Last night at about 8:45 pm PT I found out that Osama Bid Laden had been killed. Here’s how that went down: My brother picked up his iPhone, glanced through his Twitter feed and announced the news as we were waiting for the opening credits for an action movie we had come to see to close out our Sunday nights.
It being Twitter, I suspended disbelief, but felt reasonably confident that the news was true, given the groundswell of information being tweeted about it. And then I moved on with my evening.
Is there anything wrong with that?
Yes. And, no.
Yes, because it was truly a momentous event. It was, in many ways, the culmination of 10 years of searching and frustration, made and broken political careers, physical demonstrations of strength and power, alarmed admissions of weakness and ignorance, aggression and intolerance, inner turmoil and acceptance, American tragedy and dark, dark American comedy. And all I did was continue to sit in my seat and watch a very sub-par movie.
No, because I knew that the next few days would unfurl themselves before me in a constant stream of information about his whereabouts for the last ten years, where he was killed, how he was killed, Obama’s thoughts on his death, everyone’s thoughts on his death, analyses of how this will affect the Presidential race, pronouncements of how this will affect Obama’s legacy in office, and general societal responses to the news of his death. And I would be there to read, watch, listen to, and ingest it all.
The thing about fast-breaking news these days is that it breaks, and it continues to break like a wave hitting the continental shelf over and over and over. This phenomenon gives modern news consumers time to digest that information from all chosen angles, from all chosen sources.
All of that, and all I’m really taking away from this news is a) I am utterly relieved to see a contingent of contacts within my sphere who are conflicted about unabashedly cheering someone else’s death-even if that person is arguably the most hated man of the 21st century. This contingent includes my brother, a member of the U.S. Army Reserves, who was twice deployed to Iraq.
I continue to believe that the greatest American patriots in the world are those who continue to question, and- where fitting- condemn, the loss of life as a necessary price of freedom and security, and who query our government about whether the loss of life abroad is a necessary precondition for maintaining American democracy.
In related news, an obituary for Osama Bin Laden in the NYTimes? A poignant statement in the city that lost the most at his hands.