When President Barack Obama finally announced his death in a dramatic late-night television appearance, people in New York City, Washington D.C., and elsewhere around the country, broke out in spontaneous celebration.
It must be said that there was something disturbing about the sight of thousands of people celebrating the moment as if their favorite team had just won the championship. Indeed, there was an unmistakable Super Bowl party-feel to the revelry at Ground Zero, in Times Square and in front of the White House the night bin Laden was killed.
People danced in the street. They waved flags, painted their faces and chanted “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye,” the taunt hometown crowds usually reserve for the star of an opposing team who has just fouled out of the game. Most were college-aged kids who were still in grade school on 9/11.
Bin Laden’s death represented a major milestone in our fight against terrorism. The mission to kill him was a gutsy, impressive performance orchestrated by Obama and his national security team, and carried out by our brave armed forces.
Nonetheless, it was serious stuff. Several people died, including one woman who was used as a human shield to block a hail of bullets. A group of Pakistani children, some as young as two years old, were taken into custody.
And there was nearly a battle between the U.S. Special Forces who stormed Bin Laden’s compound and the Pakistani military, which was unaware of the operation and scrambling to protect its territory from a mysterious assault.
It was a sobering moment, a reminder of the dangers of war and the persistent threat of global terrorism. As a nation, ending the bin Laden chapter provided us with an opportunity to regroup emotionally and harness the kind of positive, unifying spirit that pervaded in the days after the 9/11 attacks.
Obama struck that tone in his speech to the nation. Unfortunately, our reaction was much more ugly. Hopefully, as we have more time to think about the meaning of bin Laden’s death, we’ll muster a more sober response.