Tuesday, May 03, 2011


No, not a Footnote, a follow-up.

One of the things I mentioned in the previous post was "testosterone-driven posturing" visible in the celebrations in the wake of the announcement of Osama bin Laden having been killed. The truth is, I was genuinely disturbed by some of what I saw.

One reason is a bit hard to explain clearly, although Pamela Gerloff, writing at the Huffington Post, makes a good run at it: I simply can't find it in myself to celebrate the death of a human being. I don't care who it was. I can feel relief at a death (sometimes even, for example with my mother, who suffered for years before she died, a grateful relief), I can be glad they are off the scene, I can even in some cases feel - as Canadian PM Stephen Harper said he felt in this case - "sober satisfation." But outright pleasure? No. Not me.

But that is precisely what a lot of the celebrants showed: outright pleasure. Not relief, not a sense of greater safety or security, not a sense that things might be better for us and the rest of the world, nothing about the future. No, just pleasure. Out in the streets chanting "USA! USA!" and singing "nah-nah-nah-nah, hey hey hey, goodbye," used by winners to mock losers.

Which is what it came down to. I have seen films of, I head read accounts of, my folks told me some stories of, the spontaneous celebrations that broke out on V-E Day and V-J Day. And yes, while there were people out in the streets waving flags, the entire atmosphere was one of joyous relief: I'm going home! Or My husband/father/son/brother is coming home! It's over!

But not here, not this time. There was no sense of relief, no sense of "things will be better now." No, the whole, the overall, sense was one of "America kicks ass, man!" It was "We got 'em, man!" It was "Hey, loser! You suck!" What we saw on those streets was not patriotism, it was jingoism.

No, not everyone was guilty of that; of course not and don't be silly. But enough. Enough, in fact, that the truth is that it expressed a constant underlying current in American thinking, one that puts me in greater fear of our future as an at least reasonably free society than Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda or any of the other lesser-known outfits ever did or could. Al-Qaeda can kill us, it can even kill a lot of us, but it - but terrorism - is utterly incapable of killing who we are as a people, utterly unable to kill whatever ideals to which we still cling. We can only do that to ourselves. And I fear that there are far too many among us who are more than willing to do precisely that.

Two other things for now:

One is the question of what difference bin Laden's death will make in terrorism in the world. (Note well that here I am using "terrorism" in the media-approved sense of "non-state" terrorism, under which governments, which have terrorized more people than the "terrorists" by orders of magnitude, need not apply.) The answer is: Probably none at all, either one way or the other. It will make no more difference than the capture of Saddam Hussein made a difference in post-war Iraq.

One reason is that years ago, al-Qaeda was already being described more as a "brand" than an organization, more an ideology than a particular group. If you wanted to feel yourself part of this "great campaign," you called yourself al-Qaeda. It has been years since there was some central coordination in what were described as (or even self-claimed to be) "al-Qaeda" attacks. What's more, bin Laden himself had for some time been pretty much out of the operational loop. He was more a figurehead than a controlling influence, marking the effect of his death as psychological rather than practical. Which means that you've gone from a living symbol to a dead martyr. I doubt it will make a difference.

The other thing is that I knew as soon as I read that the original tip that lead, years later, to locating bin Laden came from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed while he was in a secret CIA prison in Eastern Europe, I knew that the after-the-fact justifications for torture would be close behind. And indeed they were:
The revelation that intelligence gleaned from the CIA's so-called black sites helped kill bin Laden was seen as vindication for many intelligence officials who have been repeatedly investigated and criticized for their involvement in a program that involved the harshest interrogation methods in U.S. history.

"We got beat up for it, but those efforts led to this great day," said Marty Martin, a retired CIA officer who for years led the hunt for bin Laden.
See? See? Torture good! Secret prisons good! All because one tiny, at first glance irrelevant, bit of information (the nickname of a courier) was combined with years of patient intelligence and investigative work to produce a flashy result that ultimately will very very likely not make a damned bit of difference - and even though that information was not gained through torture but through "standard interrogation."

But who cares? America kicks ass, man!

Actually, There Is A Footnote: In the time between when he authorized the strike and when it actually got underway, PHC* visited the tornado-ravaged area of Alabama, spoke at a college commencement, distributed his one-liners and the correspondent's dinner, and played a half-round of golf. Say what you want about him (and I have and will), you gotta admit, he's got a good poker face.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

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