Category Archives: war on terror

person (number 2) of the year

Time magazine has named ‘ The Protestor‘ as the person of the year. Everyone is very excited.

But, look at person no. 2 of the year: Adm. William McRaven. The man who led the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden.

Yes, Osama was a bad man. But, surely there is something wrong when the person of the year is someone seeking revenge.  TIME magazine says ‘Operation Neptune Spear stripped al-Qaeda…offered a kind of recompense for the traumas of 9/11’. What was Iraq? What was Afghanistan? Let us not forget the many many many people, american, iraqi and otherwise, who died in the pursuit of this one man.

When we start cheering about the capture and murder of an “enemy”, we inevitably paint the world in black and white, in good versus evil; we trivialize those who have died due to al Qaeda operations and we trivalize the frustations of the individuals driven to extremism.  Our language, sentiment, and opinions are reduced to the ‘Yay’ and ‘Boo’ of high school cheerleaders.

Reminds me of a fabulous  must-read piece on 3 quarks daily by Evert Cilliers, The Immensity of Killing Bin Laden vs. The Banality of Language

The killing of Osama bin Laden is very interesting in that its announcement came pre-packaged in a speech by our President, which was pitched to perform the job required of official language in these circumstances: to frame the event in the very specific terms that the President and his advisers wanted us to regard this event.

This is what happened, America, and this is how you should think about it, because in this moment, we are all Americans, who should all think the same thoughts about what your government and your military have done, OK?

So let it be spoken, so let it be felt.

Supreme among the official thoughts required from the citizenry by Obama’s speech was this: that the killing be regarded as exemplary of the greatness of our nation.

Besides this stroking of our collective ego, there was also a political calculation: the implication that our President himself is a supreme exemplar of the greatness of our nation. We should all vote for him in 2012 because of what happened.

Then there was the inevitable application of bathos to the national psyche: we suffered, it was the worst attack, we’re relentless, etc. All national psyches crave bathos, and none more than ours. We do hysteria with professional aplomb; we’re a nation of wet-eyed folks; no dry eye for us; in fact, we often wish Obama did a tad more drama.

In the aftermath of 9/11, kitsch became a patriotic duty. And rightly so: it brings us together. Yet there’s something creepy about how this works. The killing of Bin Laden, for example, demands that we consume a whole miasma of banality around the stark fact that a Navy Seal shot America’s #1 enemy above the left eye (was it twice? or once in the head, once in the chest? by week’s end, the fog-of-war excuse for the shape-shifting narratives became rather wind-blown).

We all make a bargain with TV — to enjoy its shallowness despite our smarts, because some of the crap we like doesn’t smell as bad as most of the crap we don’t. Plus we’re trained by a lifetime of viewing to bring our own irony to the party. The killing of Osama bin Laden suspended that bargain; it wanted us to swallow the corn-driven bandwagon whole. We have to stand united in kitsch.

For example: I’m not proud of those college students who gathered at the White House when the death of Bin Laden was announced, and chanted “USA! USA! USA!” in magnificently joyful togetherness. Rachel Maddow and Professor Jonathan Haidt and Amanda Marcotte were proud, but I wasn’t. I understand why the kids did it: they were in high school when 9/11 happened, and this is the arc of their entire lives. But their response lacked, well, grace — something their parents and teachers may have neglected to teach them. Taken to its logical extreme, this sort of behavior ends up in the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, or in the actions of American soldiers who cut off the ears of dead Vietnamese to string them on bad-ass necklaces as ghoulish evidence of their 100% commitment to war.


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