war on terror cannot explain away al-Qaeda’s heavy presence in that war. Now they also cannot deny that the capture of a key AQ operative in Iraq began a chain of events which eventually led to finding and killing bin Laden.
As to the naysayers’ argument that we shouldn’t revel in anyone’s death, Clarence Page (“Welcome to Paybackistan”) has it right: This isn’t about death, it’s about justice. Our special forces killed Osama bin Laden because the actions he orchestrated on 9/11 and in many other attacks around the world cried out for retribution, i.e., “requital according to merits or deserts, especially for evil.”
Evil. I read recently that an English professor of psychobabble doesn’t like the word, and would prefer to replace it with “lack of empathy,” something which “is susceptible to education and treatment.” Surely many in the 9/11 generation, which correctly recognized bin Laden as the very face of evil, would respond thusly: ROTFLMAO.
9/11 was what will hopefully remain a unique generational scar. Osama bin Laden’s richly deserved death doesn’t excise the wound, but it holds significant promise for diminishing it. Gail Saltz, who worries about today’s kids being traumatized by watching people celebrate a significant win for the good guys, should instead be cheering the increased likelihood that today’s and future generations’ children won’t have to witness and live with what has haunted the 9/11 generation for nearly a decade. That would really be worth celebrating.