Did Americans Overreact to Bin Laden's Death?

In the midst of a spring that has been decidedly Arab, the death of Osama bin Laden was a triumphant American moment. In a recent piece on Politico, Joe Scarborough wrote that, “for the first time since Sept. 11, all Americans — regardless of race, religion or politics — had something to celebrate.” I agree with Mr. Scarborough that bin Laden’s death was, and should be, a unifying moment for America, but there is a distinct difference between September 11th and May 1st. On 9/11 Americans came together to support one another, and to celebrate the lives of our fallen countrymen. On 5/1 we came together to celebrate a death.

The images and articles detailing the demonstrations across the country in celebration of bin Laden’s death give me mixed emotions. It was heartening to see large groups outside of the White House, in Times Square, around Ground Zero, and on college campuses across the nation, celebrating the news that an evil man had been brought to justice. This is a national triumph and we should, as a nation, embrace it.

However, some of Sunday’s public celebrations were lamentable. Many of the pictures and videos taken from outside of the White House, Times Square, and several of the nation's college campuses convey an atmosphere of cursory celebration. The students running through the streets climbing trees, fist pumping, and screaming “USA” may have seen their actions as patriotic, but those displays also cheapen our mission as a country righteously pursuing justice. While bin Laden’s death brought a sense of fairness and balance to the world, as a nation we need to be careful and thoughtful about the the way we celebrate.

At no point in recent memory has the death of one man been so publicly celebrated, which begs the question, did we react in the best way? In a New York Times article, Harry Waizer, a survivor of the September 11th attacks said, “If this means there is one less death in the future, then I’m glad for that … But I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama bin Laden.”

We should heed the words of President Barack Obama, who said it well when justifying his decision not to release photos of Bin Laden’s corpse, “That’s not who we are. We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.” Harold Evans of the Daily Beast added, “It’s the jihadists who enjoy celebrating death; we prefer to celebrate life.”

As American citizens, our reaction to any development in the war on terror must be thoughtful. Bin Laden is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. He and his network of terrorists celebrated as America struggled to recover from the devastation they had wrought upon our country, but we are better than that. America is a great country because we celebrate life and justice, not death and revenge. Let that be something we never forget.

Photo Credittheqspeaks