Death of a Man
Since the beginning of the week I have been wanting to write about my response to the death of Osama Bin Laden. I was feeling strange because my response seemed to be so different from so many reported on the news.
My immediate response was "how sad and dreadful" as I do for any man who I read about who dies violently or tragically. For in the words of John Donne," any man's death diminshes me" always spring to mind of such occasions (the result of too much education.) Then of course, I assured myself that maybe it was a necessary evil since he would no longer be able to lead a movement that has been the sources of so much death and destruction. Of course, his martyrdom would remain a sources of inspiration for others. So what has been gained?
I found myself out of step with so many others, particularly American's whose news dominates the airwaves. People poured out into the streets at night in places like Washington and New York to celebrate in a riotous outpouring of bravado and jingoism that degenerated into drunken vulgarity as if a sports team had won a victory. It all seemed so inappropriate over a death of a man.
Of course, even for my favourite sports team I would only have a smile and polite applause so maybe it was me being inappropriate.
Slowly other more sobering opinions were being expressed. I w as pleased that no Canadians who lost loved ones on 9/11 expressed ecstatic joy. Many were pleased but saddened for they had to relive all those memories over again. One response in particular affected me. A Canadian woman who lost her husband that day and shortly after gave birth to their son reported telling him the morning after in straight forward but sketchy details that American soldiers attacked his home in Pakistan and killed him. The child's reaction was, " what gave them the right to do such a thing and kill the man." Awe from the mouth of babes!
As the news continued to come out the story modified. At first, there was a fierce firefight and a helicopter was shot down. Then the story changed a little; there was at least one person who shot back and was killed and the helicopter had problems and the soldiers had to destroy it because it had high tech aspects to it that they did not want others to learn about. We also are told that Bin Laden's wife attacked the soldiers and that Bin Laden was reaching for a possible gun.
Who knows where this story will end. Such is the fog of war.
It seems Bin Laden was unarmed and killed by two bullets, one the the body and one to the head. There was not great firefight. Several others where killed included possible children. Bin Laden's 12 year old daughter witnessed her fathers death. Does not seem like such a heroic Rambo style military adventure to me.
In fact, the mission was to kill Osama Bin Laden or bring him back alive if possible. ( the second half of this is public relations). The mission was to murder a man, to be blunt. The greatest military country in the World, had to resort to a murder, an assassination, an extra judicial killing. The shot to the head might have been that final shot to finish him off ( a war crime on the battlefield) so he could not be brought back alive.
One article I read described the special forces team that carried out this raid as the military equivalent of "Murder Incorporated" ( a Mafia group that killed people for profit). It turns out, while Americans are willing to celebrate this military event as a great victory it was nothing more than State sponsored murder outside the law. Most Americans like to think it was a legally justified event when in fact, in international law, it was quite illegal.
I find this quite chilling. It seems to say the American government believe it has a right to go anywhere in the world to kill anyone they want and it is legal. Does this mean that other countries should also have the same right in the name of national security? Might they claim the right some day to kill fellow citizens who disagree with the government in such a way) George Bush, Jr. claimed this right but, now Obama!! I used to have a higher opinion of Barack Obama, who has actually studied and taught the law but now they are no different.
Slowly more sober people have been commenting on this. Today I read that the Archbishop of Canterbury find this very troubling. Earlier in the week, I read that a religious scholar had misgivings. And there are others in you care to look for them.
I feel somewhat reassured my view is not out of step. I belong to a denomination that is not always included among the Christian Churches and I, with may qualifications might call myself a Christian, but not always. I do though believe in what I understand as Christian morality. This in itself may allow me to consider myself a Christian. I am often reluctant to be identified as a Christian because I have great respect for "true Christians" and consider myself unable to attain such a high standard. I certainly to not want to be identified with those who very self righteously claim to be Christian when in fact their behaviour is any but.
With the death of Osama Bin Laden I kept hearing Christian moral lessons in my head. "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord." Love thine enemy". Lot offering up his daughters in place of giving up the strangers, his guests, to the rabble outside. etc,,
As a pacifist, I take it serious that "thou shalt not kill." How a society can claim to be Christian and have the State "legally" or illegally kill people I have serious problems, whether it be war, extra judicial killings or legal State sponsored killing in the form of Capitol punishment.
For me the celebration in the streets should have been occasions of somber reflects and prayers for forgiveness for the State deciding, in our name, it was necessary to kill a man.
I doubt if any church opened its doors to such a service. I would like to think some peace church did. Shame on all those that didn't, they have failed to learn the Christian lessons.
There has been much discussion of the historic nature of the photo in the White House situation room as deciding group watch in real time a streaming video of the attach in Pakistan. Historically it is seen as significant because it shows for the first time a black man a the "protector of the Nation" and two women among the powerful. I don't don't know if it is all that historically significant. Time will tell. My reaction when I learned what they were watching was. "How ghoulish!
They were watch a video of a man being killed. Is this not the same as a "slasher film where a person is in a drama in which they are supposed to be killed, and they are actually killed. What ghouls watch these! For me the President looks small and powerless with an anguished look on his face (perhaps I am being generous and hopeful), Hilary Clinton has her and over her mouth as if she is trying to not cry out in horror at the scene in front of her. Vice-President Biden has largely his back to the screen as if he does not really want to watch. The rest in the room are stone fast appropriate for the cold blooded killers they are.
I hope I shall always feel badly when another person dies violently, particularly at the hands of the State in my name. My native neighbours, out of their native spirituality show game animals they kill for food respect. They offer up gifts of tobacco to the spirit of the moose, bear, deer etc, and ask for forgiveness for taking their "brothers" life so they may live. They believe they are related to the spirit of the animal and thus owe it respect. Should we not, likewise see ourselves in all men and reduce no man to an object to be disposed of first by taking his life and then by dumping him in the sea like so much garbage off the stern of a cruise ship.
How we treat others, no matter how badly they have behaved, in not a judgment on them but a judgment on ourselves. May we be forgiven for our short comings.