And so Osama bin Laden is dead.
In some ways it feels like news from another age, from the months after the 9-11 attacks, when the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were new, when Dubya was on the throne, when the 21st Century was sparkling new and was just being defined by the War on Terror. It seems like so much time has passed, with the Arab Spring and Obama’s election starting to awkwardly birth a new decade, and so bin Laden’s death starts to feel like closure.
Well, closure’s one word for it. Hearing how the news has been received in the States, especially New York and Washington DC, it almost feels like more than that, almost an exorcism. The bogeyman has been slain, and while it remains to be seen what yesterday’s news will practically mean in the long term, as a symbol it’s hugely important. In some ways it’s the end of a story, emotionally if not realistically.
It feels uncomfortable to celebrate the death of another human being, even one with bin Laden’s history. It would be easy to condemn the chants of “USA! USA!” that greeted the news as being crass and jingoistic, but I think that would ignore the trauma that 9-11 left on the American psyche. September 11th was a defining moment; the death of bin Laden can be seen as justice for that moment, justice delayed by a decade now delivered unexpectedly. The response to the news is bound to be cathartic – the question is what the response will look like in the next few weeks or months, when the chanting dies down and the realities of the situation emerge.
(And this is where this coincides with Action Comics #900, which also got mixed up in Sunday’s post. The lead story, by Paul Cornell and Pete Woods, features a confrontation between Superman and Lex Luthor. It’s powerful because, among the cosmic lunacy surrounding it, it boils down to two men destined to be enemies because they respond to the world in such fundamentally different ways. Lex can’t get beyond hatred, ego and greed and therefore squanders his intellect in an irrational war against his chosen hate figure; Superman, on the other hand faces loss and disaster but emerges from it with his humanity intact, finding the courage to accept closure and changed circumstances and using them to build a better future. It works because the relationship between the two characters is always doomed to end in hostility, the dark and light sides of the American Dream warring against each other. In this case, of course, virtue triumphs over vice; how this works when a choice between Lex and Clark’s worldviews has to be made in real life is a whole different ballgame…)
And so an enemy lies dead and those leading the situation have to decide how to respond – with acceptance, closure and an attempt to do things differently in future, or as an opportunity to dig in the knife, to enact further vengeance, to find a new bogeyman and start living in fear of him instead. And so we should all hope and pray that the right decision is made, as its consequences could define the next decade in the same way 9-11 defined the last. And their ramifications could go on to define us all.