Further Thoughts

"We need apologize not a wit for the joy we feel. Not joy at vengeance; nor joy at death. Just joy at justice. Immense and profound joy." - Andrew Sullivan

‎"I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." — Mark Twain

In almost every instance, I am opposed to the death penalty because I feel that death is too easy a punishment and it isn't ours to mete out.

I also do not approve of cheering the death of another as if it is akin to a sports team winning a championship. I reflexively shy away from "us vs. them" sorts of displays.

All that being said, I have found myself irritated by the comments from some of my Facebook friends in the wake of the news that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. I want to personally reach through the computer and gently, but firmly shake the people who are so cool that they could snark that they wanted to know if this would mean they wouldn't have to go through security when they flew. I feel annoyed at the smugness of people who criticize the people who filled the streets and cheered. I feel a visceral dislike for those who feel the appropriate response is to tut tut over how an eye for an eye never solves anything.

Under other circumstances, I probably would have agreed with these people. As I said, I am opposed to the death penalty and I hate mob rule (not to mention that annoying "USA USA" chant). And do I like snark? Heck yeah. And I used to be too punk rock to care and thought I was cooler than the rest of America.

But not now.

It is hard to articulate what I felt when I heard the news or what I feel today. If I am not crying, I feel I am on the verge of tears. I guess I would describe the feeling as relief, but it is unlike any relief I have ever known.

The first thing I did last night, after watching President Obama's press conference, was log on to the internet to commiserate with others. As I watched television last night, I felt that if I were young, I would have gone out and sought out others. Perhaps, I would have cheered. I would not have been cheering over the death of a man, I would have been cheering because one chapter of the story has finally ended. I would have been cheering because other people's happiness is contagious and it would have made the grief I still feel a bit easier to bear. I would have cheered because sometimes it feels good to give voice for all that is inarticulate inside of one's self.

My understanding is that many of those who were out in front of the White House last night were college students. It will be finals week at many colleges soon. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be 20 and to hear that this boogie man who has haunted half your life is dead, right as you are looking down the barrel of final exams. I may have run into the street cheering as well, simply because I would have so much steam I needed to let out. Yes, the chanting was boorish, but no one was hurt and they did not burn flags or any figures in effigy.

How one acts in the moment is not an indication for how one really feels upon reflection. For example, I wrote last night that I hoped Osama Bin Laden's body was fed to dogs. I knew this was, perhaps, on of the most disrespectful things which could be done to a Muslim. However, today, I am glad the US treated his body better than he treated the bodies of any of his victims.

Despite my opposition to the death penalty, I am relieved that it has ended this way. There are some crimes for which there is no suitable punishment available. I would have him really know each person who died and know what that loss meant, I would have him experience the last moments of each and every one of their lives and die each death, I would have him feel the pain of every person touched by the death of his victims. At times like this, I understand why people want to believe in a higher power, a hell, karma--not because we are afraid that this is all there is, but because we know there is evil and we know we are not all powerful when confronted with it.

The truth is, we were never going to take him alive. If a member of the UN force which went in hadn't shot him, it is guaranteed one of his men would have. He was always planning to die a martyr.

So I cannot criticize the killing and I cannot criticize those who went out and cheered last night. I cannot pretend I know what anyone else was feeling last night, I cannot even fully explain what I was feeling, but I cannot pretend that it was simplistic or easily describable. Maybe the only way to express it is with a scream. A scream of pain. A scream of triumph. A scream of relief.


Anonymous said…
VERY well said. I too have had mixed feelings, although quite not the same as yours, but mixed feelings none the less. And I applaud you for putting your feelings out there on display. Thank you for sharing!

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