Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Observations on the death of Osama bin Laden

Sunday night was one of those nights that you are always going to remember. I woke up from a nap on the couch to the news that a major announcement was coming from the President, this late on a Sunday night it had to mean something big. Word soon began to leak on twitter but it wasn't official until almost 11:30 when President Obama said "Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children." Even before his speech ended the streets erupted with honking horns and the cheering of people. If anything the sounds I heard as I stood on the roof combined with the photos I was seeing from Times Square reminded me of New Years Eve here.

I wasn't in the city on the day of the attacks but I drove up with a friend about a month after. I took maybe 400 photos (l) while I was there, most of which I have never shown anybody but my family. I snuck around a barricade to get most of the shots, saw the smoke, the dust, the utter destruction, and smelled the terrible smells. I was escorted back to 'safety' by the National Guard who than proceeded to call my dad. I don't think I ever saw him so mad at me because I didn't even tell him I was going there. What I saw are sights that I never will be able to forget. I’ve been back to Ground Zero since and I have seen the new construction but I still see it the way it was that day.

I told that story because yesterday I read and saw some opinions where it was said that we celebrated the death of bin Laden too much. That, especially in New York, we were just showing how the terrorists had won in the way they had changed us. Those who think that have to realize that most of the people out in the street celebrating were my age or younger and 9/11 is the focal point of their lives. It both literally and figuratively changed their lives forever. So many died that day and since that the celebration should have been totally expected. It was a pure natural reaction to learning that our ‘boogeyman’ was gone forever and we were still here. I'm sure the death of Adolf Hitler was celebrated in much the same way.

I fell in love with this city years before when I visited often with my mom. I remember how the feel, the energy, and the art of the city just amazed me. But I also remember first hand what it was like to be here ten years ago. My first thought on seeing the look on people's faces that day was that the city was dying, that it would never be the same ever again, the terrorists had indeed won.

I was wrong.

midday update - A friend emailed me an article from The Washington Post that says a little more about what I was trying to say, Resilient New York takes grim satisfaction in bin Laden’s death. Also I received an email from somebody who wanted to remind me that bin Laden "was in fact the creation of the same military and political establishment that has killed so many people under the pretext of the fight against al-Qaeda." Whatever, 9/11 was a watershed moment, one of those rare moments when what came before and what came after are totally separated. Not for me to decide.

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