Learning from Bin Laden’s Assassination

I was forwarded this Gary Younge OpEd by an acquaintance of mine and thought that I’d respond to it here.  Most of the piece pontificates on the nationalistic celebration that occurred in the States immediately after Bin Laden was killed.  Younge closes with the following two paras:

But those who chant “We killed Bin Laden” cannot display their identification with American power so completely and then expect others to understand it as partial. The American military has done many things in this region. Killing Bin Laden is just one of them.

If “they” killed Bin Laden in Abbottabad then “they” also bombed a large number of wedding parties in Afghanistan, “they” murdered 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha and “they” gang-raped a 14-year-old before murdering her, her six-year-old sister and their parents near Mahmudiyah. If “they” don’t want to be associated with the atrocities then “they” need to find more to celebrate than an assassination. Vengeance is, in no small part, what got us here. It won’t get us out.

I find the logic here pretty strained.  Sweeping assertions about what the American military has done “in this region” do not acknowledge the command structure through which the various elements of the military are employed. The fact is that the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq were not prerequisites for the deployment of SEAL Team Six to Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.  Whether we occupied those countries or not, we were sending those twenty SEALs to kill Bin Laden the minute we knew where he was.

Setting that criticism aside for a moment, I’ll give Younge the wedding parties.  But the incidents in Haditha and Mahmudiyah were not sanctioned by the state.  The individuals most directly responsible in both cases were convicted of crimes, and some of them accepted plea bargains to avoid the death penalty.

The “We/They” in question is the nation of the United States, not the US military.  US civilians don’t generally try to claim credit for their military’s actions.  But “we” are at once responsible for the killing of Bin Laden and atrocities in Iraq the same way that we are responsible for killing the Indians and putting a man on the moon and freeing the slaves and inventing peanut butter.  These events all occurred at the hand of “American power,” but that doesn’t tell us much about their causation or how we might prevent/encourage similar events in the future.

The point on which I agree with Younge is in the first sentence of his quote.  We should not expect others to supply nuance to our statements where we do not do so ourselves.  The discretion with which Bin Laden was dispatched contrasts conspicuously with the indiscriminate nature of the attacks he authorized, but having had this chance to put the anguish of 9/11 behind us, we should next take the opportunity to remind ourselves that the pinnacle of character is to turn the other cheek even while we remind Rest Of World that we’re no less human than they are.

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