"Answering the question of what we're really celebrating, and why, matters not just to our internal conscience, but to how we are perceived by the world as well."
Last night, television and radio programs across the United States were interrupted by breaking news that President Barack Obama had an announcement. I caught wind of the news through twitter and turned on my tv. Shortly thereafter, widespread speculation in the twitterverse, they by news reporters, broke the story the President would confirm shortly thereafter.
At approximately 11:30pm, President Obama announced, "Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world, that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, and a terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children... The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat Al Qaeda... Justice has been done."
As Obama spoke, cheering crowds massed outside the White House fence.
One of my best friends since middle school called me up in the midst of this and asked if I wanted to go to the White House, last night's celebration ground zero, to join in the festivities. She and I both live in DC now, having moved here from western Pennsylvania. My friend was with me that day, September 11, 2001. It was our senior year of high school.
With that day in mind, I answered, "Absolutely." She picked me up and we sped down to my former law school campus at George Washington University to park and walk the few blocks to the White House. Along the way we ran into scores of fellow revelers walking towards the same destination. You could hear the crowd screaming and cheering and cars honking from blocks away.
When the last block separating us from the White House ended and the buildings parted, we were greeted with the sight of hundreds or maybe thousands of revelers. The majority of the crowd was 18-28 year olds; almost all young people who seemed to be mostly students at GW and Georgetown, confirmed by the GW and Georgetown t-shirts many sported. The primary attire, however, was red, white, and blue. Revelers rocked homemade t-shirts and signs. Among my favorite was a young man holding up a sign that read "A HAPPY MUSLIM" and smiling for pictures. There were plenty of young marines wearing their marine hood shirts and carrying a giant marine flag. The scene could have easily been mistaken for a super hero convention with all the American flag capes people were wearing. I was impressed, frankly, by all the patriotic gear people happened to own.
People cheered "USA! USA!" and "Obama! Obama! You [expletive] killed Osama!", sang the National Anthem and God Bless America. They lit sparklers, climbed trees and lamp posts, and blew vuvuzelas; horns made popular by the World Cup. I had my trusty vuvuzela with me as well; a blue horn with a small American flag I taped to it last Fourth of July. I ran into 3 other young men in the crowd with the instruments as well, and the crowd reacted enthusiastically and laughed at their err.. "music".
Crowds parted way easily to let you through. If you asked people to take a picture of you with your camera, they were happy to oblige. Even those perched atop the coveted spots on the White House fence who had been there for hours were happy to let you up into their spot so you could get a photo.
The crowd was truly all in this together. It was full of Democrats and Republicans, young marines and Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and pacifists, rival college campus students of GW and Georgetown. All were jubilant and there was more than just a feeling of camaraderie; it was like we were all friends with the same shared experience and, in fact, we were. We all shared that awful day in history that President Obama noted is "seared into our national memory." And here we were, sharing this too.
I understand that in many places, any death can be deemed justice by certain stretches of the imagination. Indeed, though most of the world mourned with the United States on 9/11, there were people who celebrated. While these people may have perceived the United States as having committed injustices against them, what they were celebrating was the death of thousands of our innocent civilians.
Here in the United States, our Navy SEAL troops who executed the mission to kill bin Laden "took care to avoid civilian casualties", said Obama in his speech. Bin Laden was given a burial at sea according to proper Islam law; his body washed and placed in a white sheet.
The crowd did not burn photos of bin Laden in effigy last night or hit photos of him with a shoe. They waved the stars and stripes.
Answering the question of what we're really celebrating, and why, matters not just to our internal conscience, but to how we are perceived by the world as well.
When one truly evil person we know is directly responsible for atrocities on our people is removed as a threat, we rejoice in the fact that justice has been done.