That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind,
The answer is blowing in the wind.
I have been in a somber mood for most of the last week. Those of you who read the last post on this blog know part of the reason why, as I wrote about my wrestling with an uncharacteristic and unexpected emotional reaction to a tragic bit of news. In the time since then, the intense emotional pain has subsided, although my feelings are still tender, and I can be set off weeping just by thinking about it or being reminded of it. (Music, especially singing, can do it, for example.) But just as I was beginning to feel more or less "normal," another event, much larger in scope, imposed itself on my conscience.
I was working here on that high school classmate Facebook page last Sunday evening when someone posted a note saying the president was going to speak at 10:30 on a "national security matter," so I went downstairs and alerted my wife. We turned on the TV and then waited and waited for the president to come out; finally I gave up and went to bed, so I never heard his announcement. But in the meantime, the information that the president was going to deliver had leaked to the media, and the CNN reporters told me all I really needed to know: that terrorist leader Osama bin Laden had been hunted down and killed by American forces.
I have to say that I didn't react at all, one way or another, at the time. I simply accepted it as another news fact, no different than any other news fact. It wasn't until many hours later that I began to recognize that this initial reaction to such a significant event was rather strange. Maybe my emotions were still too raw to react? I don't know.
All the next day (Monday), I think I was in some sort of daze or trance. In light of my emotional vulnerability over the past two weeks, I didn't think I needed anything to happen that day that could provoke another emotional breakdown. (No, I didn't think it would be good to start blubbering in class!) So I tried to keep my distance from the whole thing. I deliberately stayed away from news broadcasts and newspaper reports about the details of the search, the raid, and the final outcome; I'm still purposely avoiding news reports of the affair and only slowly peeking at reports of other events. There are facts about this event that I simply didn't--and still don't--want to know; at least not now. But by Monday morning, I began hearing people talking about celebrations during the night, and that disturbed me. People celebrating bin Laden's death? How does that make us any different from the people ten years ago who filled Middle Eastern streets celebrating the collapse of the towers?
Then a friend and colleague from school posted some comments on Facebook, expressing a sentiment similar to what I had begun formulating:
[Name withheld] considers posting an opinion about recent events and wonders how many people will 'unfriend' her for finding all this kind of anti-climactic, thinking more about the deaths and permanent damage (visible and invisible) visited on many MANY good goood people, and wondering how quickly the poison will build up again.
So I came around and posted my own comment, echoing her concerns, and even borrowing some of her wording:
I posted my comments not because I wanted to make a definitive what's-right-and-what's-wrong statement, but because my mind and my spirit were still trying to process the event and the nation's reaction to it--just like they're still trying to process the earlier-learned fact of my classmate's death.
Don Plummer is still processing what he thinks about the news that broke late last night.
Like another Facebook friend mused, I've wondered how many people will ‘unfriend’ me if I post what I'm really thinking? Thirst for blood has been satisfied, I suppose, but what a horrible cost has been paid! Far more lives than were killed in the terrorist attack. Desire for revenge killed Hamlet in the end, after all.
Right now, I'm not willing to:
- engage in flag-waving;
- gloat over bin Laden's death;
- begin to think that this event will solve our problems; rather, it may unleash even more terrorist threats as bin Laden has now gained martyr status;
- think that targeted assassination, even of the most diabolical figures, is anything more than sanctioned murder.
Later Monday morning, I posted a snippet of dialogue from The Lord of the Rings, a work that has profoundly influenced the way I view the world. It's one of my favorite scenes, in fact, and features an exchange between Frodo and Gandalf that takes place after the latter had finished telling what he had learned about the creature Gollum, the miserable soul that had possessed (or rather, had been possessed by) the One Ring for so many, many years:
"What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!"
"Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need ..."
"... I do not feel any pity for Gollum ... He deserves death."
"Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."
This passage came to my mind very soon after I posted my first Facebook comment; again, not a statement of right or wrong, but a commentary on our all-too-human rush to "deal out death in judgment" (not to mention that Gandalf's comment, "some that die deserve life," reminded me again of my departed classmate).
In the comments thread generated by the earlier Facebook posting, I explained that my biggest concern was that we as a nation have dragged ourselves to the level of our enemies and have become what we hate. The temptation to do that is all too natural and must be fought against. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem we were up to the challenge.
I can be certain that none of my tears over the last six days were shed for Osama bin Laden. He was a despicable figure--far more despicable than Gollum, in fact, who, although a murderer, was really more of an old, miserable wretch, totally in thrall to that shiny object dangling from Frodo's neck. (If there's an analogue to bin Laden in Tolkien's narrative, it's more likely to be Saruman than Gollum.) But I have been mourning for what our nation apparently has become--how we have allowed the event that bin Laden will most be remembered for to make us forget who we are as a nation and to become something we were not. And I have mourned for the countless thousands that have died, multiple times more than died when the towers fell, in our nearly ten years of senseless war: some of them our own brave soldiers, of course, but many more non-combatant, innocent Iraqi and Afghani citizens.
As I said, I've deliberately stayed away from the news this past week, but I have been told some of the circumstances of the raid on bin Laden's compound. I understand that the "official" story has changed and I would presume that we may never know exactly how events transpired. Although I cannot second-guess why the special forces troops on the scene decided they had to shoot instead of capture, it just doesn't strike me that cornering and then killing an unarmed bin Laden in his own bedroom, while surrounded by family, can ever be regarded as our nation's proudest moment or most noble achievement. We've been told that the death of bin Laden serves justice, brings closure, or causes satisfaction. The Columbus Dispatch even used the word solace. But I don't feel any of these sentiments. Rather, just thinking of this entire affair makes me feel hollow and gives me a sinking feeling. Hence the somber mood I've been in.
Violence begets violence. Or, as put far more eloquently nearly two thousand years ago, "all who take the sword will perish by the sword". This past week, another friend blogged on the myth of redemptive violence. I highly recommend reading it. Already al-Qaida is plotting revenge on their new martyr. When will it end? Why couldn't we have ended it at the beginning, by responding differently to the initial attack?
I don't pretend that my words here are the last word on the subject. I'm still trying to make sense of this event and don't feel I could give a definitive word if I tried. If you think you must break off contact with me because of what I wrote here, do what you feel you must do. But I would hope, even if you disagree with me, you will read these comments in the spirit in which they are written: the cries of an anguished heart, concerned about what our country has become; and that you will receive them in that way.