“…tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to.”
– President Barack Obama, in his announcement to the nation of the successful operation that killed Osama bin Laden, May 1, 2011
Yes, Mr. President. Hooray for our side. We kill good. That is to take nothing away from the accomplishment of some very brave members of the US military who risked their lives in carrying out the mission. Congratulations to you as well, Mr. President, for making the courageous call to put the plan into action with only “a 55/45 situation,” barely better than an even chance that bin Laden was there, as you told 60 Minutes last week.
Yet, when you evoke the “story of our history” of scientific, socio-political and strategic global achievements, and liken them to the pursuit of one man, it not only gives way too much power to his notorious legacy, it also piles his demise into the larger than life determination, self-reliance and stick-to-it-iveness we like to think we are known for in the world. It is a play for American exceptionalism that those who run for a national office are forced to embrace in this post-Reagan political environment, so voters can cheer for them as they stand on the stump with red, white and blue stained muck dripping from their insincere smiles, weak chins and empty, outstretched arms.
Exceptionalism is an evolution of an idea that has gone from achievement is great, to Americans achieve, to Americans are great for what they achieve, and finally just the dysfunctional notion that nothing in God’s creation is better than America and Americans.
Celebrate, but not in ignorance
Regardless of the exception one can take to the phrasing President Obama used on May 1, we pursued justice, and the justice we exacted is great (in its grossness). That, in itself, may be something to celebrate, for a country so desperate to believe in itself. With Americans cavorting in front of the White House, cheering at Ground Zero in New York, and waving flags in town squares across the country two weeks ago, one hopes that when they recall these days to their children and grands, that they will finally understand the lessons of sustained diligence and unrelenting vigilance. Optimism says they will, with age and wisdom, understand that this outcome does not make America stronger; we just feel a lot better about ourselves.
For those of you who insist on celebrating in blind ignorance, there is a sad shallowness to the victory when you dance, the predictable programming of an American automaton. There is a hollowness to the celebration when you sing sour notes of patriotism at the echoing explosions of a war we cannot end.
- What Really Killed Osama bin Laden (esquire.com)