On the Death of a Terrorist

It is May 1, 2011, and Osama bin Laden is dead.

I’ll say it again, mostly for myself.

Osama bin Laden is dead.

The rip of bullets through human flesh, so often fatal. Our particular construction of tissue and bone was never designed to survive such an assault. When it does, it’s through sheer luck, through the unthinking chance of the cellular destruction missing “anything important”.

Osama bin Laden is dead.

I learned about it from Twitter- you know, the social media platform, where all the cool kids trade memes and jokes and porn.

“Wow, bin Laden’s dead?”

“Dan thought Obama’s announcement would be that a comet is headed toward Earth. I guessed first contact with Vulcans.”


“@personB I’ll vote for your side #VULCANSWELCOMEHERE”

“@personD I think Dan just wanted the day off tomorrow…”

“Osama bin Laden is dead”

I was newly eighteen when planes were flown into two skyscrapers, a government building, and a rural patch of mud. I thought it was a hoax when I heard, couldn’t figure out how to cry when I finally realized it wasn’t a joke.

“They claim to have his DNA on record… and now his body so…. IDK  O_o”

“He’s dead, Jim. #BinLaden”

“There was cheering in the streets in some countries when 9-11 happened. Don’t let us be like that. We wanted him dead, he is. No fireworks.”

“We will all remember where we were on the day they announced Osama bin Laden is dead. On Twitter.”

I turned on the radio; one minute before the hourly break. NPR was waiting for more word- continuing the scheduled programming, but anticipating an interruption due to an unprecedented announcement by the President, content unknown at this time.

I took my iPhod with me into the bathroom, brushed my teeth, washed my hands. Nothing, nothing. I scoured the internet, texted my husband, im’d an Australian friend. Did you hear the news? No, what news? They’re saying Osama is dead… WHAT???

Waited on the radio, which canceled the pre-recorded programming in favor of the BBC live feed. We are now able to confirm that Osama bin Laden is dead, we are waiting on a late-night announcement from the President of the United States, Barack Obama…

“it is a bit weird, eerie, that this happened eight years to the day of bush’s mission accomplished banner”

“I love that Obama basically has to start off the phone tree before he can make the announcement…”

“bbc has the word ‘dead’ in quotes. does that mean osama might be a zombie? uh oh.”

“think bush still has that “mission accomplished” banner in storage somewhere? think he’d be willing to lend it out?”

“I fucking love my President. I may not love my government, but I LOVE. MY. PRESIDENT.”


When we first began bombing Afghanistan, I watched, horrified, with my housemates, on our tiny tv with our stolen cable. We were all old enough to remember the Iraq war. We did shots and took bets on how long it would take before Baby Bush took on Daddy Bush’s failed war.

When we invaded Iraq, I was working for an NPR affiliate, reading the news at the hour breaks and swallowing hard against nausea as I read the updates on the AP wire. We went to the protests on campus, the tiny liberal minority in a vastly Republican state. We went to church and prayed for peace, hung our hand lettered “Peace is Patriotic, too!” sign in the front window, argued hopelessly in class that Hussein was a bastard, but unconnected, that Powell was a dupe, that Bush was a fool.

“(quietly, a voice says:) its not particularly ‘democratic’ to celebrate death, even of one’s enemy (ahem)”

“Tomorrow @SarahPalinUSA, Glenn Beck, Limbaugh & Fox News will figure out some way to criticize Obama on the killing of Bin Laden. Bet on it.”

“what’s the difference between cathartic release and celebration? i am not pro-dancing in the streets. but gathering to remember, yes.”

“There is no need for fireworks :/

“As far as I remember, I think we accomplished the goals we set out with when we started this military engagement. Can we leave now?”

“The Devil is officially pissed. He had to leave a fiddlin’ competition down in Georgia early to file his Osama paperwork.”

When they caught Saddam, I didn’t know what to think. He died stripped of all dignity. Living in a hole in the ground, his sleep-deprived, filthy, mugshot splashed across the international news. Then hanged, left to twitch and choke at the end of a rope, as if there had ever been any other possible outcome.

How do you resolve the murder of a mass murderer? There is no argument that can be made in his favor, other than simply that he was human. The blood of thousands was on his hands, women, children, men. But when he was a child, did his mother love him?

Does it matter?

“SMH. Media fanfare at it’s finest. USA celebrates blood lust and the President claims his scalp. When will we learn u can’t FIGHT for PEACE?”

“Osama Bin Laden: Hide and Seek champ 2001-2011”

“Celebrity Apprentice interrupted by NBC News confirming Bin Laden’s death. Poetic justice.”

“Obama to America: “Here’s my birth certificate… AND BIN LADEN’S FUCKING CORPSE! HAPPY NOW??””

“Somewhere, Carmen Sandiego is biting her nails and Waldo’s cowering in the corner.”

“I cannot delight in death. I worry this may bring even more death. Humans are vengeful creatures. This may brew a storm.”

At one of the first anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks, maybe the first, the second, I don’t remember, I was home alone. I didn’t remember the date until the evening, but when I did, I turned on the tv. The BBC was holding a concert, Barber’s Adagio for Strings played to a hall of empty chairs. You could nearly see the ghosts, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe, wondering how the orchestra was able to play with all the oxygen sucked out of the room, with the presence of the blessed dead surrounding them.

This year it will have been ten years. Ten years since thousands of people died in one (well, four) swift actions. Ten years since no one I knew died, but the world I knew changed. My whole adult life has been lived in the shadow of this event and its subsequent insanity. The Patriot Act, the Iraq “War”, the Afghanistan “War”, Mission Accomplished, the Taliban, all of it, all of it terrible and all of it ours.

“Wow, Obama called Bush to tell him Bin Laden is dead. I would fellate the Washington Monument just to hear 10 seconds of that conversation.”


“Twitter’s strength is not in reporting the breaking news, but in presenting the best one-liners about that news in real-time.”

“I was wondering why I didn’t see any conspiracy theorists on twitter… then I realized they’re all on my Facebook newsfeed. DX”

“I’d like to thank the internet and tv for making me feel like I left the house today.”

A terrorist is dead.

A criminal mastermind is dead.

A human is dead.

What do we do now? Do we celebrate in the streets? The internet streaming video shows that yes, we do, and yes, we are. Times Square is full, they are mobbing the White House and singing the National Anthem. People in their pajamas are gathering at Ground Zero, lighting candles and crying.

Do we shout our victory? Or do we sit in quiet catharsis? Do we proclaim victory and pull out? Or do we dig in and wait for the kicked hornet’s nest to respond? Do we rejoice over the death of a mass murderer? Or do we mourn for the violent death of a man?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

“Hell is 72 virgins but they’re all Steve Carell.”

“stunned by the news. No one’s death is a source of joy and our call is to love our enemies. No matter how much we resist and would rather cheer…”

“…maybe it’ll be in part one of relief, but I offer a prayer for Osama and for the repose of his soul.”

“O God, the Creator of all, who commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time, enable us all to stand reconciled before you in peace. Amen.”

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