It’s Still Us Against Them…And They’re Winning

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?

*     *     *

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.

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12 thoughts on “It’s Still Us Against Them…And They’re Winning

  1. I almost quit reading in the first paragraph. I am old, and god knows I WAS on Twitter AND up late watching the news last night. You might want to be careful about your snide generalizations. That said…I agreed with the rest of your article. (In fact, I posted my opinion of the evening on my Facebook status. Oh, sorry–old people don’t do FB) The scene at the White House was bad enough, but I was actively appalled by the activity at Ground Zero. I don’t know if you have ever been to Pearl Harbor, but I regard the two spots in the same way–places where many Americans, killed by foreign enemies, are still entombed. A cemetery. I make no bones about it–my generation knew how to party, and often did so inappropriately. But not like that.
    I listened to the Lauren Hart-Kate Smith “duet” before the Boston-Philly NHL game tonight. They made me prouder to be an American than any war or death ever could.

    1. Sorry to make the comment so “snide,” although I think there is more to that then you’re saying (and your use of “our generation” later on confuses me as much as my generalization of your age group surely confused you). My original idea was how funny it was that this story broke–by and large–through different generational mediums. If people depend on the newspaper and the evening news for your coverage, then that’s exactly how they found out about this as well, considering how late the announcement was. I should have been more elegant with that point.

  2. Sherrie, I’m not sure your Pearl Harbor comparison is accurate. Pearl Harbor is a memorial in the strictest sense -outside of Arlington – I’ve ever seen: the melancholy and reflective spectrum of human emotions is deliberately evoked by the exhibitions, while at the Arizona memorial site, silence is enforced by common consent. The museum and memorial sit by themselves, miles from the population centers and peace reigns in part because there isn’t much to distract the mind from what happened.

    Ground Zero, on the other hand, is in the middle of New York City. There is no ring of silence moating its borders; the bustle of the living surround the resting place of the dead up to their very gates. It’s a situation created in part by the lack of a proper memorial, but also by the refusal of this center of humanity to give up life in the face of aggression. To my mind, last night’s celebrations were a part of that refusal, necessarily crude in their reflection; a primal demonstration of the basic joy of survival.

  3. Mike,

    I felt the same way last night. I couldn’t really understand the excitement. I’m happy that Osama will never again be able to preach his hatred and organize such horrific violence, but I certainly didn’t feel victorious about anything. This was such a small step towards stopping terrorism, and I also fear for the repercussions from other parts of the world. The college students absolutely did not help our image…but they rarely do.

  4. Anton,

    I hear that . . . but within that domain of revelry last night, i think there was much more than the above-mentioned face value of rowdy gum chewers and future [fill in the random white collar segment] lackeys of america: on the crowd issue, i defer to tim carmody on kottke.org

    also, there was one thing i thought of a couple of times while watching the dc footage: for most of these individuals partying in the streets [and i’m sure there are more than a trivial amount of exceptions, however i am talking about individuals from all across the country, not just nyc/dc/east coast], the direct-disturbance to their lives caused by the events of september 11, 2001 existed in the context of pee-wee football, spelling homework, and maybe tony hawk?

    if you’re 20 now, you were 10 or 11 then. i make no claims w/r/t child psychology, however, i think maybe there’s a case for chalking most of that “OMGEEing” up the discrepancies between knowledge/experience/comprehension. i try to reflect on something similar that occurred “when i was that age” but i’m stuck bc it really was in a league of its own. now the problem is, let’s assume that yeah, there is a disconnect between individuals who could “understand” and individuals who grew up in a post-9/11 world. if that is the case, then the next step would be finding some way to bridge that gap . . .

    however, who ‘understands’ and who doesn’t ‘understand’ is quite the question . . . and every single person reading this knows damn well that “nuanced” does not sell newspapers [or ipad app subscriptions] so, we’re left to try to digest and educate (ones who are interested at least) in however a large or a small world we occupy – and that’s the (non)point that i took away.

    as for the repercussions, i fear that at home sunday morning tv talk shows will be filled with thinly veiled partisan pol-as-usual taking claim for who got the wascally wabbit. regarding the rest of the world . . . well . . . i’m optimistic (and curious) but given that i lack the required monetary/politcal weight to have swift effect of my own, i’ll be waiting and seeing . . . . and in that meantime i’ll have a drink (no 4loko thank you) to that: the other end of the story-arc that comes down in a world just as surreal as where we left it.

    1. Oh I’m sure there were families of victims on site, people who have lived around the block for a decade or more who felt the reverberations from their apartments, and scores of other people who just wanted to be with others mirroring all of our reactions after the initial attack. However (and this is a BIG however) media is media is media, and as much as the article linked says that a group of people is inherently media (and that’s true) that large group isn’t by itself being broadcast around the world. I have a friend in Lebanon who’s saying that the big, stupid group of idiots is what’s being shown–as media companies are wont to do–and making their story about that. Beyond scaring me as a fearful American, it makes me ashamed. And that’s something that I don’t like at all.

  5. Manton,
    Knowing my background, im sure you can appreciate how it feels for a former serviceman to know that his brothers and sisters in arms took down a man, finally, whose infamy is of this magnitude. That aside, since my writing skills are lacking in comparison, i have this to say… ‘you’re damned right’, the parties that were thrown in the name of this action were @$%^^$ disgusting, in my opinion. Celebrate, yes, be happy, fine, but be sure you know why you’re doing so. There is a special ops team out that that was asked with the capture of Osama, who, due to his fighting back, had to use lethal force to protect their own lives. They are coming home, their are men and women on the front lines giving it their all to try to protect the lives of free citizens around the world, they have taken one more step in doing so. That is worth celebrating. The death of one man is not the death of an idea. Yes, I agree that most of the reactions simply add fuel to the poisonous fire of “why American values are bad” and simply fan the flames of terrorism. We must remain vigilant, because this idea is not over yet.

  6. I found the “WOO”-ing to be just as distasteful, but comparing it to what we saw in Arab countries after September 11 has to stop. That fucking Slate article that everyone was linking to yesterday was the smarmiest pile of smarm that ever smarmed. Celebrating one monster’s death ≠ Celebrating the deaths of 3,000 innocent people. Never will be.

    t was sort of a weird explosion of emotion at some sense of closure for a lot of people. And college kids are always going to find an excuse to freak out and riot. I think in the coming days everyone that was dancing around will recognize it’s more bittersweet (and Pyrrhic) than that.

    1. It’s a touchy subject, obviously, and everyone deals with things in their own way. But I couldn’t help but think of our image abroad after all of this and how it was a foil to those images from 9/11–true or otherwise–from the Middle East. It just seemed so exact, and our people so lacking of perspective, that it was galling. Don’t shame others for something and then do nearly the same thing in response; it’s just short-sighted and stupid.

      For the record, I don’t read Slate, for the reasons you alluded to. I feel like the smarmy contrarianism will eventually leak off my screen and short circuit my laptop. But my point is that we shouldn’t celebrate en mass anyone’s death. Hate + Hate = more hate. Or something more poignant that Yoda said.

  7. 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) – in a post that in part speaks to generalizing I find this amusing. At 68 I’m definitely what this youngster would call older, and I WAS awake – although not on twitter because I don’t’ really have need of having that – and saw this news first hand. I know that many of my peers did as well, so stop doing what you don’t want others to do: generalize about one segment of the population.
    That said, I do agree with some of what you said, that some of the over-stimulated over-celebrating was not in the best of taste. But, as one commenter already pointed out, when did college students need an excuse to party. And, even though you didn’t take part in the post-Red Sox win riots, please don’t tell me that you never partied to celebrate some event or other, because if you didn’t then, well, to generalize, you’re an old stick-in-the-mud, and perhaps a crashing bore to boot. I do agree with some of what you say. I disagree with the part about us ‘pushing’ aspects of our culture into theirs. With things like twitter, and ease of global travel, and Facebook (yes, I, an older generation, do use Facebook) cultures can these days so readily mingle. It is up to the receivers of the new aspects to accept, reject, assimilate or not. While our advertising and promotion may encourage, it is still their choice, just as it is ours when they bring aspects of their culture to us. Do you eat ‘non-American’ food? Can I rest my case?
    I will, because this has rambled on too long. Regarding the celebrating: “I would have preferred to go to the side street across from the site, laid my hand on the heart-breakingly touching brass plaque that commemorates the fallen firemen, police and emergency workers and told them that they have, in a way and to some extent, been avenged. Rather than a mob drinking and dancing, I prefer to have the image of the photo of firemen on their ladder truck, one with his arms raised in a victory pose, looking at the NYC building with the scrolling headline “Osama bin Ladin is dead” as my own mark of the event.” http://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=2267479648757376871 ; http://randomthoughtsideasgripes.blogspot.com/2011/05/ding-dong-witch-is-dead.html .

    1. For the generalization of people who saw the news, it was an inelegant way of pointing out how people receive media and how this event was gobbled up mostly along generational lines. I know I had to call families and relatives to let them know as they were otherwise engaged reading books or sleeping. Should have written that better.

      I’m three years removed from graduating college, and of course I celebrated like a buffoon (you should have seen me on the streets of DC after BU won the hockey National Championship). But I wouldn’t do it on sacred ground, and I wouldn’t do it in a situation where, it seemed, they were celebrating just to celebrate.

      Maybe my point wasn’t clear, but this was all about perception. My point of American culture being forced on people was from the perspective of people with anti-American sentiment. I believe there is some truth to the idea of America pushing its culture on other countries (it has quickly become our most abundant–and vital–export; remember how the Soviets refused to let blue jeans in their country because that would, in same way, lead thoughts to America and then to yearning for that kind of freedom?) but it’s not exactly my idea.

      You put the onus on people to receive news and parse it out themselves. As someone who lives in this country, you have to realize that people will take the news however it is given to them, and we have freedom of the press. If you have anti-American sentiments and live in a more closed society, do you think they’ll parse that out on their own and realize “oh they’re just harmless college kids, no biggie.” By and large (sorry for generalizations here, but generalizations are the point) we take actions of groups of people as representative of the whole. People in other countries will do the same. We should be smart enough to not embarrass ourselves, and, at this point, not give others fodder, especially considering our own reactions to the dancin’ Arabs shown after 9/11.

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