I was just about falling asleep Sunday night when my girlfriend, who keeps later hours than I, came into the bedroom to tell me that Osama bin Laden had been killed. “Osama bin Laden has been killed,” she said, “I thought you might want to know.”
“Great,” I replied, and rolled over to go back to sleep.
I feel like a bad American because I don’t grasp the significance of this event. It’s like I’ve been playing some overwrought sandbox video game where I’ve spent so much time doing side missions for non-player characters that I forgot the original plot which brought me to a town of incapable retards in the first place. Sure, I remember Osama bin Laden, I can recall focusing my rage on his smug, bearded face in the days and weeks after 9/11/01. I naturally assumed that the U.S. armed forces would swarm upon bin Laden like futuristic robotic ants at a picnic hologram. And I supported it, for the most part. Despite my sneaking suspicion that the tragic events of 9/11/01 weren’t wholly unjustified, that there was a bigger reason behind the attacks than some crusty supervillain hating “our freedoms,” I wanted revenge. Who the fuck was this guy to mess up the New York skyline and kill those hapless people? Blow his head off.
So George W. Bush sent our troops over to Afghanistan to flush Osama out of his hidey-hole or whatever. I recalled the early 1990s Operation: Desert Storm where the U.S. military fired hair-seeking missiles from the comfort of their La-Z-Boy recliners, killing only the guilty and simultaneously breeding gratefulness among the Kuwaiti people by sending Jolly Rancher cluster bombs into the most populated districts for women and children to enjoy. Plus, every country was on our side, remember that? For a brief time, everyone wanted in on the revenge, so I figured it would be all be over in six months–a year, tops. I felt pretty assured that this asshole would die, and though it wouldn’t erase the events of 9/11/01, at least it would satisfy some of my bloodlust.
But W. Bush didn’t fight the same war as his dad, no, he sent in a lot of ground troops and old-fashioned fighter jets to drop bombs instead of the science-fiction gadgetry I saw just as grunge music started taking off. Then W. Bush wanted to invade Iraq and burnt up all of our worldwide goodwill by brow-beating everyone in the United Nations. Osama bin Laden was on the run, we were told, proven by periodically released grainy video where he’d talk a lot of shit. Meanwhile, we had to get rid of Saddam Hussein for some reason or another. I started to feel like Osama bin Laden was the Joker, a diabolical mastermind would could not be caught so we’re better off not even trying. We can deal with his messes when they crop up, but for now we’ve got to corral the Riddler and Catwoman so let’s concentrate on them. It’s not like I started feeling sympathy for bin Laden, I just kind of pushed him to the periphery of a new cast of villains which included Saddam, Kim Jong-Il, and pretty much anyone and anything French.
It got more complicated from there. It turned out that the Iraqi War was fought for no reason yet we couldn’t leave because we’d unsettled the region politically (duh). The world’s economy went tits up and tens of thousands of mortgaged homes were foreclosed upon. There was also that thing where Israel bombed the Gaza Strip and a bunch of Turks were pissy about it. Or was it Greeks? The story was more complex than an episode of LOST, and in the shuffle I forgot that we were still looking for Osama bin Laden. I knew he was still an enemy, but it looked like we had bigger fish to fry. I mean, if the U.S. military ran into him at the 7-11, there would probably be a showdown. But provided bin Laden stayed wherever he was hiding out, he’d probably die naturally of vitamin D deficiency. Which is, in its way, a kind of justice.
One of the pivotal points of Barack Obama’s campaign platform was that he would remove troops from Iraq and put them back in Afghanistan. Unlike most political promises, Obama made good on that, and rather quickly as I recall. I was glad to see troops withdrawn from Iraq, a conflict that made little sense, and felt kind of lukewarm about them being sent to Afghanistan. I guess it’s to keep pounding the Taliban, I thought, or maybe to ferret out that bin Laden guy. I was so inured to our meddling in that region, I didn’t even bat an eyelid to hear that the U.S. was supporting Libyan rebels. I guess Ghadafi is the new enemy? I thought. That was comforting because I remember when he was an enemy before, way back when I was in grade school.
Last night, at the end of a press conference where Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan, he said, “Justice is done.” I’m wondering: for whom? For the thousands of people who died on U.S. soil during the attacks on 9/11/01? I find it hard to believe that the ethereal spirits of these people have been assuaged by the knowledge that some guy they’d probably never heard of in their lifetimes is going to join them in purgatory or wherever. Even for the families of these victims, it seems like a paltry vengeance. Was it worth hundreds of trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives and ten years doing fuck all but tracking bin Laden down for an unceremonious late night announcement? Does this assure that we will never suffer a terrorist attack again? Or have we put ourselves at an even larger risk by making a martyr of the very mad scientist who concocted 9/11/01 in his nefarious war room nestled deep within Dimension ZX-13? (Where, incidentally, everyone is evil, but Osama bin Laden was still the most evil. That’s how evil he was!)
I know I shouldn’t be glib. I know that killing Osama bin Laden is a big news story. But I wonder: what’s changed, besides more security precautions and the increased allocations to law enforcement that come with them? Has justice been done for cops? Is this justice for George W. Bush, who so desperately wanted to catch that varmint but was distracted by the nagging problem of Iraq’s exploitation at the hands of non-corporate interests? Perhaps this is justice for the U.S. military who haven’t even been tasked with killing bin Laden since 2003. It occurs to me that the only real justice that could happen after the events of 9/11/01 would be if America’s citizenry had returned to the naive, over consumptive state it enjoyed at the expense of the Third World prior to that fateful September day. To that end, we’ve been living in a state of justice for about half a dozen years now. In fact, we’ve barely curbed our wasteful ways. Justice is done.