It is hard to sort out exactly how to respond to the killing of Osama bin Laden. That is an understatement.

I do believe it is a positive thing that this mass murderer is dead, and I am as impressed as anyone by the raid (and looking forward to Mark Bowden's book on the subject). But to have a real coherent, official "response" yet, no way.

Remember the Onion headline after 9-11 "HOLY FUCKING SHIT". That perfectly captured that uncapturable moment. But this moment is orders of magnitude less and besides relief this chapter is over, what it ultimately means is less than clear. When I heard last night my response was, appropriately, "whoah."

And certainly I don't have the immediately visceral response of any coherence. I have not been consumed with the relief, glee, or blood thirst that seems to be the more typical response. Running like a fool into the streets chanting and singing is actually inconceivable, is it not? More than a bit too similar to the crowds in those "other" countries chanting and singing in ecstasy when a murderous terrorist attack has been executed successfully. This clearly isn't V-J day. Ain't nobody coming home from the 3+ wars we are in at the moment.

The historian in me knows enough to keep my mouth shut for a time. The citizen in me, roughed up by the last decade, is realizing that this decidedly strange political moment requires a hell of a lot more temporal distance to fathom.

(Though let me pause to ask, what exactly did Obama mean with this line: "But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place."

Killing bin Laden showed that the United States can do anything it sets its mind to? Was the killing of this terrorist after only ten years really equal to creating the richest society in the history of the world (his first example)? Ending segregation (his second?) Or, picking a really low hanging fruit, getting men on the moon?

I think this line is intended in a few ways. It remind critics that Obama is not Carter, and this raid was emphatically not Desert One. And that Obama is not Bush. It is a subtle but vital dig--under Bush everything essentially fell apart, and the search for bin Laden was literally the prime example of any inability to accomplish this fundamental thing, whereas Obama is actually showing signs of being that mythical beast, a competent politician who gets things accomplished with relatively little showboating.)

The media machine on this story, in speed, detail, and roll out, is just astonishingly deft and totalizing.

My seeming inability to instantaneously get with the big celebration may come from the awareness of just how much has happened since 9-11.

It is unalterably clear that bin Laden being dead is not going to change the realities created by George W. Bush, creator of his own reality (recalling that surreal Karl Rove line which has its own Wikipedia entry under "reality based community").

Since the Afghanistan war has mutated into something having nothing to do with al Qaeda, and seemingly interminable, and the Iraq War was never about 9-11 and is supposedly over though actually not, what exactly should a response be to bin Laden's death? I don't know. What to make of the ongoing low-intensity warfare in Pakistan, the legality of which was rather rapidly shunted aside? Carl Levin's sabre rattling today asking very stern questions about what Pakistan knew is a sign where this new path to permanent, ever-morphing war might lead.

I'll end with a question rather than a response: who is now going to serve as the face for the daily Two Minute Hate?


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