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Monday, May 02, 2011

"Justice has been done"

It was late. I should have been in bed - would have been in bed - but I had been emailing with a friend about a joke he had sent me. Just light funny banter about something I can't even remember now but seemed hilarious in the moment.

"Turn on your television," came his cryptic message. "Do it now."

I did. There was the President of the United States, looking somber but confident.

Clearly, something important was happening.

I immediately feared we had been attacked. Another 9/11 on the first day of 5/11. May Day.  Oh, God!

Within seconds of grasping what the President was saying, a text message came from our daughter who lives on the Upper East Side in New York City.

"Can you believe this?" she wrote, "Bin Laden is dead."

Like many others who were watching at the time, I was stunned. I couldn't get my mind wrapped around what was happening.

The man named as the "mastermind" of the most devastating attack on American soil in modern times and the most hunted man in the world, was killed in a firefight with United States forces in Pakistan on Sunday.

Three other men were also killed, one believed to be his son and the other two his couriers. A woman was also reportedly killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant, and two others wounded.

My mind was a cascade of images from 9/11 which kept intruding on the present reality.

The President 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."

We - the United States - have killed Osama bin Laden.

A few more seconds went by before my iPhone went off again with another text from NYC: "Is it okay to feel happy about this?" she wrote. "It feels strange. I'm happy, I think, but not really. Something's not right about this."

I agree. Something isn't right about being 'happy' about Bin Laden's death.

I agree, even though I know what she, personally went through. What we all went through on 9/11. As individuals and as a nation.

It wasn't quite ten years ago that I was driving down Central Avenue, on my way to my office in Newark, when the news came on my car radio.  I immediately thought of our daughter and remembered, to my instant horror, that she had a 10 AM appointment that very morning at the World Trade Center.

Without even thinking, I grabbed for my cell phone to call her. As I pulled over on the side of the road and waited for her response, I could see clouds billowing in the air from across the Passaic River.

No response. Fear gripped my entire body. I screamed into the cell phone, "Answer the phone! Answer the phone! Oh, God! Oh, God! Please answer the damn phone!"

As people on the sidewalk looked into my car, I tried to collect myself, reassuring myself that she was okay, that it was the cell phone towers at the WTC that were down that was causing the problem.

I later learned that she had been on that last train into the WTC which stopped and let all the passengers out.  She then walked, with hundreds and thousands of others, from lower Manhattan to Second Avenue to 84th Street where she lived at the time.

When she was finally able to get through - a little after 2 PM that afternoon - I fell to my knees and wept with relief and joy and gratitude.

"Mom," she said, "You should have seen it. It was something out of a WWII movie. We were all walking in the middle of the street. There were no cars. No one talked. We walked like the living dead. Oh, Mom. Oh, Mom. Oh, Mom. . . .  ."

Later, she would report that a friend of hers who lived in Alphabet City was in the kitchen making coffee when he heard the window in his bathroom crash. When he returned to the bedroom he discovered pieces of glass shattered everywhere and the bloody stump of a leg in his bed.

My daughter's boyfriend, at the time, was a detective for the NYPD. He and his partner had just parked around the corner from the WTC and were making their way into the building when they both realized that they had left something in the car.

My daughter's boyfriend, a feisty Irishman whose father and grandfather and uncles and cousins had all worked on the NYPD, said to his friend, "You go ahead. I'll be the one to be late," and returned to the car just as the plane hit.

His friend, a man with a wife and nine year old son, never came out of the building. My daughter's boyfriend never quite recovered. Indeed, their relationship was one of the unwritten casualties of that terrible day.

She spent the rest of most of that week over at one of the Piers in NY harbor, assigned to the Spanish-speaking area where families of those who were still missing were asked to bring in hair brushes and combs and tooth brushes of their loved ones for possible, later, DNA identification.  She listened to their stories, taking down all the information as she wept with them.

I spent the evening of 9/11 and most of the next few days at Seamen's Church Institute, just around the corner from what would - from that day on and forever - be known as Ground Zero.

I still can't talk about everything I saw and smelled and tasted and felt. It is the dust, however - the memory of the dust on everything - in the air, on the sidewalk, in our clothing, on our shoes, in our hair, in our eyes - that lingers.

We all began to shake the dust off our own and each other's clothing reverently, knowing, as we did, that mixed in among the concrete dust and powdered steel were the ashes of the victims whose bodies we would never recover.

I'd like to think that we are noble, my daughter and I and all those with conflicted feelings today. I'd like to think that we were, somehow, better Christians for not rejoicing and dancing in the streets, pumping our fists and chanting, "USA! USA! USA!"

I don't judge them for it. Some part of me understands. Completely.

I found myself annoyed that some of my FaceBook friends were judging those mostly young kids who were chanting and singing "like it was a sports event" in front of the White House and at Ground Zero and Times Square.

Their behavior is less a judgment on what ever it is that is 'appropriate behavior' when one very visible, very persistent manifestation of Evil has been killed and more on the Sports Industry which puts modern gladiators on display for us every weekend.

I rather think that my friends were passing judgment on the "tacky behavior" of those kids because it was easier that sitting with their own discomfort and conflicted feelings about the murder - the killing - the assassination - the hunt-down-and-shoot-to-kill death of Osama bin Laden. 

It certainly wasn't behavior in which I'd engage in, but, having lived through and lost friends and something of my naivete in the rubble and dust of 9/11, I absolutely understand. I don't condone it, but neither would I stop it or judge it.

Clearly, it was time for me to turn off the television, shut down the laptop and sit with my own discomfort, judgment, annoyance, memories, and jumble of conflicted emotions and feelings.

That was at 2 AM. The last time I looked at the clock before blessed sleep finally came, it was 3:30 AM.

The Vatican issued a statement which said:
"Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions for this purpose.

In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.
I know some may find this hard to believe, but I think the Vatican has it exactly right.

It's much easier to point a finger and said, "Look at those idiots," than to sit with the discomfort of one's own reflection on the death of a human being - even one who was so obviously Evil as Osama Bin Laden - in the name of the United States of America.

My name. Your name.

The NY Times is reporting that Bin Laden's body was buried in accordance with Muslim law within 24 hours of his death. They report that his body was buried at sea, lest his graveside become "a shrine" to the fallen but indisputable hero of Al Qaeda.

Color me suspicious. And, fearful that the report of his death will forever be viewed with suspicion or simply dismissed by many Muslims in Afghanistan and other places around the world, allowing the impulse for revenge and more violence to fester.

It may have been a brilliant move. Take lots of pictures. Do the DNA and other forensics that will prove that this was, in fact, the body of Osama bin Laden, all the while being respectful of Muslim law and customs, and denying the impulse for some whack-a-doodle to steal and desecrate the body.

Time, as it is said, will tell.

I'd like to say that I adhere to and live by the words of Ezekiel (33:11): "As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn from their ways and live."

Well, I can buy that. Absolutely. But, what when "the wicked" won't turn from their ways and live only to do murder and create more mayhem? What is a good, God-fearing Christian to do, then?

Kahlil Gibran wrote: "Your soul is often a battlefield upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite."

I've been sitting with those sage words most of this morning. This is precisely where I am.

The death of Osama bin Laden is of enormous psychological significance for those of us who saw the immediate effects of 9/11 as well as all those who have lived, for the past almost 10 years, under the dark, threatening clouds of "The Age of Terrorism".

Bin Laden's death has not ended that Age. I have absolutely no doubt that there are at least two others who have been carefully groomed these last ten years to be his successor.

An Evil man has been killed, but Evil persists in the world.

It always has. It always will.

Former President Bush issued a statement which said, in part, “The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done,”

I've been looking at the statue of "Lady Justice" as an icon, of sorts, into what is going on in my soul.

She is blindfolded. And the scales she holds are always depicted as being slightly off balance. 

I find both those images oddly comforting - especially that the out-of-balance scales are held up high and have visual prominence.

It is the sword in her hand that is disquieting to my soul.

It is not being held up in either defense or offense, but is there, at the ready, when and if needed.

At least, that's the way it looks to me.

I would like to think that this is what happened in the assassination of Osama bin Laden. That those Navy Seals who stormed the house where he was living tried to capture him to take him to trial, but that, when Bin Laden and his son and his couriers fought back, they had no other choice. 

At around 2:30 this morning, I found myself praying this 'Prayer for our enemies' on page 816 of the Book of Common Prayer:
"O God, the (Creator) of all, whose (Holy Child) commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
I also found this quote from Mahatma Gandhi
"If you hate injustice, tyranny, lust and greed, hate these things in yourself."
The fight against terror goes on.

No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.

Justice has been done.  Or, so we're told. Indeed, assured by no less that the present and former Presidents of the United States.

May God, in the wisdom and peace and justice of God that surpasses all human understanding, have mercy on us, every one.


Anonymous said...

Dear Elizabeth,

I was here on 9/11, actually saw the first plane hit, and have my own stories of loss and trauma. It affects me still.

Today when I heard the news I felt stunned. In my attempt to take it in I immediately tuned in to the news to hear what had happened. I wanted to understand.

The news reported that US Navy Seals had gone in to do one thing and one thing only--to kill Bin Laden. They obviously were successful.

Now I feel sickened. We murdered the man who murdered us. The President said this is justice. I believe the more truthful and accurate term is revenge. I feel sickened because revenge doesn't bring peace. In fact, it perpetuates violence. We have created a martyr for those who call themselves our enemies. This doesn't make us safer. We've fanned the flames of hatred. I fear what may come next in this potentially endless cycle of revenge and violence.

I weep for those who lost loved ones on 9/11 and I weep for us. May Christ have mercy.

Heartbroken in NYC

Bill said...

I heard it this morning on one of the networks (CNN -maybe) that the intent of the operation was to kill him, not capture him. A capture would have created too many problems for them. It would have made him a martyr. For the same reasons, they buried him at sea. They didn't want to have a burial site that would have been used for propaganda.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Actually, the President was describing justice in the way that the laws of our government are written, and that sometimes looks like revenge.

It's heartbreaking. Absolutely.

Bill said...

This a.m., one source indicated that the raid was to kill and not to capture. To capture him would have caused too many problems around the world. The burial at sea was part of the same thinking. A burial on land would have left a monument and rallying point. They wanted to avoid that at all costs.

Watson said...

It feels like we are caught in a dance of death sometimes.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Abbie and Bill - I've just heard that report, as well, which is distressing. I understand, but it's distressing.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Daisy - Yes it does. It's the problem of Evil in the world.

Bateau Master said...

Here is where Righteousness must strengthen us. It's unpopular in our "It must be our fault" and "many pathways" atmosphere. However, in this case the justice was right and righteous. A piece of Evil has been stopped - let us rejoice and be glad in that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You'll excuse me, Bateau, if I pass on the "rejoice" part.

doug said...

I urge folks to be careful about what they 'hear' on the news. Not all that glitters is gold :>)

Several people hear have stated that the purpose of the raid was "to kill Bin Laden." Fortunately, this is NOT true:

The U.S. Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden Sunday in Pakistan would have taken al Qaeda's leader in alive if it was possible, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said Monday.

"If we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive, if he didn't present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that," Brennan told reporters during a press conference.

Read more:

Anonymous said...

I was in D.C on 9/11. I had an apartment down the block from the Pentagon. I saw the wounded and dead soldiers and civilians. I saw and breathed the smoke from the Pentagon fires for hours.

I felt no relief or joy to learn today that B. L. was dead. I asked my young daughter what she thought of this death. She said we should be happy. I said, "Really? He had a family too with children. Will killing him bring back the mothers and fathers of the children in America that lost their lives?" I do not think two wrongs make a right. I understand that the death of B.L. may mean justice for some. But I do not feel a closure or anything good from this death. I do not know what the answer is to this moral issue. I too think the Vatican got this one right.

Paul said...

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that the line between good and evil did not lie between us and them. It lies right down the middle of each and every one of us. We forget that at our peril.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Doug - I am choosing to believe the report that said that they would rather have taken BL in alive. Otherwise, why not just bomb the place? That being said, they must have suspected that BL would not go down without a fight. Sigh. It's just all so horrible. All of it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maria - (Thanks for signing your name). I guess it all depends on how you define "justice". I'm still haunted by the image of the sword at the ready at the feet of Lady Justice.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Paul - That echoes the Gibran quote, doesn't it?

MarkBrunson said...

Justice done?

Oh, good. All the lives paid for, every tear dried, the lost wages and funeral expenses, the loss of freedoms as we panicked as a nation, the years of tension waiting for the next attack - all can be put PAID to and laid to rest.

After all, "justice" was done.

Perhaps, for good measure, we could send his head on a pike to be carried through the streets in every major U. S. city? So much better a spectacle than a public trial.

A piece of evil stopped? No. A martyr birthed.

howdidIgethere said...

Doug quoted John Brennan at a press conference: "If we had the opportunity to take bin Laden alive, if he didn't present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that." I doubt if anyone believed for a minute that Bin Laden would allow himself to be captured. I don't need to be an expert either on terrorism or on religion to know that he would choose to be killed, which in his eyes was to choose martyrdom.

That said, I am just a little heartened that the goal was "capture if possible/kill if necessary," rather than just "kill" period. Maybe because I think intent does matter.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mark - I have no doubt that everyone involved knew that a martyr had been birthed. That being said, I think it's pretty clear that the Jihad movement started by bin Laden was being known as a failure. Younger Muslims around the globe have started their own revolution. Yes, it is violent, but it is not aimed at the West but designed to make themselves stronger.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

How - I agree with you, Intent matters - especially in this case.

Jon said...

The killing of bin Laden was not an act of revenge for 9/11. It was an act of self-defense against an enemy who is/was actively, presently, engaged in warfare against the US and against all who will not submit to his vision of the world.