Today’s word is: RETRIBUTION.
the dispensing or receiving of reward or punishment especially in the hereafter – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
So Osama bin Laden is dead. That is a simple fact and the complex culmination of thirty years of terrorist activity, initially funded by the Reagan administration as part of the Cold War opposition to Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
The reactions are mixed, ranging from the jubilant to the regretful. In all cases, however, there is a strong theme of “he had it coming.” Is this the tone we want to set as a nation?
The September 11 attacks were horrific acts of terrorism against this country. They were, in all likelihood, at least partly planned by bin Laden. That being the case, his apprehension, trial, and appropriate punishment was a desirable goal. A certain inarticulate rage at the man as a symbol of the attacks also makes sense, as an individual or collective response. It does not make sense as a matter of policy.
Military action has many viable justifications; it is also often messy and uncertain. But as the capture of Saddam Hussein proved, it can result in the capture – rather than the death – of a target. This action resulted (perhaps necessarily, perhaps not) in the death of the quarry, forever ending the opportunity to even attempt to resolve any open questions about the organization he led. Sadly, the death has resulted in President Obama practicing his “Mission Accomplished” moment, however more articulate he may have been.
The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history…
This is our aspiration as a nation? The death of one man, however notorious? The villain is dead, and we have exacted our VENGEANCE.
punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
For one day, perhaps one week, many in our nation will celebrate this vengeance, feeling justified. Ding dong, the terrorist is dead. Let there be a joyous celebration!
But we exacted our vengeance on Saddam Hussein and are still embroiled in Iraq. There is no reason to believe that this death will expedite our extrication from Afghanistan. And what of Libya? Perhaps we can host a tailgater when Gaddafi goes the way of the other miscreants, but what else will we gain?
The terrorists despise us more for killing their leaders. The military is spread just as thin, fighting what is now an even more ambiguous war. We’ve satisfied our blood lust and expiated a bit of unresolved national sorrow and rage. What of the greatness that we aspire to? How have we demonstrated that?
A quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. has permeated the Internet since Sunday:
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
It is often paired (frequently without attribution) with an introduction supposedly tweeted by Jessica Dovey:
I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.
These are aspirations. These are noble sentiments. Death, especially violent death, is not a cause for celebration. A truly noble people may thirst for vengeance, but collectively, with the wisdom of history and combined conscience, they will seek instead,
the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action; conformity to this principle or ideal – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
P.S. – For an excellent overview of the killing, our national reaction, and the misleading media narrative, I recommend Glenn Greenwald’s excellent pieces at Salon.com. As always, he asks hard questions and only provides answers of which he can be certain.