in Awareness

The Monster in the Mirror

“…I despair that we as a country, as Nietzsche understood, have become the monster that we are attempting to fight…”

Reporter and author Chris Hedges and I shared similar thoughts after the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed Sunday night.

It was one of those moments you wont soon forget. Years from now, just like September 11, 2001, you’ll be able to tell people where you were when you heard the news that Osama had been killed.

Most of us were probably in bed – I was just about to turn on a How I Met Your Mother rerun when I saw my Twitter stream become flooded with cheers of American pride and celebrations of the man’s death.

That wasn’t my reaction – not because I have sympathy for Osama, not because I don’t think his death is an iconic and monumental event in our countries history, but because I can’t help but think – are we any better than those overseas who attack our country? Is fighting violence with violence the only solution? Will this do anything but ignite even more hatred of America amongst other parts of the world, and what will that hatred spell out for you and I?

I guess, in short, I’m afraid.

I fear my own safety and the safety of my family, but I’m also afraid that as a society, as a country and as a nation, we continue to believe we must police the world, embrace that people must continue to die every day to preserve our freedom, and when all else fails, start blowing shit up and killing people off to “send a message” that terrorism will not be tolerated.

Are we sending that message? Or does everyone else see us to be just as barbaric and cruel as those who do wrong to us? And where will it end?

Chris Hedges, quoted above, goes on to share his thoughts on our response to 9/11:

“…the tragedy was that if we had the courage to be vulnerable, if we had built on that empathy, we would be far safer and more secure today than we are.

We responded exactly as these terrorist organizations wanted us to respond. They wanted us to speak the language of violence. What were the explosions that hit the World Trade Center, huge explosions and death above a city skyline? It was straight out of Hollywood. When Robert McNamara in 1965 began the massive bombing campaign of North Vietnam, he did it because he said he wanted to “send a message” to the North Vietnamese—a message that left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead.

These groups learned to speak the language we taught them. And our response was to speak in kind. The language of violence, the language of occupation—the occupation of the Middle East, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—has been the best recruiting tool al-Qaida has been handed. If it is correct that Osama bin Laden is dead, then it will spiral upwards with acts of suicidal vengeance. And I expect most probably on American soil. The tragedy of the Middle East is one where we proved incapable of communicating in any other language than the brute and brutal force of empire.

Did we teach this language of violence? Did it start with us? I’m not one to answer that – but we’ve time and time again resulted in responding to violence WITH violence.

Maybe I’m being naive to think that situations like this could be handled in another way – that somehow we could settle our differences without casualty. Maybe it’s the perfect fairy-tale world I’ve thought up in my mind that could never actually be.

But today, now that the dust has settled a bit from Osama’s death – I can’t help but to feel afraid about what will be the response to this and what path our country will continue to walk down.

“America, Fuck Yeah!” - It’s something you wont hear me cheer today. Not because I don’t love this country and the freedoms within, but because I’m not so sure events like this are anything to be proud of…

(Photo Credit)

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  1. Thanks for your post. I have been feeling the exact same way with lots of conflicting emotions. But most of all fear of the calm before the storm. Thank you for sharing so honestly.

    • My pleasure, Mary. After some conversations with close friends, I felt this was an opinion of fear and confusion that was shared by many…appreciate you coming by to read.

    • Hi Rebecca. Judging people’s reactions was not at all my intent. Rather, this post was an opinion, voicing my thoughts and, to be honest, fears about what this situation will bring and the overall response and actions taken by our country to fight terrorism. My response is no more correct than anyone else’s – opinions are like assholes…you know the rest. nnAs Ben says below, I’m openly admitting that I don’t know how to feel in this situation and like many, I’m feeling very mixed about everything. Happy that Osama is no longer a threat and that many are able to have some sense of closure with this happening, but fearful about the route our country continues to take and worried about what the retaliation could be in response to this, then what our response will be – it’s a vicious cycle that seemingly has no end until we all blow each other up…nnI hope to most this post is an honest opinion of one man’s reaction to what’s happend over the past few days and the past several years. Not a passing of judgement on other’s reactions, whether they be fear and anger or jubilation.

  2. Matt, I could not agree more. Even though I’m not a US citizen, but Dutch. It kinda scared me when I saw those people feasting on the corps of Bin Laden… My first response was: ‘this causes another 9/11′ I liked the post Baker wrote on ManVsDebt ( It puts everything in perspective. nAnother nice remark made here in the Netherlands was from a National Security guy on Dutch radio:”Terrorists are somewhat like McDonalds: you can shut down some of the branches, but there still will be thousands of other branches all over the world’. nAs long as the coalition (US, UK, France, Netherlands, etc) keeps fighting terrorists this way, they will only become more angry…nIn addition to that, one of the main goals of terrorists is to spread fear… Viewing your sentiments, I guess they are pretty succesfull

    • My question: Where does it end? How does it end? Is an end to this even possible or does the killing back and forth have no conclusion? It’s questions like these that have me the most afraid – because I don’t see any end in sight and don’t know how we will ever accomplish peace – or if it’s even realistic in this day and age.

  3. I totally agree. At first I couldn’t put a finger on why I wasn’t so happy as everyone else. America..its leaders..are thought to be the egotistical, temperamental and arrogant. Watching the news coverage all I could think was; oh goody, america has its god complex back. They get to pound their chests after bringing home the bacon.nnAre they (or we as westerners) so hell bent on revenge that we would jeopardise our fellow people’s children? This will not go without rebuttal. No, we could not go without action for such a terrible atrocity, but violence only breeds more violence. Is this just the trigger the extremists have been waiting for to really pull out the big guns?nnWould Osama have been more use to us in captivity? Maybe.. Osama isn’t the only existing terrorist and he clearly had good contacts to have evaded capture for so long. To hide in plain need powerful friends; yet we have lost the opportunity to garner that information.

    • Osama’s death is a “victory” for America. He was a murderer. He was a terrorist. And the world is better off without him living. But you’re right – it’s far from winning the war against terror – and to be honest, it seems like it’s a war that will never really end.nnI wonder, though, how others truly view America. Are we seen as terrorists in their eyes? Do other nations wish we would stay out of their affairs? How do others feel about us continuing to “police” the world? I wonder how other countries around the world feel about seeing us pump our fists and cheer in the streets over Obama’s death…

  4. I definitely agree with you, Matt. One of my best friends and I had a long drawn out discussion on this and basically, the conclusion we came to is that we will never know for sure whether killing Osama was the only option. But for us, it’s less about the action we took and more about the response of Americans. If his death was handled in a more appropriate manner (and I don’t claim to know what exactly that means – but it’s not climbing trees, waving flags and singing ding dong the wicked witch is dead), then I do not think that this would have even been an issue for me. Everyone is allowed to feel how they are going to feel, and so in my opinion, I feel there is no sense in overtly celebrating loss of life, no matter how evil. Especially because it is unsettling to us when we are the ones being cheered against. It certainly doesn’t make me feel very safe knowing that there are people out there angered by our response. But I think that people will be divided on this just as they are with things like the death penalty. Thank you for not being afraid to share your thoughts!

    • This is how I feel, Jenn. It’s not about having sympathy for Osama Bin Laden, it’s about something much bigger – and I’m very uncomfortable with pounding my chest and chanting “USA!” over the death of anyone. Killing will never make me happy, it will never make me smile. The man deserved it and is as evil as evil comes, but I can’t help but admit that, as you said, it’s unsettling to see so many cheering and partying over something like this. The loss of life, in any regard, is not worthy of celebration…nnThanks for reading and thanks for the thoughtful comment…

  5. “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” n-Martin Luther King Jr.nnThat being said, I’m not nearly as eloquent as Martin Luther King, Jr… I want peace, but it’s so hard to not react in order to defend ourselves. We would have to just hope that others would stop trying to kill us, and well, will that ever happen? Probably not. We can love people all we want, but some people will still hate us. But still I don’t think that this justifies violence and killing. I’m just not sure; I struggle with this question greatly. My FB status from earlier this morning: “Do we celebrate justice or vengeance? Even if it is justice we celebrate, let’s ask ourselves what our own justice would look like. Aren’t we, in return, being unjust to many, including many of our own? Is it wrong to hope for mercy for myself and justice for everyone else?” nnI am ready to admit that I have no idea how to react right now.

  6. Matt, I completely agree. And I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, and your candidness in doing so.nnI just saw this video pop up from a TED conference in Dec 2010. 2 mothers became friends… One mother whose son was killed in 9/11. The other whose son played a role in the attacks. A real lesson in forgiveness & understanding. Thought you would enjoy it.nn

  7. Great post, Matt. I have to say that I’m conflicted with how I feel. On the one hand, I agree that we shouldn’t celebrate death (and I did not celebrate when I heard Osama was dead). However, this is a man who organized the greatest attack on American soil. He is the reason why some high school classmates of mine lost a parent on September 11, 2001. He is the reason why the TSA has such strict regulations now. I feel (and hope) that many of those who were celebrating weren’t celebrating the actual death, but rather finally feeling some closure for the events that happened nearly 10 years ago. Who knows? I certainly don’t. I do think that storming the White House was a little much; however, I think gathering around the World Trade Center memorial after the news broke was touching and honestly, made me a little teary eyed.nnMaybe I’m naive, but I don’t think that the way some are celebrating is something to worry about. I would be more concerned if this celebration came from our country’s leadership and if they handled the whole operation a different way. I like to believe that, as a whole, we are not a violent, angry people and that this “celebration” is only an expression of deeper emotions that have been repressed for year, something not so superficial.

    • Very well said, Christa. I really appreciate the thoughtful feedback here and it’s an outstanding perspective.nnI am not one to judge anyone and how they respond to this – and there is no right or wrong. It’s easy for me to come here and write about how celebrating seems extreme, but to someone who lost a loved one during the 9/11 attacks, or a family who lost a loved one in the military as they fought to defend us these past ten years – I can of course imagine how this news would illicit a response of satisfaction, closure, even happiness.nnWhat scares me are those who are frothing at the mouth over having a chance to see photos of Osama’s corpse, those who appear to not be satisfied because justice was served, but because revenge was dealt out. The latter, the pursuit of vengeance, is what scares me – and the line between vengeance and justice is very fine, to say the least…

  8. I think this sentiment is better directed towards the idea of the war that Bush started in response to 9/11 where we attacked and bombed an entire country, killing countless innocent civilians and children.nnA special mission that resulted in 5 deaths — none to Americans and none to innocent civilians — is the least destructive path we could have possibly taken to accomplish our goal. nnAs for the “celebrating of death” seen in the media — I’m hardly in a position to judge people for basking in the excitement and success of our country after so many years of trying. A few hours of celebrating a major milestone? Okay fine. I don’t see people in the streets today – for the most part I think everything has returned to normal – so I’ll give them that. I didn’t partake in any of these festivities, but I sure as hell did not mourn the death of a TERRORIST and evil evil man.nnAnd in terms of feeling safer, or fearing retaliation? I feel SAFER now that the man responsible for orchestrating 9/11 and countless other terrorist attempts and attacks is dead. nnAnd I REFUSE to feel guilty about any of that.

    • There is quite a wide canyon between celebration and mourning, I would say. When we execute a criminal, they don’t serve champagne and cookies in the observing room. Its a solemn event for all involved. I in no way mourn the death of Bin Laden, but flag waving and cheering disgust me. I applaud the military who have had a part in this and thank them for completing a mission.nnAlso, I think its rather short sighted to think that this world is a safer place with Bin Laden in it. Bin Laden was one man and, in recent years had become more of a symbol or figurehead than an actual player. The people who are now carrying out attacks are his students and followers of his ideology. They won’t stop just because the symbol is dead.

      • I agree, Elissa. When a criminal is executed, I have no doubt that anyone who has any association with victims feels some satisfaction and closer, but as you said, they aren’t celebrating or posting ridiculous videos (that make Americans look ignorant) like this guy – you choose to respond to a situation is just that, your choice, but the chanting and frothing at the mouth over the possibility of seeing photos of Osama’s corpse? Seems more like bloodlust than anything else to me.

  9. Matt, I share your conflict. While (to be frank), I would have shot him myself if necessary, I wouldn’t have celebrated. It reminds me of a football game. When you score a touchdown and then rub it in someone’s face, they get fired up and kick butt. This will probably sound like an oxymoron but we should always take the highest road possible — even in the case of an assassination. Otherwise, we are just the guys with the biggest guns.

    • Well said, Mike. This is how I feel. Did Osama Bin Laden deserve his fate? Based on his actions, I’m sure all of us would say “yes”. But celebrating it, frothing at the mouth over seeing photos of his corpse, running through the streets chanting “USA!” – it’s over the top and it puts our society at a level that seems no better than those we’re fighting. Not to mention, it only further fuels the fire for those who already think very little of us Americans…

  10. As a Canadian with many American friends, I fear the same for your country. And our Prime Minister supports everything American, including the military actions that the majority of Canadians DO NOT support. I’m so relieved you’ve expressed these sentiments, Matt. You, as an American citizen, are not alone in this fear. The international community understands and sees this too.

  11. Thank you, Matt for this post. It says what I have been trying to say for 3 days with so much more simplicity and eloquence than I could ever have come up with. I share your concerns and fears. I too, am afraid. Not only of what this means in the War or Terror, but what it means as it relates to our national character as Americans.

    • Thank you for reading, Elissa. You and I are not alone (at all) in these thoughts. Here’s to hoping this event means a turn for the better rather than a retaliation for the worse…

  12. While I agree with much of what you post on your blog Matt, I have a somewhat different perspective, although we also agree on much of this. Freedom does, no matter what anyone believes, come at a price…and often times that has been through communicating and compromise…and other times it has come to war, therefore death. I am not a fan of war, but I understand it is a necessary evil at times. I also do not think every war we have entered has been at the right time or the right reasons.nnBut the point here in my opinion, is that there ARE people and networks of people in the world that dislike us simply due to our freedoms, our lifestyles, and our “Amercian” values…and as much as I am a fan of turning the other cheek, there are times that war, that killing, is the only choice left on the table. Again, I do not agree with every war, nor every reason for war…but it is another “tool” in the “toolbox” so to speak. nnLastly, life is not always pretty, I think we can all agree on that. And the fact that people like Bin Laden or Hussein exist, and are evil to their core…means there will always be reasons for war, in my opinion. We did not create them, but we are left to deal with them, and if communicating does not work…where do we go? I am a fan of Bin Laden and Hussein being dead…is the world perfect now, no…however, those two will no longer have the ability to terrorize their own people nor the rest of the world.nnI appreciate the post Matt, and respect the opinion…I am not screaming and cheering either, but I am glad the son of a bitch is dead.nnCheers

    • Yet there are countries in this world that enjoy freedom without a military. And there are countries in the world that enjoy freedom without finding the need to send their military all over the world to “protect” that freedom or engage in “peacekeeping” missions. nnThe problem with having the biggest and best military in the world is that it becomes the most used tool in the toolbox. I feel that our government often reaches for the crowbar when a pair of pliers and a bit of elbow grease might do just as well of a job without causing so much damage to the surrounding area.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Matthew. This is a good discussion to have – and while I openly admit to sucking at political conversations, I tend to agree with much of what Elissa said here. There ARE countries that don’t have to result to war and I think it’s sad that (in general, not just in America) we result to killing when we can’t get along. nnAnd as Elissa says, having a massive military is great at protecting our freedoms and making us feel safe, but it also allows us to push that button quicker and police the world when sometimes, we should stay out of other countries business. Maybe that’s idealistic to think things could be solved without bloodshed but we might not have as many enemies if we weren’t so proactive in flexing our muscles in getting everyone else to do what we say.nnAll of that being said, Matthew, I think we can all agree that the world is a much better place without Osama Bin Laden in it.

  13. Matt & Elissa, I do agree with much of what you are saying…but I also know that we live in The United States and our government makes military choices often based on informationthat we do not know, nor will we ever know (military intelligence, etc.). And as someone pointed out in this thread, even if our new foreign policy was to hug people regardless of what they did to us…would we win?? There are poeple that hate America…is it because of our ideals, our values, our freedoms…or do they hate us because they feel we “flex our military might” too often? I would say all the above. I did not cheer when Osama was killed…but for those that did cheer, I respect that. Their emotions and feelings were obviously “feeling” that strongly…maybe from losing a family member on 9/ 11 or maybe from losing someone in the wars…either way, I am an American, and I respect the opinion of others and freedom we have to voice those opinions. But I will also attempt to have faith in my government when it comes to these choices, because I do not believe that Ronald Reagan, George Bush 1. Bill Clinton, George Bush 2, or Obama want to see soldiers be slaughtered. However, does that mean I “agree” with this war, or any other? I don’t know, because I do not have all the data and information that these men have had. nnI guess my main point here is in regards to what you brought up specifically about celebrating Osama’s death…for those that did, I salute you…for those that did not, we have our reasons for not celebrating…but in the end, I do not think there is a right or wrong answer. If we never went to war how would things be now? Better? Worse? We will never know, period. So we are left with the reality, and I am glad he is dead, but I know the problems did not die with him.

  14. Thanks for speaking out, we definitely aren’t alone in feeling that our response, right from the very start, was the wrong one.nnThe rampant drum-beat of nationalism verging on racism, and the knowledge that violence breeds more violence are very scary things right now.

    • Agreed. The response (of many) to this – demanding photos of Osama, etc – illustrates something about our overall society in America that is more than a little troubling. I’m glad Obama and the government chose to keep these photos and further intel private, understanding that showing them does very little other than satisfy the thirst of those with blood-lust.

  15. Hi Matt I agree with you. I had a similar reaction to this event. My first reaction, “what do we win by revenge?” and I started searching for what important people had to say about revenge. The wisdom exist. And the message is clear.nnOne cleaver guy said,u201cHe that studieth revenge keepeth his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.u201d John Milton quotesnnHere’s my personal take on the storynn

    • Thanks for coming by and sharing. I wouldn’t consider this to be nothing more than revenge. Justice has been served here – and that is something that I can applaud and cheer. Our military carried out a successful and important mission, but it still makes me uneasy to see how some have responded, and even more-so, it’s made me worried about what the retaliation of this may be, with no real end to the violence in sight…

  16. I too, feel very conflicted about this whole situation, and it sucks because I feel guilty for feeling that way. But posts like these help me realize that I’m not the only one who feels a little “off” about this whole thing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

    • Nothing to feel guilty about, that’s for sure. I think it’s okay to be satisfied that Osama Bin Laden is gone, but to be a bit reserved in your ‘celebration’ of the killing of any man, even a known terrorist. As we’ve pointed out throughout this conversation, there’s a fine line between seeking justice and being hungry for vengeance…nnThanks for reading and commenting, @d93a280b1e6c4e9ef114dde120bfd90c:disqus !