Reactions to bin Laden Death Abound; Interview With Chris Hedges on Americans’ “Triumphalism”

For a true eye-of-the-beholder experience, check out these two headlines today from the Chronicle and the Mercury News:

Relieved? Or unsettled? In journalism, as in in life, the story often depends on whom you talk to. In the aggregate, local media are doing their part to get to the many hearts of the matter: military families, East Bay students, Flight 93 relatives, San Francisco Muslims, Bay Area Muslims, ex-Navy Seals, Pakistani Americans, Bay Area veterans, congressional members, Marinites, Vallejo students, Fremont Afghans, morning commuters — you name it, they’ve been interviewed about their reaction to the death of American Enemy No. 1.

Taking the pulse of the wider culture, a fair amount of triumphalism has obtained. To view that in its purest form, watch this video of Philadelphians reacting to the announcement of bin Laden’s death at a Mets-Phillies game:

Chris Hedges
Yesterday, journalist/author/contrarian Chris Hedges was on KQED Radio’s Forum discussing bin Laden’s death. Hedges, who was the Middle East Bureau Chief for The New York Times and has written extensively on terrorism and the war on terror, was speaking at a fundraising event for the web site TruthDig when he was informed of the news. (Here’s the full text of his expression of dubiousness about any speculated benefits of bin Laden’s death.)

NPR has a story up called Is It Wrong To Celebrate Bin Laden’s Death? Yesterday I asked that, in so many words, of Hedges:

Me: Do you think this kind of emotional reaction is not helpful, this kind of national catharsis and triumphalism?

Chris Hedges: Yeah, it’s sick.

Me: You think it’s sick.

Chris Hedges: Of course it is. I’m not in any way against the hunting down of bin Laden. But it’s a tragic event; the whole thing is tragic. I was in New York when the plane hit and I walked down the West Side Highway in time to flee with everyone else, when Building 7 collapsed. And I was on the site with the small tiny pieces of flesh that we were finding — a foot in a shoe, this kind of stuff. The attacks are not in any way an abstraction to me. The full horror of it wsa thrust in my face…

I support the effort, the intelligence effort to break Al Qaeda. I think that the intelligence operatives probably had no choice in that he certainly resisted capture with violence; at least that’s what he said he’d always do. But I don’t rejoice in it. And I think I also don’t rejoice in it, because as a war correspondent, I’ve been in so many firefights, that I know how venal, dirty, and ugly that kind of activity is.

An opposing view to this is expressed in this popular Facebook status, as reported in the previously mentioned NPR article. The quote is attributed to Mark Twain (It’s actually from Clarence Darrow, reader KiltBear points out):

“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.”

  • KiltBear

    Apparently that quote belongs to Clarence Darrow, not Mark Twain. See Kottke:

    http://kottke.org/11/05/giving-our-feelings-a-name

    The Fake Mark Twain quote has a pretty straightforward story. It’s a slightly altered version of a quote by lawyer/orator/evolution & civil rights hero Clarence Darrow:

    All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike some one they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.

    (Note: That’s from Darrow’s autobiography, The Story of My Life. Wired’s story above linked to Wikiquote, so I thought I’d pull it from Google Books at least.)

    • Jon Brooks

      Thanks kindly. Will correct.

  • molleresqua

    Really, really appreciate this post and Chris Hedges’ take. Thank you!

  • Sirjohn

    I also support America’s intelligence efforts in hunting down OBL, but I appose any celebration of death. The images of American’s celebrating as if it were a hometown Super Bowl victory was unneeded for worldwide media outlets and I believe will act as a catalyst towards future violence ( although I hope not )

  • KC

    The problem with the Afghan/Iraq conflict is a complete lack of defined victory conditions. A war on “terrorism” is silly because terrorism is simply a military tactic. We may as well wage war on sniping or flanking maneuvers. How does one “win”?

    The death of ObL is as close to a victory condition than we’ve ever been. Most would agree that the end of this war is long overdue, but ObL’s death was clearly the one thing that most prevented us from doing so. The primary obstacle to peace in our collective minds was bin Laden. Whether that reflects reality or not remains to be seen, but without this death, we would never have been able to find peace within ourselves, let alone the rest of the world.

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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