Patriotism Uncorked

The case for joy upon the death of bin Laden

| July-August 2011

  • patriotism-uncorked

    Zina Saunders /

  • patriotism-uncorked

A few days after September 11, 2001, my wife and I walked down to the White House. The city was stilled with grief and fear. It was not yet clear that the danger had passed. The airport was closed. On television the doomed planes kept crashing into the towers and the doomed towers kept collapsing, until the horror began to feel a little unreal. The flood of words, the immediate eruption of understanding and analysis, the unseemly triumph over shock and silence were having a similar effect. To preserve the sting of reality, we left the house for the nervous city.

Lafayette Park was almost deserted. The quiet knew nothing of peace. The empty sky was an emblem of dread. There were snipers on the roof of the White House, which suddenly had the aspect of a target. We sat on a bench as a small expression of resolve, as an act of solidarity with the normal life that seemed under threat, and with the struggle that was to come. The American insulation had come undone. It was one of those moments—our strong and lucky history has spared us many such grim epiphanies—when you recognize again how much your country, how much this country, matters.

I thought of that bleak hour in Lafayette Park this May 1, when I stood in the same spot amid the reveling crowd. The news of Osama bin Laden’s death had brought thousands of people, and hundreds of flags, to the gates of the White House. They were young, diverse, and giddy. There were soldiers, Marines I think, among the cheering civilians.

One smiling young man carried a small piece of paper that read “A Happy Muslim.” Another sign, which caused no controversy, read “Brings the Troops Home,” as nearby a big black man with a tiny trumpet played “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.” A witty young woman held up the back of a pizza box on which she had written that Donald Trump wants to see Osama bin Laden’s death certificate. Almost everybody was Twittering their excitement. (A Twittering mob is a less terrifying mob.)

A lot of beer was drunk and spilled. The scene was boorish, of course. Triumphalism is often not a pretty thing. But still, distinctions had to be made. This crowd burned nobody in effigy, nobody’s flag, nobody’s books. It had assembled to celebrate an entirely defensible act, whose justice could be proven on more than merely nationalistic grounds.

After all, Osama bin Laden killed even more Muslims than Americans, and he represented one of the most poisonous ideas of our time: the restoration, by means of sanctified violence, of a human world without rights. There is no decent man or woman anywhere—and the democratizing Arab street has shown this most starkly—who does not wish to see this armed political theology defeated. If any death justifies rejoicing, the death of Osama bin Laden does.

8/4/2011 9:44:00 AM

I'm sorry but this article is denial in its purest form. Murder is murder, whether it involves patriotism (A completely misguided ideology in itself) or not. Whether it is done to someone else who has killed many is not what is at issue. Nor is the fact that there was no screaming mob in front of the white house, burning effigies and demanding "justice"-whatever that may be- any justification. This article is spin, and quite frankly, really disappointing coming from UTNE. Every great leader that this world has ever seen-including Jesus-stated time and again that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Leon Wieseltier can tell himself whatever he likes, it was still murder, and murder is never, ever justified.

6/25/2011 7:49:07 AM

I am actually startled, astonished and yet used to the refusal to see the truth about 9/11 even from a press like Utne which declares to be alternative 9/11 was an inside job, period. An excuse to enforce american(/israely) military control over the middle east and the world at large. The expansion of imperialism by the USA Israel and UK (France might play its part to as it is happening now with Lybia)and their "guiding elite"Not only, an excuse to keep americans even under more control and restraineven more their already limited freedom ('cause actually the only freedom which exists in the usa is that of making and spending money...all other liberties which make human life as such have been and are little by little taken away. If people would look with the yeys of reason and awareness instead of those of blind emotions they would alredy notice the manipulation they are victims of) AS with 9/11 even may 1 was another not even that well contructed propaganda. Sadness arises to the realization that inspite of the geno and sociocide USA and the coalition have carried out toward Iraq and Afghanistan, people of america and not only are still so galluble and blind. Doubting you are going to pubblish this, much regards Ornella

Eduardo Schroder
6/24/2011 9:33:05 AM

Osama bin Laden was assassinated. It was not an act of justice. Patriotism, religion and racism do not bring Peace and Justice. Human Rights are Universal.

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