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Friday, May 6, 2011

A Milestone of Nothing

Did the death of an American enemy ever before amount to so little? The death of Osama bin Laden brings a measure of psychological relief, particularly to those who were directly affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but his demise also seems anti-climactic.

In the past few years, whenever we received one of bin Laden’s grainy messages, there has been a sense of surprise, almost like discovering that an aging quarterback who is long past his prime is still in the NFL and riding the bench behind a current superstar. Bin Laden was still around, but he hadn’t mattered for years – not to us and maybe not even to al Qaeda anymore.

Almost from the day of September 11, 2001 there have been conspiracies about bin Laden. It is no different in death.

As such, some are asking why his corpse was buried at sea. Couldn't we have at least seen the body? Or could bin Laden have been apprehended? Surely Navy SEALs are fit to physically subdue a graying Saudi with famously bad kidneys. Why not give this man a day in court and let him see first-hand the destruction he caused? Could it be that the U.S. government would rather have him dead because, as the saying goes, dead men tell no tales?

Now what?

It took almost ten years to catch and kill bin Laden. The DMV called. They can’t believe how slow the government was on this one.

More accurately, it has been more than ten years. Bin Laden announced the beginning of this war with his fatwa on August 27, 1996. So first it took us five years to notice our enemy and only after 3,000 of our countrymen died in a single morning did anyone begin paying attention.

Ten years after 9/11, with more than $1 trillion spent and more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers dead in a war on terrorism launched because of bin Laden, can we ask, Was it worth it?

It’s hard not to think about the final scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where it took the whole Bolivian army to finally gun down the two American bandits. Dos hombres? Dos?!

Is the world safer now that this man is dead? If it is, then will American troops be coming home anytime soon?

If the world is not safer, what does that say about the world now compared to ten years ago?

Can we expect to stop being groped at the airport? Can we expect the repeal of the Patriot Act or the abolishment of the Department of Homeland Security? Or is it likely that the expanded national security state born out of 9/11 is a genie that is not about to be stuffed back into the lamp?

Which, of course, brings us back to the mystery of the speedy burial.

The party line says that this was done in order to prevent the kill site from becoming a pilgrimage destination and to be respectful of Muslim burial custom. But we’re also told that bin Laden was not a "true Muslim," or at least that’s what we’re told by all the Muslims being paraded in front of American television, so the sensitivity toward Islamic practice seems superfluous.

This is enough to make one wonder if the quick disposal of the body was done to assure that there is no speed bump as far as the national security state is concerned – things will go on as they did before.

Someday there will be two men waiting in the security line at the airport.

The man about to get the full body scan will ask, “Say, didn’t we catch that bin Laden fellow awhile back?”

The man about to get patted down will answer, “Yes, but never before did the death of an American enemy ever amount to so little.”

Carl Wicklander,
Regular Columnist, THL
Articles Author's Page Website