My phone rang at close to eleven a few nights back. My wife and I usually get the munchkin to sleep early, then we scramble to get the rest of our work done before nine-thirty (more like ten/ten-thirty) and then allow some down time for our minds to get nice and empty before trying to sleep.
The night of the phone call was a good night, in that we managed to finish up early, and actually went to bed at a reasonable hour. I was just looking forward to facing the rigmarole of a new day on a full night’s sleep when the phone rang.
With the phone downstairs (we only use cells) and the reasonably certain knowledge that the call wasn’t an emergency, I deduced who the caller must be, and decided to leave it for the next day. I had no trouble dropping off that night. I had no memorable dreams.
The next day started early. I was up by five with lots to do, and eager to crank out some good work before the munchkin was under foot. Opening my laptop, I pressed the “on” button, then padded to the kitchen for some coffee. When I returned, the Windows Live Messenger box was open and there was America’s #1 Most Wanted looking back at me, the man famously called for “dead or alive” by the stumble-worded Dubya. The caption beneath read “Osama Bin Laden Killed in Late Night Raid.”
Hm. I took a sip of my coffee and picked up my phone. My buddy had called the night before. Apparently he’d seen the news and had wanted to enthuse.
“V” is for “Vendetta.”
I sometimes listen to NPR in the car. Today, some folks were talking about Old Testament vs New Testament ways of handling injustice — you know, “an eye for an eye” or “turn the other cheek” type stuff. One woman called in to say that she was embarrassed to see people cheering a man’s murder at a baseball game. Someone else called in to say that it was OK because the United States had set out to defeat Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their leaders. We are right to celebrate, he reasoned, because the man killed was the clearest extension of our broader war on terror, let alone the leader of Al Qaeda, which was a stated goal. “Dead or alive” generally means you get to kill ’em when they don’t come quietly. Those who might not have liked the rhetoric when Dubya said it, might prefer the way President Obama put it today to a group of firefighters in New York City who had lost a sizeable number of men from their unit on 9/11. Obama said, “this sends a message around that world that when we say, ‘we will not forget,’ we mean it.”
There was no shortage of invective in the headlines that day either. New York Daily News ran the headline: Rot in Hell. Philadelphia Daily News: We Got the Bastard. I didn’t even bother surfing over to Fox News, which practices inflammatory headlines with little to no provocation.
So, perhaps like you, I’m struggling to know how I’m supposed to feel about Public Enemy No. 1 getting double tapped in the head. I mean, there is the whole teenage boy thrill factor that is inherent in Navy Seal or clandestine CIA operations, and this job had both and the target is second chair to Adolf Hitler in terms of earning the world’s scorn. (How many video game programmers do you think are working over time right now to include the mission on level 10 where you get to go in and be the guy who gets to kill Osama Bin Laden?)
The problem is that “turning the other cheek” wouldn’t serve the victims of 9/11. It wouldn’t honor their memories, and it wouldn’t protect the citizenry against future attacks if the United States were perceived as weak. In fact, I’d go a step further and say that if wars could be fought on the assassination of one man — one very bad man — shouldn’t we make a practice of that instead? When we look back on the last ten years, the lives lost or torn, the international relations eroded, the sheer financial scope of these wars, when we look back on these things, how could we not trade all of that for Osama Bin Laden’s life ten years ago, if it had been offered?
I believe that, in this case, an eye for an eye isn’t enough. After all, he had only one life we could take from him, and that is why, today, “V” is for “Vendetta.”