Crowds gathered last night outside of the White House and the former site of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in jubilation, echoing other famous military-based fetes throughout our history. I’m sure people of an older generation saw the photos in their newspaper today (cause god knows they weren’t awake or on twitter late last night to get the news as it happened) and were reminded of V-J Day, when throngs of war-weary Americans took to Times Square to celebrate victory over the Japanese and the conclusion to World War II. Brian Williams saw all of the kids flooding college campuses across the nation as an inverted callback to the anti-war protests against involvement in Vietnam during the 60s and 70s. To me, the footage of all those young kids in large groups reminded me of baseball.
My freshman year at Boston University coincided with the first Red Sox World Series victory in 86 years. But before they slayed that historical demon, they first had to get past their hated rivals–my favorite team–the New York Yankees. The Sox did so in grand, historic fashion, coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win four straight games, take the seven game series, and head to an eventual World Series win. For many kids–a good number from the New England area–this was a huge, epic event in their lives, one their grandparents had waited their entire lives to see. They took to Kenmore Square, a busy intersection just outside Fenway Park, to celebrate en mass.
But for a good deal of others, it was merely an excuse to go outside and riot. And yes, the key term was “riot.” Upon returning (I did not go out; I was in mourning) my friends, both fans of the Sox and of destruction, regaled me of stories of people breaking glass everywhere, climbing street lamps and falling onto heaps of people, and how one tear gas capsule actually hit one of them in the foot! All of this was captured on their digital cameras, a digital replica of their involvement in the Great Riots that they could proudly show off to their grandchildren some decades after they showed off on facebook.
A similar scene occurred last night as scores of college kids emptied out of their dorms to congregate outside the White House and near Ground Zero, looking to quite literally dance on the man’s grave. It was a striking visual, all of those people out there celebrating the death of another, mirroring the footage of people from an Arab country that I cannot for the life of me remember (but, for these purposes, does not exactly matter) celebrating the attacks on 9/11 by dancing in the streets. It was one of those indelible images that, like the second tower getting hit in profile or the stanchion for one of the towers barely left standing, that sticks in my craw to this very day. Thinking about it right now gets me raw all over again.
In years since, the veracity of that specific piece of footage has been challenged, but someone was happy that America was attacked. And it wasn’t because they hate our democracy or our constitution or our freedom but specifically they hate our culture; our sex-crazed, binge-drinking, Jersey Shore-loving, godless culture. And we’re not content to leave that culture, with our Coca-Colas and sinful delights and all, on our side of the world. No, we’re a monolithic social and political machine that batters down all other cultures through military or financial measures to push these edicts of debauchery-as-freedom on others regardless of how they feel about it. We mistook Osama declaring war on “America” as our country. Instead, he called for a jihad on all that America stands for culturally: a godless cesspool who hold nothing sacred.
Our reactions last night did little to eschew this idea to his followers.
Around two o’clock AM, MSNBC threw to a live remote at Ground Zero, the hallowed area that has the blood of nearly 3,000 people, from civilians to firefighters, EMTs, and police officers who died while fulfilling their civic duty. And on that ground had gathered a large group of people, mostly college aged, to congregate at the site of the attacks and celebrate the death of the man responsible. Wonderfully apropos. The reporter decided that it was a good time to interview some of the revelers (and that is a very apt term for this gaggle of girls).
The video can be found here, but I’ll describe. The shot goes live as people behind the reporter scream. He tries to explain the atmosphere which is shockingly ebullient considering the location. As he tries to find the proper words to describe what’s going on, he stumbles out “it’s really a very…an unusual night that’s…that’s that’s very bizarre for Ground Zero.” He turns to address the crowd, asking, “you’re all students, right?” and they, in unison, cheer “YEEEAAAAHHHH!” as if they were tweens waiting outside a Justin Bieber concert. As he turns to interview one specific girl, the crowd cheers and “WHOOOOOOs” their little hearts out. He turns to one girl, adorned in a Pace University sweatshirt (they have to love that), as various others try to crowd the shot.
The girl is asked, “how do you feel about what’s happened here?” evidently making light of the actions at Ground Zero, not about Osama bin Laden’s death. But no matter. With her arms gesticulating up and down (a cell phone in her right hand, no doubt warning friends and family members to turn on MSNBC in 3…2…1…) she responds, “I feel GREAT right now!” sounding like many a drunken college girl I’ve encountered on any given weekend, let alone early Monday morning during finals week. Someone bum rushes the mic and offers, “America needs this!” as the reporter asks a simple follow up of, “Why [do you feel great right now]?” She gives a perplexed look, as she somehow did not see this obvious follow-up question coming, and with her arms all akimbo, says, “…It’s AMERICA! It’s time to party right now! He’s DEEEEEAD!” before lifting her arms and letting loose with yet another “WHOOOO!!!” as the crowd joins in.
The display actively disgusted me, and here I am a kid from New Jersey who is sympathetic to the American cause. One can only imagine how clips like those, how newspaper headlines like this, how giddy, rapturous dance songs like this one, or reactions to being among the revelers like this wearing shirts like this will be digested across the world, specifically amongst those most in line with bin Laden’s perverse teachings and views. This goes beyond fodder; it actually confirms to them that they’re right. If we can’t treat Ground Zero like the hallowed ground it is, what the hell can we respect?
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Last night was a celebration, and for the life of me, I can’t think what it was for. It seemed like we were at a victory parade, as if killing one prominent member of one specific terror group that still has thousands upon thousands of active members wins the “war on terror.” It seemed like justice had been served, but the towers are still gone and families are still torn asunder. It seemed like vanquishing a boogieman, as Obama claims “that the world is a safer place,” even though I’m infinitely more scared now than I did 18 hours ago, hell, then in the last couple of years combined. It seemed like a triumph, that we had somehow drawn even, the scoreboard reading US 1 – 1 TER, as if the cycle won’t start anew.
But that score does not matter compared to other numbers, like the roughly 3,000 people who perished in the attacks on September 11th. 1,500 US service men and women have been killed overseas fighting to avenge those deaths and in doing so have taken the lives of some 30,000 Afghanis, a mix of innocents, maniacs, women, and children. After last night’s events, add four more men and one women to the count. Oh, and the war drum to go into Pakistan was being beaten as of 2 AM last night, as their government was harboring known terrorists, much like the Taliban were in Afghanistan. Not to mention the potential world-wide response to bin Laden’s death.
Now I know what we’re celebrating: a larger pile of bodies.