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I was fourteen when the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center took place on September 11th, 2001.  I very clearly remember the entire day, and it was one of the defining moments of my transition from childhood to adulthood.  In the days that followed the attacks I learned who Osama bin Laden was for the first time.  I’m not a hateful person, but I learned to hate bin Laden in that time.  I read the email forwards of jokes about his death, and silently agreed with my dad whenever he would menacingly wish for the opportunity to have “five minutes alone with bin Laden.”

Now the breaking story of the night is that bin Laden is dead.  America’s boogeyman for the last ten years is gone.  I haven’t thought about bin Laden much in the last few years, but I’m really surprised by my reaction, given how much I, like many others, learned to hate him after 9/11.  I feel hollow.  I think I was much like the rest of America in the first weeks and months after the attacks.  We wanted to get him. When we started the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan there seemed to be an undercurrent that we would go in, kill the bad guys like bin Laden, and leave, victorious.

The subsequent years have gone somewhat differently.  We’ve watched thousands of American soldiers die.  We’ve dumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the wars while we’ve seen unprecedented cuts in spending on health care and education.  As a country we’ve committed torture and abandoned the rights that we declared inalienable at our founding more than 200 years ago.  We’ve watched American influence wane and the foundations of our economy falter.  We are now facing what is very likely the end of the American era.

Think of what it has cost us.  Billions of dollars are just the start of it.  Even the abandonment of our fundamental values like habeas corpus and the Eight Amendment are only a piece. In the wake of that and the sheer human costs of war, the death of Osama bin Laden does not feel like a win.  It’s empty.  The fighting will keep going on.   Soldiers, insurgents and civilians will keep dying.  The troops aren’t all gonna come home tomorrow, and when they do, what will it have cost them?  What has it cost America?

I’m reminded of the old adage that things are always worth just a little bit less than what you give up to get them.  I’m guessing there will be some general celebration of this news over the next few days.  I won’t look down at anyone who does celebrate.  I’ll probably even return the high fives and join in the celebration.  However, I hope that we all take a moment to ask ourselves if getting our revenge was worth what it cost us.

For more information:

Cost of War

iCasualties

Amnesty International – Guantánamo Bay

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