For What It's Worth . . .
My Thoughts on the Killing of Osama bin Laden
Seldom in a lifetime do we witness events that will remain fresh in our memories forever. Most events, even most breath-taking events are pushed away as other concerns, obligations, priorities press for our full attention.
Yet there are those events that none experiencing them ever forget: For a generation slipping away from us, there are the painful recollections of the Great Depression of the 1930’s and World War II in the 1940’s. The next generation witnessed the assassination of John Kennedy in Texas on a warm, October day in 1963. The same generation experienced the Vietnam War and its turbulent aftermath.
For many of the current generation, there are memories of the Space Shuttle Disaster, the attack on the World Trade Tower, the Pentagon and the crash of United 193 in the fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. Recently the world witnessed the cataclysmic events the shook Japan and touched the world with shock and sorrow.
And now we add another Day that will remain in our collective memory for so long as we live. On Sunday, May 1, 2011 the headlines blazed around the world: “Osama bin Laden is dead,” prey to a flawlessly performed mission by American Special Operations forces.
The military part of my brain understands and recognizes the need for mission success regarding the bringing of Osama Bin Laden to man’s court of justice.
Regardless of speculation concerning bin Laden’s degree of responsibility for the events of September 11, 2001, there is ample evidence to warrant his being branded as a terrorist and as a threat to not only the United States, but to the free world, at large. There is no point in debating Osama’s level of culpability regarding any individual terrorist act. Indeed, there is general agreement in the U.S. and in other nations of the need for the United States and/or coalition forces to complete their long-stated and pursued mission of capturing or killing this man.
Of necessity, military members must unquestioningly follow every lawfully given order that is issued. The men and/or women under military authority do not have the luxury of investigating, quizzing their superior, and then deciding whether they feel justified in following orders received. The entire structure of the military institution is built upon unhesitating obedience to those in command, so long as those commanders provide orders that are lawful in their spirit and substance. If a commanding officer were to order his troops to invade a location and to rape women and murder children, such an order would not be considered “lawful.” In this case, troops would not be bound by military orders to comply, regardless of who issued those orders. But when the order received is legal – as defined by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is the Congressional Code of Military Criminal Law to which every service member is obligated by oath and by law, these orders must be carried out with complete obedience. Without this kind of fidelity, no war could be effectively prosecuted, and no victory could ever be won.
There is strategic advantage to the U.S. and our allies in killing Osama bin Laden. While the public at large may not recognize the immediate benefit brought by the death of the terror leader, and while bin Laden may not even have been actively plotting the next terror attack to be launched, as the Founder and Leader of Al Qaeda, his perceived and symbolic position as the man in charge has now been concluded. The message sent and received among the enemies of the free world is this: No one is immune, no one can forever escape the reach of a nation provoked and angry.
How Should We Then Respond?
The question of our response to the news of bin Laden’s death is one that must be considered by those who claim to be followers of Christ. Specifically, what is the proper attitude of believers in Jesus to the news of the death of Osama bin Laden? How should the “Christian” demeanor and attitude differ from those outside of Christ?
As a former member of two branches of the U.S. military, I am supportive of our nation and of its military institutions. I am not a died-in-the-wool “Peacenik.”
But I am a washed-in-the-blood believer in Jesus Christ. And for what it’s worth, my redeemed mind abhors even the necessity of taking any human life. I understand that need, but I don’t like it.
I do not, I cannot rejoice over the death of any human being, regardless of the crimes committed. Despite the heinous, monstrous character that causes a person to commit unthinkable atrocities, there is no joy in bringing such a one to justice. Indeed, I can find no reason to rejoice in the killing of a rabid dog, for whom there is no other potential remedy than death. I can recognize necessity without experiencing jubilation over the act or the result of a death.
How Can Two, Opposite Reactions be Reconciled?
On the one hand, I agree with the military and political decision to take the life of Osama bin Laden, while on the other hand I am did not rejoice when the mission was accomplished.
At a strategic level, the death of bin Laden does not end or mitigate the violent hatred focused on America by radical groups, nor do I think it resolves much beyond accomplishing Mission Success and the freeing of valuable assets to pursue other targets for our military. There always will be a “The King is dead; long live the King” system of succession so long as core issues of disagreement are ignored or denied. Bin Laden is dead; enter the “new” Bin Laden, ad infinitum.
As stated, I cannot rejoice, shout, wave a flag, or become terribly excited over this death. I hope last week’s events mark the end of some degree of evil operating in our world, and that the day will hasten when we can see the conclusion of the wars that continue to result in the loss of good American lives, and the attending grief brought to family and friends through their deaths and injuries.
Don’t Bother Me With the Details, I Just Wanna Be Happy
Americans are obsessed with the quick "fix." We’ve got instant glue and instant coffee and we want our disagreements with nations or cultures to be likewise instantaneously fixed without our getting caught up in any kind of soul-searching, value-determining, heart-wrenching and compassionate reasoning.
We love to identify a problem, focus on an appropriate and specifically un-messy cure, (no pictures of blood, please) and then simply forget about the whole matter, act as though it never happened, and move on with the next version of iPhone or iMac or iSomebody and iDeserve it.
If only killing the problems facing society were as simple as killing bin Laden was. Beyond administering human justice, I'm not sure his death cures the much of our overall problems. I don't think that bin Laden was the Arab version of General David Petraeus. I don't think Usama was the "on-ground" military genius of Al Qaeda or the Guerrilla Extraordinaire of the Taliban. Figurehead? Indeed. Inspiration? Definitely. But the excited throngs jumping and shouting in front of the White House need to understand what bin Laden's death has given us tactically and strategically - and that's not much, in my humble and admittedly limited opinion.
I am currently reading a very fine history of the winning of the West in America. The book is titled “Blood and Thunder” and contains the heartbreaking story of the conquest of the Navajo people of the Southwest. Colonel Kit Carson, along with nearly 500 soldiers entered the mystical Canyon Chelly in what is now the State of Arizona in order to complete the subjugation of this blatantly murderous and thieving people.
On a frigid February morning in 1864, a group of haggard looking Navajos entered Carson’s camp under a flag of truce. Their intention was to finally and fully surrender to the United States Army.
Carson was shocked by what these cold and starving people told him. “We would have come in long ago, but we believed this was a war of extermination,” they said.
Carson explained to them why the United States Army was rounding them up. “The government wants to promote your welfare. The point is not to destroy you but to save you, if you want to be saved.”
According to news reports, Bin Laden was to have been given opportunity to surrender, to “save him” if he wanted to be saved. The ground commander of the assault team had full authority to kill on sight. We have been told that Bin Laden declined the invitation to surrender. A few days later, we learned that, in point of fact, there was no “capture if possible” order given: It was a “kill order” from the beginning. And then we learned that, well, perhaps the SEALS of Team 6 could have decided to save or slay, depending on the situation. I personally have difficulty with the offered scenarios except for the second one: The commander of this operation is himself a U.S. Navy SEAL. No operational SEAL, Delta member or any other member of the U.S. Special Operations Command would ever burden a ground commander with the responsibility of deciding, in the heat of battle to capture or to kill. Events happen too quickly in combat for the luxury of running through a “what if” laundry list of choices. The men who stormed the compound in Abbatobad had enough on their minds as they cleared courtyards and stairways and halls and rooms without having to think about what they would do when they came face to face with their objective. This kind of operation is the ultimate “point and shoot” mission.
The point with bin Laden, I think, was not the point of Kit Carson and the American government in their desire for the Navajo nation. This was a “we are here to destroy you, not to save you” mission.
And by every account, in May of 2011, Osama’s efforts to hide from the long arm of American justice came to a sudden and permanent end.
Patriotism in America this week is at high tide. Celebrations have swept through cities, American flags have been brought out of closets and basements and have swept the freshly purified air of the stench of the recently deceased Terrorist-in-Chief.
And a question lingers in the wake of the carnival-like atmosphere that attended the announcement: “Got him!”
The question looms, largely unheard and certainly unanswered: “What, in fact have we got?”
And will we ever learn? As a race, as the human family, are we learning? Will we learn that ignorance breeds hatred, and hatred gives birth to death, and death is the scourge, the curse, the fruit of all that is wrong around, and within us? Evil, at its essence is not something that attends the way of the criminal and the maniac and the sorcerer, but evil is that dark thing that pulsates in our own breasts, that feeds and grows in our blindedness and that will not come out, will not die, save by the entrance of the True Light that gives light to every man that comes into the world.
I am not a simpleton. I know that there are complicated issues that defy human answers. But I also know there is a God Who promises us, day by each new dawning day to lead us higher, to show us peace of greater value, to lift us above the condition of lower life-forms, and to fill us with His love, His grace, His mercy.
And so, Osama bin Laden joins the ranks of Idi Amin and Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini and Ghengis Khan and Caligula and Nero and, I suppose another tyrant here or a monster there.
And when the dancing crowds return to their routine lives again, when they get back to their jobs, their schools, their pastimes, when the world has washed itself of the memory of the latest to die, will we have a better world than we knew a week ago? Will we have learned anything worthwhile in the process?
Will anybody next week remember a young sergeant or captain or a seasoned Colonel, watching a distant valley or a steep ridgeline in Afghanistan?
Will we know ourselves any better after our emotional display of either giddy celebration or of somber contemplation this week?
Will we hunger for greater answers, for better ways to bring heaven’s peace to planet earth?
Will we understand the heart of the Father any better? Will we, who claim to be followers of the Father’s Christ find a way to better mirror His character to an out-of-sync world around us?
As the next week dawns and the calendar moves forward, will we be those who have joined hearts to witness, in our own day the fulfillment of heaven’s desire, articulated when Jesus taught His friends to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven?”
I hope that we will.