[Editor’s note – Enjoy a double dose of Overrated this week. Ned Bitters asked to run a second column this week to share his thoughts on America’s reaction to Osama bin Laden’s death.]
This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … celebrating bin Laden’s death.
Was anyone else sickened by the pictures and video clips of thousands of flag-waving, flag-draped Americans celebrating at the White House and Ground Zero Sunday night? Most people saw patriotism and victory celebration. I found it embarrassing and vulgar.
First, let me get this out of the way. Yes, I am glad that Osama bin Laden is dead. I am thankful that U.S. Intelligence has people 17 times smarter than I am working relentlessly to stop future terrorist attacks. I am thankful that some members of the military possess, well, certain qualities that my wimpy ass certainly doesn’t have, to pull off a Hollywood-style raid that ridded the world of that vermin. I’m glad the decision-makers had the stones to risk a political nightmare by ordering an attack that easily could have gone all 1980-failed-Iranian-hostage-rescue on them. The world became a better place the moment that first bullet ripped through bin Laden’s brain.
But America looked more than silly carrying on like Detroit after a Pistons championship. Bin Laden’s bearded mug was one of the most recognizable faces on the planet, and we started looking for his evil ass before the second tower even fell, yet it took us almost ten years to track him down. We spent billions of dollars and lost how many lives in pursuit of a man who had no real nation, no real army and, if the intelligence was correct, a debilitating case of kidney disease. I’m not sure how triumphant we should feel about being outmaneuvered and outwitted by this bastard for almost a decade.
And his death didn’t immediately end the wars we so stupidly (and greedily, let’s face it, Big Business and Big Oil) engaged in after he attacked us. Thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis are dead from a war we can’t say we won and that was not even ostensibly about getting bin Laden. We continue to lose lives in Afghanistan in a war that we will never be able to win. Ever. So, we’ve spent trillions on two unwinnable wars and saw thousands killed and maimed in the process, yet people are crying and waving flags in Lafayette Park because we finally killed bin Laden. We look stupid.
But there’s a bigger reason why all the hootin’ and flag-wavin’ was so perverse. It’s because, despite the fact that the fucker is now feeding fishes, bin Laden has, in fact, won.
Even as a bullet ripped through his head, he has won as long as Guantanamo still exists.
Even as another bullet shredded his chest, he has won as long as any American can be labeled an enemy combatant and indefinitely detained without legal representation.
Even though minnows are right now nipping at his tiny balls, he has won as long as we keep restoring the Patriot Act intact every time it is set to expire.
Even though we’ll soon be treated to pictures of bin Laden’s Swiss cheese head, he has won as long as this country keeps installing more and more surveillance cameras in an effort to record our every public move.
Even though we’ll soon get to see his mangled carcass dumped into the ocean like so much sailor sewage, he has won as long as we still condone rendition and torture.
Even though his followers are left to deal with the image of their supreme commander getting gunned down by American forces in his bedroom, he has won as long as too many people in this country are willing to sacrifice rule of law and their basic civil rights because it creates the illusion of safety.
That’s why I was disturbed by all the red, white and blue carousing that got so much breathless airplay and front page prominence the past two days. I wonder if any of the celebrants saw the irony of surveillance cameras capturing every one of their actions, which would not have happened prior to 9-11. Or how if a bin Laden sympathizer joined the crowd and, in a counter-protest, voiced his displeasure at bin Laden’s killing and vowed, in a fit of anger, to some day extract revenge on America, why, he could have been arrested and thrown in jail indefinitely, denied legal representation and subjected to a nice session or six of waterboarding. For something he said.
I’m glad bin Laden is dead. I’m all for gathering in a public place to mark the momentous occasion. But not with flags and star spangled bandanas and hokey renditions of pablum like “God Bless America.” A little more solemnity and reflection is in order.
Because the bigger threat to America – the bin Laden-induced fear – still thrives in this country even though he’s dead. Here’s hoping we have the same fortitude and intelligence to vanquish it, an enemy much more insidious than that dead Saudi scum.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at email@example.com.