My son Noah called me last night around 10 PM to tell me the big news – U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden. He had hoped that the 10th Mountain Division (his home base while he was in the Army) was involved in this final resolution to a decade long saga. It seemed appropriate that I would learn this news from Noah as bin Laden was so much a part of his history. He was the one who went into the Army in August 2001 with dreams of going to exotic places and reaping all the benefits the military offers. That is what he was sold by the recruiter a great opportunity for advancement, travel and self-development. The potential for combat was little to none – those days were pretty much over – so said the recruiter (I am no longer a fan of recruiters – they sit on my undesirable profession list somewhere between used car and snake oil salesmen – alas, that is a rant for another day).
I cannot say the recruiter lied regarding the potential for combat. At the time, I believed the same thing – that those days were pretty much over. I reckon most folks, even those in military ranks, never envisioned such an event as the one we experienced on September 11, 2001. Most folks I reckon also couldn’t have envisioned that our response would end up going in the direction it did or involve as many members of the military as it has for such a long time. But some folks should have known more and some folks did know more…I sure wish they would have told me before I told my oldest son that joining the Army would be a good experience…I really do like to have all the pertinent information available before I knowingly support my child going into harm’s way. Alas, I was just one of the regular folks who lived in a democratic country day-in and day-out worrying about the silly things that made up a regular life and I wasn’t thinking about the enduring cost involved in allowing me the freedom I had come to expect.
That was then. I no longer live in that frame of mind. I no longer trust that my security in my country is a given. I no longer believe that humanity and sensibility will rule the day. I understand that my security has a cost and increasingly it is a cost that I struggle with – a cost that is bore by the shoulders and hearts of others – and by folks like Noah and as such, me.
I am happy that Osama bin Laden has finally received his due. Mostly I am happy because I know it matters to so many of our military members, veterans and their families. I am also happy because this success – however long in the coming it was – seems to be necessary for our country’s collective sense of justice. And so he is dead; and, we are happy that justice has been meted out against this vile man who so calculatingly instigated the taking of so many lives and was the impetus for a war that has cost so many more.
Yet, even as we as a country now celebrate our success in eradicating this evil, I slept no easier last night. After all, bin Laden was but a man – a man who through his charisma and leadership was able to marshal those who would die for a joint cause – but still, just a man. His death, while seen as our triumph does not eradicate the threat of terrorism. Indeed, we are arguably a bigger target than ever in the eyes of those who support his cause. The cause did not die with him. There are others that will continue the assault…the fight to protect our country and citizens is one that is enduring.
One well-known and particularly heinous terrorist leader is dead, but the others that would die for the cause and other like causes still live to plan for another day and another attack. Terrorism is like a cancer – it is vile and insidious and it spreads at its whim. It will never be eradicated as it is an enduring condition of humankind.
So yes, he is dead…but all is not well. Remain vigilant America and know that there are a hundred other charismatic leaders out there with a cause who would encourage others to kill innocent citizens in support of that cause. There are likely some right here in America, folks that look like you and me…folks that believe this country is going in the wrong direction and would blow up a building to bring attention to their cause. We lived that reality in 1995 with the Oklahoma City bombing. Terrorism isn’t always foreign and it isn’t always about hating the American way of life. And make no mistake about it, terrorists are not typically dissuaded by the threat of dying in a fast and furious firefight. The thing that makes terrorists such a frightening proposition for those who are their targets is that they so strongly believe in their cause that they are willing to give all they have for it – their money, their creature comforts, their lives.
Let us not forget bin Laden as he represents the evil we must always be watching for…and let us always remember that evil has not died, it is alive and well and plotting its next attack.
Day six hundred and sixty-five of the new forty – obla di obla da