So, I wanted to start this blog with something happy, upbeat. Then not so much. Thus follows the obligatory “what do you think about bin Ladin?” post.
I don’t quite know. I don’t.
I found out what had happened last night via Facebook, when around 9:20pm Arizona Maverick Time, I finally noticed the Internet exploding, and I switched over to MSNBC’s live stream. (and let’s all take a moment to reflect on the fact that ten years ago, nothing I just wrote existed.)
I watched Brian Williams say things. I watched military guys talk about weapons, and equipment, and try to sound tougher than each other (retired military guys are awesome at that). I watched the President say smart and true things, and look really tired, and determined. And I texted my brother, and we marveled that bin Ladin was evidently living in a McMansion for the past ten years, and pizza delivery guys were the key to the whole deal, and did ‘Arrested Development’ turn out to be prophetic? (He was watching Fox News online, waiting for them to figure out a way to say Obama had done this wrong, somehow.)
And I tried to figure out what this meant– people were gathering outside in the streets, according to the news. Shouldn’t I be feeling jubilant, or patriotic, or relieved, or something?
I had two weeks in college before the towers fell. Two weeks of being independent from the ‘safe’ world of childhood before that got shot to hell for everyone. I can dimly remember a time before security checks and liquid restrictions and color terror alerts and the Patriot Act. But the reality is that my entire independent life, short two weeks, has been lived in the shadow of the falling towers. My friends from high school signed up for ROTC to pay for college and got shipped to Afghanistan and Iraq. My seminary professors told stories of ‘working on the Pile’ after the attacks, praying for the dead, caring for the recovery workers. My parishioners served in the wars, they read the names of the dead and wounded in the prayers every week, they kept things running at home, they tended the wounded when they returned. They sent their kids off to the wars, again and again and again. For nearly ten years.
And watching those impromptu parties last night, watching the college kids climb on the lampposts outside the White House, it nearly felt like the past ten years had been a nightmare that we could wake up from now. Like it would be that easy. That you can have one cinematic, 40 minute battle and wham! The story ends, the good guys win, and peace and justice reign forever more. It was like a flicker of light– for one brief moment I could believe that somehow life could go back to ‘normal’ — whatever normal life I thought I would have as a child.
Which it won’t. Those ten years aren’t coming back. Neither are the soldiers and the civilians killed, neither is the respect we lost with the brilliant muck-up that was/is the Iraqi War. Neither is the blind faith I had in my government at one point, (and I have news for you, if you think I’m jaded about the system, have a long talk with a current college student. Many of them will show a well-earned cynicism which is twice as well-polished as mine. They don’t remember the Peace Dividend, and all fun debates over that surplus-thing).
None of it is coming back. The wars won’t end today. I’ll still wonder what’s showing up when my passport gets scanned, and make John Ashcroft-is-listening jokes when I talk on the telephone. Killing Osama takes out a terror kingpin. It helps dismantle al-Qaeda. But it’s not magic. The things in our society that led to our wars, to our living in fear these past ten years are still here. Killing one guy won’t fix it.
This is probably why, on a purely cold, hard, practical level, Jesus recommended praying for our enemies, rather than beating the crap out of them. After you kill them, you just are going to find some new ones, and the line between good and evil is still going to run smack dab through the center of your own heart.*
*St. Augustine, gleefully paraphrased.