Daniel Ruth

As on 9/11, a nation united

Even the most pacifist disciple of nonviolence among us had to quietly whisper "Yesss!" with the news that the architect of the 9/11 day of terror had himself come to a painful end.

It had been speculated that with Osama bin Laden the focal point of the world's most elaborate and ceaseless manhunt, his influence in matters of terror had waned over the years, his role reduced to figurehead status.

Perhaps. But figureheads are still important. Symbolism is a powerful language. Maybe bin Laden was not actively engaged in plotting contemporary acts of violence on the populace. But for every bombing, every innocent life ended, every grief-filled funeral, he hovered over the carnage, the patron saint of venality masquerading as religion.

Terrorism will not end with bin Laden's removal. If anything, none of us would be particularly shocked if al-Qaida lashes out in retribution. There will be a sobering price to pay for the extraction of justice. There always is.

Yet we run this risk of incurring the wrath of our enemies because the angels of 9/11 demand it and because we are all victims of bin Laden's delusions.

Chances are that many of you have visited ground zero in lower Manhattan and stared into the empty sky trying to imagine what it must of been like on that dreadful day. It's possible you have a more direct connection to 9/11 by virtue of a family member or friend who perished in the falling towers, or at the Pentagon or in the fields of Shanksville, Pa.

I have visited the ground zero site on many occasions, and I am always reminded that had the attacks occurred two days later my wife would have been attending a business meeting at the World Trade Center at the same hour the planes struck. And I am as unnerved today at the vagaries of fate as I was on that beautiful September morning a decade ago.

For nearly 10 years, bin Laden was on the run, although it now appears that due to Pakistani acquiescence or incompetence, or both, he didn't run all that far. The most wanted violent terrorist in the world, it turns out, was living in capitalist comfort in a mansion within a stone's throw of a military garrison — and the Pakistanis are claiming they are as surprised as anyone.

As bin Laden was ensconced in his fortified compound, our national life changed with the passage of time. Children have grown into adulthood. Jobs have shifted. Wars have been waged. And travel has become a gantlet of hypersecurity.

The one perverse constant, of course, has been the haunting presence of Osama bin Laden looming over so much of our lives and the nation. Of this much we could be certain: He wanted to kill … you.

Every day that bin Laden was at large was a day of justice denied and broken hearts unhealed. Hunting down bin Laden was never a matter of seeking "closure," an unfortunate term used all too often and inaccurately. How can anyone ever find "closure" in so much anguish?

Still, knowing bin Laden's body has been disposed, like so much bilge, into the ocean is at least satisfying.

This was good news, very good news, something we've been in short supply of for quite a while. These have been difficult economic times. Job growth has been all too slow. Gas prices are on the rise. And the fractious political climate has become a democratic embarrassment.

Just as the actions of bin Laden and his thugs managed to unite a nation nearly 10 years ago, so too did the collective jubilation over his death cut across partisan lines.

We looked into the cinders of the World Trade Center and saw the possibilities of a nation brought together in a moment of collective tragedy. And somehow along the way, we lost that common purpose to the forces of divisiveness, carnival barker politics and too many silly people with too many microphones.

It would be nice to believe bin Laden's death will remind us that there are more important issues demanding our attention than the Tower of Blather that passes for social discourse today.

We owe that much to the men and women who have sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan. We certainly owe it to the warriors who pulled off what seemed like the impossible on Sunday.

And we owe it to the 3,000 victims of Osama bin Laden's resume of malevolence, whose souls are resting just a bit easier.

As on 9/11, a nation united 05/02/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 2, 2011 8:36pm]

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