exceptions prove rules
While we're on the subject of Bin Laden and an innocent and accidental mash-up of a MLK quote, I don't think the attribution "controversy" (such as it is) isn't the interesting thing here, it's the sentiment. The genesis of the quote is from an English teacher in Japan, who posted her Facebook status thusly:
Which raises the question: If you don't believe in the death penalty, and you don't believe in killing other human beings, is it still okay to kill Osama bin Laden? In the morally relativistic world of adulthood, it can be answered with a shrug, but that's not the world you live in if you've got kids.
When Lucy was about two and a half, we were driving along the West Side Highway in Manhattan, and the car conversation invariably turned to the giant gaping hole in the ground where the World Trade Center had been. Not one to let anything slip by uncommented, she pressed us on the issue. As any of you with kids knows, the words "September 11" are in the ether - short of hiding them in the attic, your offspring are going to hear those words, and they're going to know they're bad in some way.
I finally told her a very bad man knocked the two towers down, and she mentioned it every time we saw skyscrapers from Brooklyn - not in a scared way, just matter-of-fact. Fast-forward to this Monday morning, and Tessa felt like she had to say something to Lucy about the breaking news, since it was going to come up at school, somehow, someway.
"You remember that really bad man who knocked those towers down in New York, sweetie?" Tessa asked.
"Yeah," Lucy responded.
"Well, he died last night."
To which Lucy immediately asked, "Did we die him?"
"Yes," Tessa said, "we did."
Lucy has a habit of using nouns for verbs and making shit up on the fly, hence jewels like "the boys were swording each other on the playground" and something heartbreaking like "did we die him". I found it pretty amazing that her first response upon hearing the news was the assumption Osama bin Laden did not die of natural causes.
Often the way you keep your kid from freaking out about something is to act as if everything is natural and suspected - after all, they get most of their cues from you. When my Auntie Donna died, we did a pretty good job of being honest and loving about it with Lucy, and she responded in kind. But this is different, because we - as a country - went into another country, found someone we'd been looking for, and murdered him. It's pretty hard to make up a cute parable for that one.
Part of the overwhelming jumble of emotions I experienced Sunday night was unadulterated jubilation. I wanted that motherfucker dead, and I would have been willing to take a crowbar to the back of his head for what he did to New York City and my psyche. But I am devoutly against capital punishment, like to consider myself a pacifist, and Buddhism is the only "religion" that has ever struck me at the soul. So what am I made of, really?
There's an internet meme called Godwin's Law, which states that every argument, if carried on long enough, eventually mentions Hitler, in which case the argument itself is rendered irrelevant. But this is one time when mentioning Hitler is warranted, because Bin Laden hits Americans in the same place. He evokes similar rage, gouges at a similar wound. Sure, we nominally would have taken Bin Laden alive, but like Hitler, is that a trial we wanted to experience?
Even the usually-equanimous Jon Stewart admitted last night he was far too close to the subject matter to be rational; instead, he relished Al Qaeda's demise, saying they might attack us again, but even if they do...
"...you know who won't see it? Bin Laden. 'Cause we shot out his eyes, and now he lives in a pineapple under the sea!"
I share his enthusiasm, and to be honest, much of the hand-wringing I've seen among my cohorts smacks of weenie-minded namby-pambyism from people who feel massive relief Bin Laden is dead, but still want to feel as though killing people is wrong. Weirdly, I share their unease. And you can bet your ass this paradox will not be lost on our kids.
But maybe that's just life. You can strive for ideological purity, but when it comes down to it, if you invent a time machine, you kinda have to go back and put a bullet in Hitler's brain. Perhaps "I don't believe in killing anybody, but I would kill Bin Laden" isn't necessarily a logical fallacy. Only question is, how do you explain it to a 6-year-old?
Posted by Ian Williams at May 3, 2011 11:15 PM
Lucy pontificates from back seat of car, June 2008
Kent, you are a great person from everything I've read and gleaned from this blog and Ian's words about you. You're also very lucky that there are men like our last two presidents and Seal Team Six around to keep you safe and sound . . . and naive.
If I have to explain the justification of a double tap shot to the head to you, pardon me while I first SLAP my own forehead and pause to get over my disbelief. Nevermind that it's a textbook way to put someone down. Nevermind that it's arguably more humane because it ensures a quick death. I'm actually impressed that the professional did not empty his entire clip.
Let me address your points.
1. First, I would like to believe that the U.S. policy on interrogation does not start out with torture. I would like to think that the first person in the room is a "good cop" who tries to work in a pleasant or diplomatic fashion. So, for you to suggest there are other ways, I'm going to go out on a limb and presume that those other ways were attempted. It is problematic dealing with people who are not afraid to die. Torture alone will not break them. Trying to build rapport will not break them. At least not in a timely fashion.
2. If a man would hold his tongue regarding information while someone threatened his child or family, then he's not a real father and not a real man. However, I will concede that's an unfortunate casualty of war. If I had a kid and someone threatened to shoot them, I'm giving up secrets.
Put it another way, if you knew that you could capture Bin Laden and prevent another 9/11 type disaster by killing an enemy combatant's child in front of him, my only question for you is this:
Would you aim for the heart or the head?
You don't have to answer because you have the luxury of not having to answer. You have the luxury to debate the morality of it. If you were in the position, however, to single-bulletly lop off the head of the snake that keeps the country and the world in constant fear, do you think you could make that choice? I would hope I would be able to take aim and fire. Luckily, there are no news reports that our government did anything of the sort, so your proposal is dead in the water. Get it, "dead in the water"?
It's a scary world outside of the theater, Kent. You should thank God that men like Team Seal Six are around to make those difficult nightmare-inducing decisions so that you can live free and write show tunes.
I am not making it personal to you. Those men make it free for all of us to watch sports, watch American Idol, go to Disney, cheer for our alma maters, and debate like we do in this forum.
Even though they are doing their jobs, you know that it must haunt them if they hurt or accidentally kill a child or an innocent in the execution of their missions. What is miraculous to me is that there were purportedly 12 to 13 kids in the home at the time of the raid. Not one of them was hurt. I read that the woman was used as a human shield and that she reached for a weapon, but was only shot in the leg.
When it comes to war, no country on the planet goes out of their way to ensure the safety of innocent people like the Yanks. There are American soldiers who die because of "friendly fire" all the time. War sucks and shit happens. But our country actually prosecutes and punishes people who get out of bounds during war. People got jail time for taking pictures of prisoners. Not killing them. Not even hurting them. But doing things that freshmen pledges go through every semester.
So, please, please, please get off of your naive high horse on this one and lay off the SEALS. Even Charlie Sheen was a SEAL.
Kent and Public Servant, you both make my point. In fact, Public Servant, you don't even distinguish your position from mine very much. Given the choice of having OBL dead or captured versus alive and on the run, I suggested all veterans would be happy that he's dead. You simply said they had a muted reaction because they fear that retaliation may follow and that war is hell and no death should be celebrated. My point is that I still think they're glad he's dead or captured. Of course there is going to be retaliation. Here's a little secret--those loons were going to attack us again anyway. I think of the military like those coaches who get doused with Gatorade at the end of the football game, but who still yell at their players because there is still technically time on the clock and the game isn't over. Killing OBL didn't end the war on terror and it may have been more symbolic than practical. Yet, I think capturing and/or killing him was better than not doing so. I would expect the military to be on extra high alert and I am glad they didn't react like Auburn fans rolling the trees in Toomer's Corner. So my "happy" and your muted reaction and concern over what will happen next are essentially the same thing--the military is glad he's gone.
Kent, I didn't post as The Moralist or Mr. Kumbabya. I posted as The Realist. If you're OBL, sleeping in a fortified stronghold and you are attacked by Navy Seals, you have only one acceptable reaction available to you to avoid being killed: raise your hands and surrender. Unarmed means unarmed and no immediate threat. If you have weapons within your reach or at your immediate disposal and you choose to use a woman as a human shield, I don't consider you unarmed. Unarmed, waving a white flag with your hands in the air is something entirely different. Had OBL been shot under THOSE circumstances, I would agree with you.
Now, if you wish to take the discussion from the context of the real world into a more theoretical or academic type of setting, then I think we may find way more common ground than you think.
In the real world, however, we are a country who avenges those who bring us pain and destruction. As the folks in Hiroshima how the bombing of Pearl Harbor went. My points throughout the comment section were not to debate how or why we got here. My points were to say that the killing of OBL was the result of making lots of real world choices that may have been morally and legally ambiguous, yet resulted in getting the guy we wanted. So, if you want to rejoice in the killing of OBL, you all have to look in the mirror to see if you're happy at how we had to get there and you have to acknowledge that it wasn't all done in a way that would make you feel warm and fuzzy like a by-the-books thorough Law & Order investigation on the television. Some of the ways we got here would make you cringe. I'm not even in support of the enhanced interrogation techniques, if they can be avoided.
For me, personally, Kent, to use your point about the show "24", I'm not certain of whether to get too excited because I don't know if we're in hour 10 of the show or hour 23. Like the military personnel Public Servant described, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop and feel as though I won't fully exhale until it does.
I am glad the boogey man is gone, though. If we can't agree on that, then we'll just have to disagree.