I was in Iraq, never in Afghanistan, and any links to Iraq and bin Laden are pretty sketchy. Despite this, many of my friends and I’m guessing a good part of the American people, through a mixture of ignorance, folk wisdom, lazy thinking, and government and media propaganda, think things like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden are simply one and the same.
And in a way they are. Since 9/11 almost ten years ago, our country has engaged in the War on Terrorism, whose jurisdiction does certainly cover Iraq and bin Laden. I remember that day clearly. I woke up around seven and groggily met my dad in the kitchen, where he was every morning making coffee and toast. He was watching the TV silently; I looked at it too, and saw a plane smash into a huge building.
“Is that real, Dad?”
I was sixteen and saw the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as something very intriguing. I couldn’t believe the bastards had the balls to do something like this. “Don’t they know that we’re America, what we’re going to do now?” I instantly knew big changes were coming. I knew America was going to go to war and crush whoever did this. I grew up in the ’80s and early ’90s; I was taught that America is an enlightened superpower, that we would be an industrial and democratic powerhouse for centuries, the New Rome. 9/11 made me bloodthirsty. I, like almost every American, wanted bin Laden’s head, and I wanted it now.
Three years later, I was still somewhat bloodthirsty, eager to go to War. I joined the Army and went to Iraq.
Now bin Laden is dead, but it’s not as satisfying as I might have hoped. It’s been almost ten years since 9/11 and a lot has changed in America. My classmates who saw the towers fall with me haven’t joined a vibrant powerhouse economy; they’re waiters and temp workers with bachelor’s degrees not worth the paper they’re printed on. Not even Americans believe we own the new century, as China and other world powers are steadily gaining prominence in world affairs. The apathy and disconnect most Americans express for the War on Terrorism is scary. Percentage-wise, very few Americans are actively connected to this war, and the all-volunteer army ensures that many privledged classes are virtually untouched by combat losses. I joined the Army partly because I thought that my service now may prevent my little brother (who is ten years younger than me) from himself having to suffer and bleed in a foreign country. He’s sixteen now, and there is plenty of war to go around.
So, am I happy that bin Laden’s dead? I guess, sure. But does it mean anything? The man himself probably hasn’t contributed anything to his cause. For the last ten years he’s been a living martyr and fugitive. Knowing as little as I do about geo-politics, just using my soldier’s sense, I’d say that on the balance sheet, killing bin Laden will add up to zero. It’s a useful media stunt, it’ll be on the front pages of the news mags for the next week or two, but after that, business as usual. The decay of the American superpower and the seemingly insolvable insurgency in Afghanistan are the most important legacies of bin Laden. Killing him is great, but we need to fearlessly address not only the man, but his effects, and most importantly, what’s he’s done to us, what we’ve become.