Cheer OBL's death, and message it sends

People outside the White House reacting to the news that Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. The action is a signal to other terrorists that they will never be free of U.S. pursuit.
People outside the White House reacting to the news that Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. The action is a signal to other terrorists that they will never be free of U.S. pursuit. (MANUEL BALCE CENETA / Associated Press)
Posted: May 08, 2011

Jim Geraghty

writes "The Campaign Spot" at National Review Online and is the author of Voting to Kill

The man with more American blood on his hands than anyone else on the planet, having evaded capture for nearly a decade, met the business end of a Navy SEAL's firearm and now bobs with the currents deep in the Arabian Sea.

Sunday night, we saw jubilant crowds in front of the White House in Washington, at ground zero and in Times Square in New York City, and at State College and other campuses across the country. Chants of "U-S-A" at the Phillies game spread the word that our men in uniform had slain Osama bin Laden. Subsequently, we've heard tsk-tsking from some media voices, rapping us on the knuckles for exuberant public roars of joy and victory, as if celebrating "some kind of football game win."

The lament is half-right; in the end, our favorite team's winning the championship is a happy frivolity. We could dance in the streets all night, but sooner or later our lives go back to normal. (As a Jets fan writing to an Eagles audience, I realize this concept is largely theoretical.)

The death of OBL is a much bigger deal, and even more worthy of celebration.

This is the moment to cheer, to scream, to pump your fist, to break into that old bottle of your favorite beverage you've been saving for a special occasion. Because the world is different after Sunday's events; as President Obama said, the world is a safer place now. Not free from danger, and not overwhelmingly safer, but enough to celebrate. Besides the treasure trove of intelligence gathered at bin Laden's house - likely to lead to more arrests, captures, and kills of al-Qaeda terrorists - and the hard hit to al-Qaeda's morale, Sunday sent a key message around the globe.

In every far-off corner of the Earth, anyone who has ever committed terror against Americans, who seeks to do so again, or who is contemplating the act is reminded: No matter who you are, no matter how many followers you have, no matter how smart or clever or careful you think you are, our guys can find you. It's just a matter of time. If you kill our countrymen, our best, toughest, and meanest will look and look and look. They will never quit; we will never forget. We make Les Miserables Inspector Javert look like a slacker. You will die imprisoned at Gitmo, or you will die quickly from a covert-ops team's bullets. But one way or another, you will pay for harming our people.

Terrorists like to boast that they have to succeed only once; those who seek to prevent attacks have to succeed all the time. But the same applies to terrorists hoping to evade our global dragnet. They have to avoid making any mistakes - using a tapped phone, speaking to an informant, being spotted by surveillance - all the time; one mistake might be enough to bring our guys knocking down their door. Nothing could illustrate that more than bin Laden's death.

Still, some commentators object to celebrating all of this, offering the Christian notion that all life is sacred and that no one's death is worth celebrating. (It's fascinating that those who often express fears about the role of religion in our political life suddenly expect their countrymen to take a deeply Christian approach to the death of an enemy, even quoting Proverbs 24:17: "Do not gloat when your enemy falls.")

The complaint against the cheers often includes a non sequitur: "This won't bring back the loved ones lost on 9/11." Of course not. No one ever claimed that slaying bin Laden would resurrect the dead. Humanity has struggled with how to handle the unparalleled crime of murder since the dawn of man, often settling on "an eye for an eye." In almost every society throughout history, when murder is committed the perpetrator is pursued and punished. This is universally recognized as moral right, even if the death penalty remains controversial. Although terrorism makes capital punishment less controversial: more than half of self-proclaimed death-penalty opponents supported the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Bin Laden's crimes need no lengthy review; we all know that his orders begot the violent deaths of 2-year-old Christine Hanson, seven other children, and an additional 2,965 victims on 9/11. We can only imagine what a parent says to comfort a terrified child in those worst final moments.

If celebrating Osama bin Laden's demise makes one a bad person, I'll live with that label.

E-mail Jim Geraghty at


comments powered by Disqus