Do we ever CELEBRATE a death? Even the death of a monster?

As y’all know, I was WAY turned off by all those kids outside the White House partying last night, acting like the death of our best-known enemy was a football victory or something. As I said, within about 100 yards of each other we saw the perfectly right response to the situation (President Obama’s) and the perfectly wrong one. There are a lot of reasons why that demonstration offended me, such as the fact that, well, that rah-rah team, yay-us-screw-them stuff always turns me off. It’s one reason why I am appalled by political parties. And am not very fond of football itself.

But the biggest reason is… do we really celebrate a man’s death? Even when that man is a monster, who has killed thousands of innocents (including thousands of OUR OWN) and himself celebrated it?

If anyone in the world deserved to have people dancing on his grave, he did. But still, I really didn’t like seeing the actual dancing.

We’re talking about something very primitive here. Civilized people do engage in war (despite what some of my friends think), and unless they are destined for the evolutionary scrap heap, they engage in it to win. And that means killing the enemy. And when one engages in war successfully, it is a cause for celebration.

But do we celebrate the MEANS to victory to the extent of celebrating an enemy’s death?

We were totally justified in killing Osama bin Laden, and it was long overdue. And from my anti-death penalty perspective, we killed him the right way — in the heat of battle, rather than executing him after holding him in a cell for a couple of years. My heartiest congratulations and thanks go out to the Seals and support personnel who carried out this operation with such stunning efficiency, and to the president for his handling of it.

Of course we take satisfaction in this victory. But do we PARTY? I think not. To me, the appropriate response is, as I said last night, GRIM satisfaction. If we’re civilized.

But you know, I don’t think I have yet expressed what I’m trying to say nearly as well as Bob Amundsen did:

Celebrating death in battle is wrong. When war is declared (as bin Laden did), you live with the consequences of that choice, including death. True warriors do not celebrate death; we celebrate victory. We have won a battle; the war against extremism continues.

Did we get all giddy and dance in the streets when Hitler killed himself? No. We got all giddy and danced in the streets because the war in Europe was over. Same deal with Hiroshima vs. V-J day.

I’m glad Americans are taking satisfaction in this; so am I. And I fully understand the emotional involvement of people like Anton Gunn, whose brother was killed by bin Laden.

But that partying in the street stuff was deeply wrong, and I hate that the world saw American’s doing that. I’m glad they saw our Seals make short work of Osama once we had the intel, but I’m sorry that they saw the celebration outside the White House.

Does that make sense to anyone but me?

48 thoughts on “Do we ever CELEBRATE a death? Even the death of a monster?

  1. Kathy

    It makes complete sense to me. I offer one possible explanation for some of the overt celebrating: Having clear evidence that a war has been won seems to be a fairly rare thing nowadays. Even when we think we have won, we might be right back there within a few years (Iraq). Our troops seem to endlessly remain in places where we have won and where we haven’t. I disagree with the partying over bin Laden’s death, but perhaps that explains some of it. And then there’s the shameful fact that some people will party and get drunk for any reason at all–good, bad, small, large, whatever.

  2. jfx

    I was a bit puzzled by all the young people out there, too…

    …but then I read a quote from one of them, “we were in middle school when 9/11 happened”, and suddenly I got it. If you were a traumatized middle schooler on 9/11, you would have spent your entire adolescence under the cloud of 9/11 and the War On Terror.

    Perhaps in that context, one can come close to understanding the jubilation of that young crowd. Didn’t really look like crass partying to me. Rather well-behaved, actually. Go USA!

  3. Steven Davis

    “Civilized” schmivilized… we got him. Face it Brad, the world isn’t one of white glove face slaps and duels like you’d like to see it.

    Are you or have you ever been competitive in anything other than the high school debate club or the local book club?

  4. Mike

    I don’t get how it was that a ton of people came to be celebrating outside the White House at 11pm at night? Am I right to guess that it was mainly college students – if so I am assuming from GWU or American or another DC school? Who decided to first go down there and was it some sort of chain reaction? Did White House interns call their friends at GWU and tell them to come down, because someone in the press office wanted this display? I’m just interested in how the progression of this all took place and no one has offered any guessing on that.

  5. Karen McLeod

    I suspect that the type of ethical consideration that motivated Bonhoeffer, and I think, motivates you, is well developed these days. We seem to have lost the understanding that war, or a strike such as the one that killed bin Laden, is not the equivalent of a football game. One of the reasons that I considered binLaden so evil was because he clearly had no respect for human life. Killing bin Laden was not “right” in an absolute sense, but it was probably “right” in the sense of the lesser of 2 or more evils. A lot of those celebrating were young ‘uns around college age. I don’t think that they’ve been exposed to the type of thinking that considers such things. Death is also foreign to them personally. It’s the older people who are celebrating that I wonder about. And no I’m not comparing Bonhoeffer to Mr. Obama or anyone else. I referred to him because he, as a committed Christian, was ethically torn by the decision to participate in a killing. As you know, he plotted with others to kill Hitler. They missed, and paid the price for it. But he at least recognized the moral/ethical choices involved.

  6. Brad

    Oh, and Steven — I WISH I’d done debate club, instead of what I did.

    Had to go to the doctor today, and he ordered an MRI for Wednesday. It’s a 40-year-old wrestling injury. It happened because, among other idiotic training methods, the wrestling coach actually had us pair off and do modified versions of the “piledriver” — yeah, a totally illegal move — to “strengthen” our neck muscles. At the time, I had to quit wrestling because of the numbness down my arm, but I thought I recovered quickly.

    Then, years later, I reactivated the injury doing shoulder presses. Thought I’d fixed it then with cortisone injections next to the spine.

    But it’s back.

    So yeah, debate club might have been a better idea than wrestling.

  7. Brad

    Also, to return to what I said… “Did we get all giddy and dance in the streets when Hitler killed himself? No. We got all giddy and danced in the streets because the war in Europe was over. Same deal with Hiroshima vs. V-J day…”

    I think maybe those kids were unsophisticated enough to think that bin Laden’s death meant the war WAS over.

    But frankly, I’m not inclined to make excuses for them.

  8. Brad

    You know what the partying reminded me of? The uncivilized, sectarian taunts hurled at Saddam Hussein by his executioners.

    Saddam Hussein, our enemy, was also a monster. But he died like a man, while his executioners behaved like jackals.

    I don’t know exactly how bin Laden died, but in announcing his death, President Obama acted like a man. But the mob outside did not.

  9. bud

    Brad makes an excellent point. Celebrations on VE and VJ day were appropriate. The killing was at an end. The death of Hitler was just more death and not worthy of celebration.

    Celebrating death is unacceptable. It just gives a sort of martyr status to the person killed. That’s one disturbing aspect of our culture, the hero status we give to killers. That’s one major reason I oppose the death penalty. These people just don’t deserve the attention.

  10. Brad

    I am also pleased that bin Laden received a proper Islamic burial at sea. Not because he deserved it; he did not. I am pleased because of what it says about US.

  11. Steven Davis

    Just think, if you would have been on the debate club you’d probably have decided to go to law school and then what would people think of you?

  12. Steven Davis

    Saddam was doped up when they executed him. Even taunts are mellow when your stoned out of your mind.

  13. Steven Davis

    There’s already a conspiracy that Osama didn’t get buried at sea, and that his body is actually in a morgue freezer in Germany.

    “I’m glad they saw our Seals make short work of Obama”

    Do you mean Osama, or do you know something we don’t.

  14. Norm Ivey

    I can appreciate your feelings about the celebrations, but I wonder how different the celebrations would have been if he had been captured rather than killed. I think the exuberance and demonstrations would have been equally as demonstrative. While it was the announcement of Osama’s death that triggered the response, the response was as much about a sense of accomplishment and the healing a painful wound as his death. It was the lifting of a weight from their shoulders.

    I remember trying to explain the attacks to my girls on 9/11 (they were 9 and 10) and how confused and frightened they were. It didn’t make sense to me, and it was difficult to make it make sense to them. It was the younger one who called me last night and let me know. She was excited and happy. I understand the celebrations. I could never participate in one, but I understand it.

  15. Brad

    Thanks, Steven. I did it again. I avoid calling him “Osama” because it’s easy to make that mistake — my fingers are so much more used to typing the B.

    But I slipped that time. It’s fixed now.

    I slipped like that once, years ago, and someone (was it Phillip) accused me of making a Freudian slip. Not a Freudian slip. Just habit.

  16. Joanne

    I think the partying is a by-product of the maturity level, but JFX makes a point I realized myself last night when my 22-year-old texted me that Osama bin Laden was dead.

    This was a child that was in 8th grade when 9/11 happened. She still talks about what she was doing that day, what the teacher said, what she saw, and how scared she was. I was at the high school teaching and dealing with my own students. I had to trust other teachers to deal with my child. These are still kids about to graduate from college who see a true bad guy finally getting what was coming to him.

    I feel bad myself about my satisfaction at this deed, but I know God will forgive me because He know how much the innocents suffered. That’s what always upset me the most: the innocents. And I think the children at school on a sunny September day were innocents watching their world become dark.

  17. Mike

    If a family cheers when the murderer of a loved one is given the electric chair, I’m not going to focus on the family’s actions in cheering as my source of concern for commentary.

  18. Brad

    Mike, if you’ll note, I specifically exempted families from my criticism. I was talking about the football-rally kids with the beers in their hands.

    Thanks for the link, Phillip! Yeah, I was very aware of the potential, and was avoiding calling him “Osama” for that reason, typing “bin Laden” over and over and over. But that one time, I forgot, and slipped.

    As for those Muslim scholars Kathryn mentions — ah, what do they know? The whiners. Everybody has to find fault.

    Seriously, though: A lot of landlubbers in our society don’t regard burial at sea as the real, proper, regular thing, either.

    The story says, “Sea burials can be allowed, they said, but only in special cases where the death occurred aboard a ship.” Yeah, well, I look at it this way: He was killed by the Navy. Those Seals couldn’t stick around for a burial where they killed him. So they did it from the ship. And all the proper words were said.

    It was actually, from a Navy perspective, fully respectful treatment for a fallen enemy, one with a VERY long tradition. Anyone who doesn’t understand that must be trying not to.

  19. Doug Ross

    Here we go again… Presidential spokesmen are now “walking back” some of the details previously given about Osama’s death.

    “The White House backed away Monday evening from key details in its narrative about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, including claims by senior U.S. officials that the Al Qaeda leader had a weapon and may have fired it during a gun battle with U.S. forces.

    Officials also retreated from claims that one of bin Laden’s wives was killed in the raid and that bin Laden was using her as a human shield before she was shot by U.S. forces.
    At a televised White House briefing Monday afternoon, Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan said bin Laden joined in the fight that several residents of the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound put up against the Navy SEALs during the 40-minute operation.

    “He [bin Laden] was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know,” Brennan said.

    The language is interesting… “engaged” is a very ambigugous word. And he “resisted” but was unarmed when shot.

    You’d think after Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch, the military would try to get the story right… and don’t give me any “oh, it was just the fog of war”.

  20. Doug Ross

    Why not just come out and say “We killed him because it would have been too much of a hassle/security risk to bring him in. He was executed for his crimes. Case closed.”

    Has there ever been a case where the military revised an account to put the U.S. in a better light? It’s always “start with the most pro-military message and then work backwards”.

    I watched the Tillman Story and was sickened by the video they shot of Jessica Lynch, with the cameraman directing Lynch while she lay on a stretcher in great pain and extreme stress. “Smile for the cameras, Jessica!”

  21. Brad

    Doug, you just go way beyond cynicism. You should turn pro.

    Why is it that you are so convinced that everyone in the world is omniscient, so that if they get something wrong, there is something nefarious about it? And why is it so horrible that people are willing to see someone as a hero, even when the details don’t check out?

    I just got a great idea for a darkly comic war movie: It’s about a U.S. Army propaganda film crew in World War II. Their mission is to provide good fodder for bucking up the homefront via newsreels.

    Only Doug is their director. (He doesn’t WANT to be. He was drafted, which REALLY offends his libertarian sensibilities.) This creates certain… conflicts. Here’s a bit of dialogue from a scene on an invasion beachhead:

    “Lie back on the stretcher, soldier. Moan — it’s hurts, doesn’t it? Go with that. What’s that you’re doing with your fingers? Is that a peace sign? Cut that out. Lie back…”

  22. Brad

    At least, I THINK it was Wesley. He called my attention to it, anyway. It says it’s by “donehuedirectstaff.”

    I don’t get multiple-author blogs. They confuse me.

    Probably because I’m so OLD…

  23. Doug Ross


    Sorry that I read the paper and follow news reports. I just see the opposite behavior all the time. You don’t think the military has a whole bunch of people responsible for crafting a message when it comes to dispensing information?

    Can you give one example that is the opposite of the Pat Tillman coverup? Where the Army took the blame for something immediately and then reversed itself to show they weren’t at fault?

    It’s no different than the way the police cover up beatings of detainees. There were police spokesmen who said Rodney King was resisting arrest and deserved the beating he got.

    It’s a pretty simple process – if you can’t speak the truth, don’t say anything. If you make a mistake, admit it. Who so far has stood up and said, “I told the press bin Laden was armed. I was wrong.”

  24. Doug Ross

    “And why is it so horrible that people are willing to see someone as a hero, even when the details don’t check out?”

    If you’re talking about Tillman, it would be because a) he wasn’t and b) the “details” were lies. Watch the movie and then tell me it was just a little misunderstanding and “fog of war”. Tillman’s parents would have no trouble calling the military liars.

  25. martin

    A college professor had an op-ed on NPR Tuesday PM about college students celebrating and she brought up something interesting. Then, CNN had an interview with 2 college students and their reactions.

    9-11 happened when these “drunken kids” were 10-12 years old. Some had their school principals come in the room and have teachers switch channels in time for them to see the second plane hit the tower.

    These “drunken kids” have been terrorized for half their lives and the college professor seemed to think celebration was a reasonable way for them to express their relief that the man who had caused their terror was gone.

    I was in 6th grade during the Cuban Missle Crisis. One teacher out of six decided, out of her own terror I’m sure, to terrorize every child passing through her classroom. But, it ended and the Soviets did not bomb us.

    A little more than a year later, JFK was shot and while spending time with family friends, the mother was going off the deep end about the Soviets and Cubans storming Florida any minute. But, it didn’t happen.

    Thanks to constant war since 9-11, these “drunken kids” have had barely a day go by when terror has not slapped them in the face or punched them in the gut. So, I don’t begrudge them their reactions.

  26. Brad

    Yes, I sort of intellectually understand that — I’ve been told often enough — but I still don’t UNDERSTAND it.

    Maybe, because I’ve dealt with such events professionally, I just haven’t reacted emotionally to them the way some people do.

    I don’t recall a moment of fear on 9/11 or since. I was pumped up, excited, ready to take it on as a story, to figure out the implications. But I don’t remember fear.

    But professional reflexes don’t account for it entirely. I wasn’t frightened during the Cuban Missile Crisis, either. I was in the D.C. area at the time, while my parents were taking language lessons and doing other things to prepare for moving to my Dad’s next duty station in South America. I have this mental image of seeing The Washington Post on the stoop outside the door when I went to pick it up, and the headlines were all about the missile crisis. I don’t recall being at all worried about it.

    I was in the fourth grade, and I don’t recall any drills or anything else like that at school (and that’s what I hear the most about from people who recall being frightened — the hiding under the desk thing). Probably the school authorities figured there was no point, when you were essentially at ground zero for any nuclear attack.

    But I don’t remember being worried at all. I figured JFK down the street (we lived in Kensington, MD, two doors from Connecticut Ave.) could worry about it; that was his job.

    As for 9/11 — I’ve never gotten the whole fear thing. It was horrible, and people who were personally touched by it were no doubt affected permanently. But as for FEAR going forward? I didn’t get that. Yeah, you could be on a plane that was hijacked and flown into a building, but after 9/11, the chances of terrorists actually being able to pull that off were slim. You could be in a vicinity where a car bomb or something went off, but the chances of getting hit by a car crossing the street were much greater.

    Democrats and other critics of the Bush administration and the GOP in general were always accusing them of playing on fear. I would support, I don’t know, phone surveillance or whatever, and people would say I was letting the GOP’s fearmongering convince me to give up my “freedoms.” And whenever they did, I would think, “Fear? Where’s that coming from?” Because I didn’t feel it.

    To me, the reason you do analysis of phone traffic or beef up security at airports or whatever is because it’s a rational response to a credible threat. And when I say “threat” I’m not talking about something we have to be AFRAID of. I’m simply saying that if your job is to protect Americans’ security (because you’re the president, or in the military, or with the police), then these are measures you take, calmly and rationally — not in some sort of panic. Like fastening your seat belt or locking your door when you leave home. Some people may do such things because they’re traumatized by fear, I suppose, but most people do them because it’s common sense.

    And of course, there’s fear on both sides, or so I’m told. I suppose some people agree to have their phones monitored because they FEAR terrorists, and others oppose such measures because they FEAR tyranny. I just don’t feel either emotion.

    You know what I’m afraid of? Roller coasters. Very traumatic. That’s why I haven’t been on one in years.

  27. Steven Davis

    Martin – give me a break, these kids celebrated because Bin Laden was killed. They also party because school is over; it’s Wednesday; it’s after 2:00; their socks match; etc… I don’t know one teenager who lives in constant fear of terrorists. Did any of us that grew up in the Cold War wake up everyday wondering if we were going to live through the day… nope.

  28. Doug Ross

    “beef up security at airports or whatever is because it’s a rational response to a credible threat. ”

    TSA and rational do not belong in the same sentence. As someone who has flown 200 flights in the past 12 months, I can tell you there is nothing about what TSA does that makes me feel more secure. The TSA is simply a bunch of rent-a-cops working under a set of bizarre rules that only a government hack could come up with.

  29. Doug Ross

    A couple weeks ago in Columbia, an elderly gentleman in front of me had to give up a wrench he had in his carry-on because it was 8 inches long instead of the maximum 7 inches.

    My four ounce toothpaste tube that fits in the quart size bag is illegal. Luckily the TSA hasn’t done an item by item inspection yet. But I won’t be surprised when they do.

  30. bud

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to agree with Steven on this one. College kids will use anything for an excuse for a party. I doubt they were gripped by fear on a constant basis. It’s just not in a young person’s DNA.

  31. Doug Ross

    A very insightful explanation on of how the initial story about Osama’s death was intentionally false. The idea was to discredit bin Laden as a coward hiding behind a woman in the initial reports (because that’s what most people will remember).

    “Carney blamed the misleading early reports on the “fog of war.” But a fog of war creates confusion, not a consistent story like the one about the human shield. The reason U.S. officials bought and sold this story is that it fit their larger indictment of Bin Laden. It reinforced the shameful picture of him hiding in a mansion while sending others to fight and die. It made him look like a coward.

    This is the narrative that’s really at stake. A narrative isn’t just a chronology. It’s a tale woven with themes.”

    Lie first, correct later.

  32. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    @ Doug– Apparently, you can’t even bring the dregs of a larger toothpaste tube onboard–like I guess you could refill it? At least they now allow 3.3 oz. or whatever the metric version works out to be–

    @ Burl–ChiCom? Mao would have been so–so–hmmm

  33. Burl Burlingame

    Brad — were you ever issued dog tags? I still have mine from living in Formosa/Taiwan. We were required to wear them whenever the ChiComs acted up, so our little bodies could be identified.

  34. Burl Burlingame

    Hard to have a “fog of war” when the sources are so limited in number — basically, the inner circle of WH security. The “human shield” bit sounds like a shared misunderstanding. I think John Brennan jumped the gun with the details of the raid, particularly since those involved had not yet been debriefed.

  35. bud

    Bush’s deer in the headlines moment was hardly an isolated bad moment in the history of American Presidency. Here are some others:

    I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. (Clinton’s worst moment)

    Your president is not a crook. (Nixon lying about Watergate)

    I was attacked by a rabbit (Carter relating a “scary story”)

    The stumble (Ford getting off the plane)

    I don’t remember (Reagan when asked about Iran/Contra)

    I will not send American boys to do what Asian boys should do (LBJ a month before sending troops to Vietnam)

    Read my lips, no new taxes (Bush Sr. just before raising taxes)

    Mission Accomplished (The banner behind Bush Jr. just before the insurgency in Iraq took hold)

  36. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Oh, and more re: stupid TSA rules– nothing prevents you from bringing an EMPTY container on board–so why not a half empty container of whatever that was originally larger than the cut-off. Is a judgment call that hard to make?

    Security theater.


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