Everywhere I turned today, people were jubilant that Osama bin Laden is dead. Watching news footage of the spontaneous crowds that gathered at the White House and in Times Square last night made me queasy. It made me the same kind of queasy that the videos of Arabs chanting “Death to America” did when we saw that footage years ago.
I’m just not very good at processing that level of hatred.
Maybe it’s because I’m an unapologetic Liberal, so my heart is a bit leaky. Maybe it’s because I can’t process a level of hatred I’ve never felt. Maybe it’s because I’m not capable of that level of hate, so anyone who is seems like they aren’t the same type of animal I am. Maybe it’s that revenge (or justice, call it what you like) doesn’t give me the boner that it does other people.
A friend said to me last night after the President’s statement, “Some people just deserve to die.”
He was, of course, referring to the thousands of people who died in the World Trade Center terrorist attack. I happened to be unemployed at the time, at home watching CNN that morning. Most people weren’t. Most people were at work, asleep, or away from the television when the news channels first began broadcasting live footage of first burning tower. People think they saw the second jet hit live, but most people are incorrect. Most people who found their way to a television set did so after the second jet hit the second tower. The news channels simply replayed the footage of the impact so many times that morning that most people mis-remember.
I don’t mis-remember. I was watching the burning first tower in real time and saw the second jet approach in the background. I watched it descend and level off. I knew, before the announcers did, that it was going to hit the second tower. Color me aghast and traumatized as I watched that jet leave the frame and then re-enter it and crash into the second tower.
Because I was watching the drama unfold live from the beginning to hours after the towers collapsed, I saw unedited video footage as helicopters circled and and the press moved in too close for their own safety. In the minutes between the second airplane hitting the second tower and the first tower beginning to fall, I saw everything as it happened, before it could be edited and sanitized.
Those of us watching live, those of us who did see and hear the unsanitized version — We saw close-ups of things and heard sounds that people who watched later rebroadcasts never saw. I choked on my own vomit when it dawned on me that those bundles of . . . something . . . were human beings jumping to their deaths to escape the unimaginable heat. I watched minutes and minutes of these sacks of . . . something . . . flying from the towers and landing with wet thuds, and the news people trying to figure out what they were. I was screaming, “They’re people, God damn it, they’re people!” The anger evaporated and I burst into tears when the announcer lost control and broke down as he realized the same thing. Apparently, no one told the helicopter pilots or cameramen to back off and give the dying their privacy, and we saw too much, too close.
I didn’t lose anyone on 9/11. I didn’t lose my job, or have health problems, or in any other way suffer a direct consequence from it in the way you think of when you hear “9/11 victims, responders, and their families.” What happened to me was emotional. I was traumatized, and I was lucky.
The people who actually committed this act of unspeakable evil died within it. The man who masterminded it is someone we’ve hunted for a decade. Now he’s dead. We’ve killed him and disposed of his body. As my friend said, “Some people just deserve to die.” I don’t disagree. With all of this said . . .
God help me, I can’t bring myself to be joyous over the intentional death of another human being, even if it was Osama bin Laden.
Relieved? Yes. Grateful? Yes. Avenged? Yes. Hopeful? Yes. Joyous? No.
I’m not saying that what we did was wrong. I’m not saying that what we did was a crime. I’m not saying that we should have left him alive. I’m not saying that we made a mistake. I’m not defending him, his motivations, his actions, or his organization. Hell, after 9/11, what sane American could say those things?
I’m saying that the news of the death of Osama bin Laden was a somber moment for me, a moment of remembrance for those who died on and as a result of 9/11, a letting go of a breath I wasn’t aware I’d been holding. What I can’t understand is why my co-citizenry didn’t receive the news the same way I did.
Maybe it was a celebration for them because they didn’t see people falling from the sky like bombs in real-time for a rather long time. I suspect such a thing changes you. I know it changed me.