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The Death of Osama bin Laden

While Pamela Gerloff has expressed pretty much exactly what I'm feeling in her article The Psychology of Revenge: Why We Should Stop Celebrating Osama Bin Laden's Death, there are still a couple of things I'd like to say, and they're going to sound facetious but I mean them sincerely.

We killed the Bogeyman. Great. When has the Bogeyman ever stayed dead? When has the enemy been defeated where another, scarier, enemy hasn't appeared to take his place?

Never.

Watch any horror film. Watch Doctor Who. Read a Stephen King novel (though except for Salem's Lot and Misery, you can usually skip the last 60 pages). There's always, always, someone worse out there. Horror films and kids' shows with monsters and scary books play on our deepest fears, and they are our deepest fears for a reason.

Even better, look at history. In World War I, the Germans in their quest for Empire were the Bogeymen, bayonetting Belgian babies in the yellow press and mustard-gassing Our Boys at every opportunity. The Allies defeated them. Who filled the void that defeat left in Germany? Adolf Hitler, also leading Germany on a quest for Empire, but this time with the additional bonus of the attempt at wiping out an entire religion, an entire race. He was defeated as well. And what came next? The H-bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the sudden proliferation of weapons that could, quite simply, kill everything.

You might argue that we've come to our senses about nuclear weaponry, and perhaps that's true...but it doesn't disarm the hundreds of nuclear warheads still sitting in their silos in the US and former Soviet Union; it doesn't disarm the new warheads being built by China, North Korea, Iran, France, India, Pakistan, and who knows how many other places. It's still a Bogeyman.

After that, we have a string of quasi-fascist, murdering-their-own-people-under-a-sense-of-misguided nationality, often-Communist, evil dictators: Mao Tse-Tsung, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-Sung, Sukarno, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Yasser Arafat (but only sometimes), Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-Il. Each of them a Bogeyman, and the only one crazy enough to be scary on a international level is Kim Jong-Il (see comments on nukes above).

And then we have Osama bin Laden, another charismatic leader (like Hitler and Stalin and Truman and Reagan--NOT that I'm comparing them one-to-one, please) who undoubtedly caused great harm in what seemed at the time like a completely unexpected direction. OF COURSE he became the Bogeyman, he was the face of Islamic Extreme Westerner-Killing Fundamentalism. And it had to have a face, or we couldn't go to war with it. Sure, the face of that fundamentalism shifted slightly depending on who was prosecuting the war (Bushes = Hussein, Clinton/Obama = Al Qaeda and the Taliban), but it always had to have a face, and as soon as Hussein was captured, it went back to being bin Laden. He was all the more scary because we couldn't find him—another classic Bogeyman move. You don't know where he is, but you can hear him breathing in the back of your closet.

So, great. We figured out which closet he was in, we went in and flushed him out, and we killed him. Given our history—given what we know about defeating our greatest fears, that there's always something more terrifying out there—what have we got to celebrate? Am I satisfied that bin Laden is dead? Oh, yes. Most definitely. I am very, very satisfied to know that he is no longer living. I walked 4 miles home from work on 9/11 because I was scared to take the subway. I spent the day watching TV, I saw people jumping from the Towers to escape the flames. I am satisfied. But I am not celebrating. Because I know that once you've killed the Bogeyman, something worse is going to take his place.

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