So, as you've all heard by now, Osama Bin Laden has kicked the proverbial bucket, bitten the proverbial dust, and tripped over the only-halfway-metaphorical toad. Not at all shockingly, theories that he had died years ago were proven untrue. Not quite ten years after the September 11th attacks, the big bad al-Qaeda head honcho we've devoted so much time, so many resources, and so many lives - not only our own, but the countless civilian lives lost in our not-wars-but-great-ways-for-contractors-to-make-money in Iraq and Afghanistan. Should we take to the streets and start singing 'War is Over,' as out of season as that would be? Break out the giant foam hands and wave them while chanting that America is number one until our voices give out and we tire of the redundancy?
I'd suggest a third option, but we as a people are not overly inclined to take that. I certainly don't find Bin Laden's death objectionable myself, there's no question of that - it was no different when Saddam Hussein was executed years back. But it's really just that - I'm feeling exactly the same way now that I did back then. When Hussein was killed, we had hyped up the Iraq war cause so absurdly that we practically expected the sky to open, and for Jesus Christ himself to descend on an escalator and personally give George W. Bush the greatest high-five in recorded history, leading the whole world to shed tears of joy and bow down before their true savior and the GREATEST PRESIDENT THERE EVER WAS as they stood together in that monumental moment. Because as we've learned all throughout history, pop culture, and more, all the bad things in life can be eliminated and greater good can be achieved the world over through wanton violence. Get to the end of that final level, defeat the final boss, and BA-BA-POW!!! a new high score and the world is saved. At least until that next bad guy gets his hands on the next MacGuffin that we forgot about until then - then it'll be time to go kill him too.
At the center of all this is just what there was when Hussein was hung. A man died that day. Another man died yesterday when Osama Bin Laden was killed. Neither of them were good men, and while on some humane level, I'd prefer they spent the rest of their lives suffering in prison, I don't find myself feeling horrible because they're dead. As someone who doesn't believe in any afterlife, part of me is inclined to feel that death let these men off easy. Bin Laden in particular spent his life sowing human suffering. His demise is no loss for the world, and more a relief than anything else, as his demise means that further suffering he would have caused firsthand has been prevented. But at the same time, I look around and see people cheering on a killing, and I can't help but think that despite all our pretenses of being civilized, postmodern twenty-first century people, there's still something savagely barbaric about us. And the killing of major villains around the world brings that out in us on a primal level.
While I have no particular empathy for Bin Laden, as I did not for Hussein, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of cheering on somebody's death, no matter who they are. Misanthropic as I am, my hatred doesn't extend in a direction where I would laugh at and find pleasure in somebody's death - there's a difference between that and not finding an individual's demise unwelcome. And since Bin Laden has died, there's talk of this being the 'end' of an era - amid, of course, every effort by the Republican party to diminish any credit to Obama or the current Democratic leadership while cheering on George W. Bush, as though he'd hunted down Bin Laden himself - after ten years of the 'War on Terror.'
Is the 'War on Terror' over? Not by a long shot. We're not just in it for the long haul - we're still seeking something cruelly undefined and open-ended. The chaos and tragedy of war and needless death are far from over. For all the initial sense of finality there was in Saddam Hussein's execution and is much the same in Bin Laden's long-anticipated killing, things haven't changed. We're still bankrupting ourselves on three wars now, while allowing our biggest criminals on Wall Street to get off scot-free while we attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and middle classes, funneling their remaining money into the pockets of the nation's wealthiest. In America, livable work is hard to come by. People can still go bankrupt with ease when they try to see their doctor, and die from an easily preventable illness. In America, improving our standards of living incites foaming at the mouth and words of 'class warfare,' while we casually brush aside the slow crushing the upper classes have put the lower classes in America through for decades now. In America, unionization is treated as though you're affiliating with Josef Stalin himself. In America, teachers are 'lazy,' 'overpaid' when they don't make a living wage, routinely accused of indoctrinating children with 'liberal propaganda' for attempting to educate instead of teaching conservative propaganda, and we insist that they 'get summers off.' America's wealthy? Heroes who clawed their way to the top and are rightly living the American dream - why punish them with progressive taxation? Also, ignore that most wealth is inherited.
To our credit, fucking nobody went to see that Atlas Shrugged movie. We love Michael Bay, but oh, we draw the damn line at Ayn Rand. It's one thing to tell a 'story' with explosions - it's something else to make us sit through a hundred-page speech akin to "Fuck you, got mine."
Killing Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden doesn't change things, in the end. We are the ones who have to change - not merely through impassioned rhetoric like what led to Obama's election followed by years of nationally-destructive obstructionism by the GOP, ensuring that we won't just fail to achieve change, but that we'll backslide further if we keep electing them and head into dangerous territory - we have to demand an end to endless war. To call for the rebirth of a nation where 'welfare' is no longer a dirty word, and where the people stop treating each other like rivals in some bitter, desperate scramble for the invisible millions of dollars just waiting to be claimed by the next brave American willing to pursue their dreams. In a nation where the 'American Dream' has become a winner-take-all game of, "I'm gonna be rich, you're gonna die in a ditch," we cannot hope to build any kind of future if we cannot get past our increasingly feudalistic inclinations. The greatest crime of the human race is that we're capable so much better than this.
To quote the ending to Kurt Vonnegut's Dead-Eye Dick, "You want to know something? We are still in the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages — they haven't ended yet."