Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The celebration of the killing of Osama bin Laden

I am more scared by America celebrating the killing of a human than I ever was scared by al Qaeda. I saw at the top of the first news article I found after Osama bin Laden was killed:

"Justice has been done," President Barack Obama declared late Sunday as crowds formed outside the White House to celebrate. Many sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "We Are the Champions."

Alexis Madrigal has a piece I recommend, describing the crowd behavior in front of the White House upon the announcement. Chanting “U-S-A U-S-A” and singing “We are the champions” is appropriate for a hockey game. Mass expressions of sentiment rarely demonstrate self-esteem and objective moral reasoning.

From President Obama’s address:

So [Bin Laden’s] demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

I do not welcome demises.

And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda's terror: Justice has been done.

Justice has been done when we have killed the guy who killed some of us.

Yet today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

Killing is not an achievement. It is not great. We Americans grow corn, we invent things, we take care of the sick, we write and paint and we love—these are great achievements. Killing an enemy is, at best, a solemn shame. It’s one thing to approve of the killing of another human being, to decide to strip him of his life. To celebrate a killing is to attempt to strip a human of his humanity.

We recoil when other people harm other people, especially children, we recoil at corpses, at the ill, at the aged, at people who observe different customs. Whenever I have shaken hands with a homeless person, I have felt the urge to wash my hands; my conscience has difficulty telling the difference between disease and poverty. Osama bin Laden was an outsider to mainstream Americans, rich, Muslim, middle-eastern, so we ought to pause to separate the parts of our response that pertain to the harm Bin Laden caused from the parts that pertain to the alienness we feel towards him. Human beings get self-esteem from identification with a group, a culture, a nation, a hockey team, and cheering at Bin Laden’s death is an activity which has more to do with group identification than with determining justice. We need to be able to distinguish between “Osama bin Laden was killed,” “Justice has been done,” and “We won”.

In his speech, Obama noted, “No Americans were harmed.” All humans have equal moral standing, regardless of their citizenship or nationality. A moral cosmopolitan, here, would identify that one civilian, a woman, used as a human shield, was killed. This is sad.

After Jared Loughner shot several people, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, it was noticed that Sarah Palin had a map with crosshairs on Giffords, and I blogged about it. There is no evident connection between Palin’s map and Loughner’s actions. I wish I hadn't used a violent act as an opportunity to make my own points about my own political views.

I anticipate that people are now writing columns and essays, arguing that the killing of Osama bin Laden is proof that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are or are not justified and that Barack Obama is better or worse than George W Bush. Many of these will mention that it is ironic that Bin Laden was killed eight years to the day after Bush’s “Mission Accomplished speech”. This is also good opportunity for Obama fans to mock Donald Trump for being concerned with trivialities.

I doubt that many of these essays will change minds. They will, instead, make people feel more reassured of their own views. We can get self-esteem by hating Osama bin Laden, and we can also get it by hating Fox News or hippies or the Democrats.

Americans are afraid. Celebrating killing normalizes killing and homogenizes thinking. People who are powerful and afraid and united and upset are dangerous, and this scares me.


Proverbs 24:17 "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he is overthrown."

The Onion: Violent Death Of Human Being Terrific News For Once

An example of point-scoring:

Newspaper front pages, collected by Julie Moos at Poynter: Tinley Star Philadelphia Daily News Edmonton Sun Rot in Hell


  1. beautiful writing Mr. Szatmary: We need to be able to distinguish between “Osama bin Laden was killed,” “Justice has been done,” and “We won”. That's been my main issue the entire time. Osama was killed. I'm not going to pretened to shed a tear, but there is no justice or victory in it. As you say "Killing an enemy is, at best, a solemn shame". I'd say it's just solemn.

  2. As an atheist evolutionist, you should rejoice in death. It's the only thing that advances the evolution of the human race or any other species. Why should life be sacred or death be tragic if we are just matter? Why not root for your tribe, which is generally advancing progress in the world, against a backwards-thinking ideologue? What facsinates me most about your writing is how you reject God because you think you're smarter than He is and yet you still want to borrow His morality so you can feel some moral outrage. You're like the teenager who calls his parents idiots and then wants to borrow their car keys.

    By the way (if you care), I agree that the reaction has been way too celebratory, but I also do think justice was done, as much as it could be. We do not affirm the value of human life by allowing mass murderers to live. Genesis 9 argues the exact opposite point, that the unique value of human life requires the death penalty for murderers.

  3. Jason,

    Reasonable people that I respect say that it is just for Osama bin Laden to be killed. I am more troubled by Obama's statement, "Justice has been done," which, while perhaps correct, sounds, to me, to be deceptively final, in the context of wars with many thousands of people dying.

  4. Alex, my sarcastic opening paragraph on my comment was intended to be provokative and not insulting. I have watched your descent into atheism with a mixture of disgust and extreme sadness. I care deeply about you, so it hurts to watch you walk away from God because you're so infatuated with your own intellect. At least, that's my take on it. You demand that God satisfy your intellect or else you will refuse to give Him your loyalty and affection. Taking that stance makes your intellect your god, makes you the judge, and seeks to make God your servant. He won't take that position, and if He did, He wouldn't be God. He has given you all the proof you need in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The problem is not lack of evidence or compelling arguments. Every coherent thought you think and every moral fiber in your body screams of God's existence.

  5. Killing is an achievement, Alex. Not for a nation but for the people who were tasked with the goal of killing, it's a goal achieved.

    For the rest of us, it's just the feeling of hurting someone who hurt us, and, immoral as it may be, it does feel good in a primal way.

    Oh and, Jason, why do you insult God by mocking one of His greatest creations, evolution?

  6. Jason, you don't need to believe in God to have morals. What a terrible assumption. I hate when people think that humans just have no moral compass and simply adopt it from some God or religion. I myself believe in God, but a "decent into atheism" should never be looked at with disgust or sadness, it shouldn't matter in relation to the person's level of peace with himself. If he finds peace this way, why think he's wrong for it? He could very well call you stupid for believing in some unseen, unproven force, couldn't he?

  7. Bit late here, came across the rest of your blog after searching Christian agnosticism. 100% agree with this article. Two wrongs do not make a right.