Commentary: Take time to reflect as we celebrate the end of Bin Laden

People celebrate at the White House at the news of Osama bin Laden's death.
People celebrate at the White House at the news of Osama bin Laden's death. Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

Now we have the other bookend to go with our memories of 9/11.

Ten years apart.

First the news that two of our tallest, most-iconic office towers had not only been struck by highjacked airliners but brought to the ground.

Now the announcement that on the evening of our first real spring day the United States had completed the manhunt of Osama bin Laden.

The threat of global terrorism didn’t begin on 9/11. It didn’t end Sunday. But we like beginnings and endings. That this one is contained almost exactly into a single decade makes it all the more tidy.

I listened to the breathless newscasters filling so much time with so little actual information. I watched video of crowds – small at first and then quite large – celebrating at the gates of the White House and near ground zero in New York.

I didn’t begrudge them their elation. They appeared mostly young, perhaps people who first realized the world was dangerous and that everyone didn’t love us when they saw footage of the collapsing towers.

Ten years of taking off their shoes at the airport. Ten years of listening to warnings about being too loud, too obvious, too American when traveling abroad. Ten years of reduced freedom as the price of safety.

Smoking buildings followed by smoking rubble. Let’s roll. Shop for New York. Iraq. Toppled statues of Saddam. Mission Accomplished. Afghanistan. Annual memorials that became less apparent with each year. Thousands of soldiers dead. Thousand more maimed.

It wasn’t all to kill bin Laden, though it was galling that he lived when others died. His death is more symbolic than strategic, not unlike the dismantling of the Berlin Wall that marked the end of the Cold War but didn’t make us as secure as we thought it would at the time.

So I understood the need to party, even if I didn’t feel the need to join in.

I messaged my kids at college Sunday night to make sure they were watching the coverage. One had already texted the news to her mother, happy that she’d scooped the News Lady. The other wondered what it all really meant.

Nearly 10 years ago, we had found out together, much later than most of the world. Getting ready for school and work was done without TV or radio or the web. Once we got close, I turned on the radio and heard of the collapse of the first tower. They must have gauged the significance when I uttered a phrase beginning with “holy” and ending with a word fathers aren’t supposed to use around children.

School was let out early and I left work long enough to deliver them to grandma’s. I urged her to draw comparisons to the news she’d received as a young woman, that American forces had been attacked at Pearl Harbor.

For my kids and their peers, 9/11 was their Pearl Harbor; Sunday was their VJ Day.

My biology major, the one who’d scooped her mother, had already started a drinking game with her roommates. Every time someone on CNN used the words “Osama bin Laden,” “9/11” or “momentous,” they raised their glasses and took a sip.

When I reminded her that she had class in the morning, she messaged: “But this is a momentous occasion.”

I’m not sure if that triggered another sip.

My political science major knew it was important, but also knew it didn’t change things. Al-Qaida is bigger than bin Laden. The issues and sentiments he exploited still exist. The world can still be a dangerous place.

Ambiguity, however, did not stop her from joining in the jubilation that had broken out in and around campus. Their drink of choice was American beer.

“Pabst?” I asked.

“No, Bud heavy,” she responded.

Ah, yes, Budweiser. The quintessential American brand now owned by InBev of Belgium and Brazil.

Every time we try to feel secure in our isolation, the world shows us how small it is.

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