On Sunday, 1 May 2011, President Barack Obama went on television at 9:36 pm MST, and announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in his compound outside of Islamabad, Pakistan. In an obvious attempt to bolter his sagging approval ratings, the President ended up taking a little too much credit.
But for me, the celebrations outside the White House, at Ground Zero, in bars, etc. were much more problematic. I’m not comfortable with celebrating an assassination. This isn’t a football game, it’s a killing. It’s the taking of another man’s life.
While I’m generally against the death penalty, some people need to die. And for me, bin Laden was one of those people. But I don’t agree with the post-execution celebrations. When we assassinate, we shouldn’t be glib. As President Obama stated on 60 Minutes (8 May 2011), “That’s not who we are!”
I think the media is partially responsible for many of these inane demonstrations. After President Obama’s initial speech, ABC news showed the celebrants in front of the White House.
Even though there were comparatively few individuals at post-assassination demonstrations, their importance was exaggerated by the presence of cameramen. The newsmedia needs visuals for their stories. And demonstrations, no matter how small, always seem to be attract reporters because they involve people saying and doing things (photo ops and sound bites). If you want on TV or your picture in the newspaper, just burn a flag, hang somebody in effigy, carry a silly placard, act drunk and hang out outside the White House.
And as the newsmedia documents the demonstrations in the United States, they get geared up to record the counter demonstrations in other parts of world, knowing full well that they are instrumental in keeping the action going, in keeping the pot stirred.
All this has the feel of a public linching. A event where a man is hung, as the onlookers cheer. Or maybe something like a modern version of the old Roman arenas were man is executed by a lion, as the crowd cheered.
In the future, we will be able to see our assassinations in real-time or near real-time. The sniper, or marksman, or executioner will wear a webcam on his headgear. He will be able to narrate his kill. “I have a bead on the proposed victim, am we authorized to kill?” And maybe some “lucky” person will be able to remotely pull the trigger.
All this will be streamed live to a website with a name something like “assassinations.gov”. When the evil doer is dead, we will all be able to cheer in unison. Just like the arena crowds in ancient Rome.
Come to think of it, on this assassination, the President and his entourage did “watch” the assassination in real-time. Hopefully, they all didn’t cheer after the kill.
Now that the killing of Osama bin Laden is over, the blood-thirsty crowds want to see photographs of the dead terrorist (he apparently took a head shot). They need proof that he is dead. What’s next, hanging his head on the White House fence?
Our troops did their job masterfully and professionally. They did a job that needed doing. We needn’t turn their act of valor into a carnival show. We needn’t devalue life.