When I first saw the televised images of revelers outside of the White House Sunday night, celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, I was reminded of an iconic photograph.
On V-J Day in 1945, Alfred Eisenstaedt captured on film the image of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, crowded with thousands of people who were wildly celebrating. I hadn�t yet been born; what I knew of that time was what I gleaned from history about World War II: how brutal it was, the sacrifices made both by the military and the civilians at home, and how, after several years, Germany and Japan finally surrendered.
V-J Day was indeed worthy of a great celebration. The war with Japan had ended. American soldiers were no longer going to be killed battling the Japanese in the Pacific.
I can understand the jubilation felt Sunday by thousands of people who gathered outside of the White House and Ground Zero in New York City and on university campuses across the country. In a boisterous manner, they celebrated the news that U.S. forces had killed bin Laden.
It was a spontaneous, emotional release, a very human reaction to hearing the news that one of the most despised men on our planet was no longer a problem.
But no surrender papers have been signed. Young American men and women who have been given orders to ship out for a stint in Afghanistan saw no interruption to those plans.
We are still at war. We are still mired in a conflict that has lasted nearly a decade now, with estimated costs so far of $1 trillion to $3 trillion. Those are the costs we can measure. The value of young lives lost in the Sept. 11 attacks at home, and since then during war, of families left broken, of the wounded who come home to find everything has forever changed � those are priceless commodities not easily tallied. And, the war is still very real. It�s still happening. I find it difficult to celebrate right now.
Can I argue that the world hasn�t become a better place now that bin Laden is dead? No.
He was truly an apostle of hate. His main focus for more than 10 years has been to spawn violence in response to every grievance. Religion was simply a tool for bin Laden; he easily distorted it for political purposes.
This solitary man is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. So, let�s say I�ve not shed a tear upon hearing of bin Laden�s demise. The Good Book teaches us that evildoers should be held accountable for their deeds, and the state has the legitimate and important role of bringing to justice those who perpetrate terrible crimes.
But, in our nation, where many cling to the belief that our system of government is based on Christian ideals, it�s a bit unsettling to see a celebratory response to news of a man�s death. Even a very, very evil man.
I learned I wasn�t alone when by Monday morning friends posted these words on Facebook:
�All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike some one they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.� � Clarence Darrow
�Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.� � Martin Luther King, Jr.
�An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.� � Mohandas Gandhi
Jim Wallis, an American evangelical Christian writer and political activist, notes that reflection might be a better reaction to the events of May 1. He writes: �How do we best respond to evil and those who perpetrate it? What have we learned in the last 10 years about what truly is the best answer to the violence of terrorism? How do we change the conditions that have allowed terrorists to pull others into their agenda? In this fallen world we are often faced with imperfect choices in response to the clear dangers of evil. Religious wisdom always has us look also at ourselves and what opportunities we have to be makers of peace.�
Our military is vitally important, as is the security of our nation, wherever and whenever it is threatened. I know we must remain vigilant, and that means our president is continuing to regularly meet with Pentagon officials, reading the latest status reports on our country�s war on terror in the Middle East.
I hope someday, soon, however, we will be able to broker some sort of peaceful end to the conflict our nation has experienced for so long.
That, indeed, will be a time worth celebrating.