By Mark Young
My first reaction to the news last night about the killing of Osama bin Laden was Thank God He Is Dead. But moments later, a Fox News channel switched their cameras to a jubilant crowd gathering in front of the White House, cheering and flashing hand signs as if it was party time. Is this the face of America we want the world to see? Is this the America we have become?
I don’t think so. This is not who we are.
We do not gloat over taking the life of another human being, even of it is that of a notorious terrorist like bin Laden. We do not clank beers with each other in bars, and try to outdo each other in demonstrative, unbecoming behavior. This killing is not an excuse to have a party. Have we become so desensitized by our culture and media that killing others—even mass murders like bin Laden— has no meaning. If this is what we have become as a country, then I must hang my head in shame. I have to believe that this is not who we have become. We are a greater country that what I saw on the screen. We have much to be proud of. We run deeper than the gloating faces I saw flashed on television last night.
I did not lose someone close to me on 9/11, or in any of the other acts of terror this man and his thugs perpetrated on the world. Many people did lose a loved one, a friend, at the hands of this killer. I mourn for all his victims, of all colors, all nationalities, of all countries. I mourn for those of our military who gave the ultimate sacrifice in trying to keep us safe in this war on terror.
Yes, I am proud of our military and intelligence community who relentlessly hunted this man down for ten years until he was dead. I am proud that our country, after 9/11, began systematically tearing apart these terrorist organizations that are seeking to kill Americans here and abroad. Our country, with our staunch allies like Britain, took this fight to where these killers sought to hide, even as many other countries harangue, mocked and passed judgment on our efforts. I am proud of what has been accomplished as we rose from the ashes of 9/11 and learned to adapt to a swiftly-changing world.
We’ve made mistakes, and at times our country has been divided about the best way to fight this new borderless war. In the midst of war—and make no mistake, that is what terrorists have brought to our shores—it is hard to be perfect, to never stumble and fall at times. Day-to-day decisions in war cannot be made from the quiet retreats of board rooms and classrooms, pondering over all the possible scenarios before taking action. In war, failure to act in a timely manner means you die. This is true for our brave military on the ground in the midst of a firefight, and for our military and government leaders calling the shots from thousands of miles away.
Our military and governmental leaders made the right choice when it came to killing bin Laden. I am sure, over the next few weeks or months, we will learn about the imperfect process by which bin Laden was tracked down and killed. We will hear from others who will argue that we should have scooped this killer up and brought him back to this country to stand trial.We may even learn that undue caution was taken—due to jittery political concerns—that could have jeopardized the mission and allowed bin Laden to escape the trap. This happens midst the throes of war. But jubilation and partying does not factor into the equation. No reasonable people give each other a high-five after taking a life.
Ask any military or police officer about taking a life. Are they jubilant? Did they feel like it was time to have a party? I can tell you first hand this is not how it feels.
Many years ago—in another time, in another war—I took a man’s life. It was the life of a man who mortally wounded my friend and put a bullet in my right arm. Before we pulled back, I and fellow marines shot and killed this man. We had no time or inclination to gloat. We were patrolling along the Ho Chi Minh trail in the jungle mountains along Laos, and needed to pull back before light for fear of becoming surrounded. We carried our dead and wounded with us because we never leave them behind. My friend never made it. It took most of the night for my friend to die as we suppressed his screams.
Was I glad that we killed the man who did this?
Did I feel like partying?
Before I left that war, many of those in my platoon would be dead by friendly fire. And I would never be the same again. I grew up that day at the age of eighteen years. I came home much older, trying to figure out what I just lived through. And when I returned, people spit at me and stomped on the flag that my friend fought and died to protect. A waitress dumped a pot of hot coffee in my lap. A couple of good-old-boys tried to run me off the road with their pickup. It was a different, drastically-challenging world back then. Like our own civil war, we became an America that pitted brother against brother, father against son. And for those of us fortunate enough to return from that war, we did not feel like gloating.
When I think of taking a life—any life—I think of that unknown man in the mountains of Vietnam many years ago whose life I ended after he killed my friend. I think of a prison gang member sitting on death row for killing a deputy I worked with many years ago, a prisoner I hope is finally brought to justice by lethal injection. I think of another man who kidnapped, raped and killed a beautiful little girl, a girl who played with my daughters in my home. Do I want these men dead? Yes. Would I gloat? No.
Contrary to what others may believe, I think our way of life sometimes requires justice to be served by taking the life of another. But America, don’t gloat and party over that death. That is not who we are. This is not what we represent.
We are a peace-loving country, with blemishes and mistakes in our great history. We are a country that seeks to protect the downtrodden and those who cannot protect themselves. We are a country of laws based upon a constitution, a living document that our forefathers bequeathed to us after they gathered together and took time to pray to almighty God. We are an imperfect system that I believe is the best thing going on this chaos-filled planet.
Yes, I thank God that Osama bin Laden is dead.
Justice has been served. Let us leave it at that and move on.