Celebrating Death?

If I had had a family member who had been killed on 9/11, I might feel differently about the celebrations that took place late Monday night in New York and in Washington.

While I can understand the sense of relief, I was uneasy with all of the glee and gloating. For just a second, the chest-thumping chants of “USA USA USA” made me think I was watching a college pep rally or a WWF promotion. It didn’t seem to meet the moment.

Those late night revelers reminded me of the “celebrations” that took place in some cities in the Middle East on 9/12. (I still remember George Will’s reflection: “Those who celebrate these deaths never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”)

Instead of a string of spontaneous street parties, perhaps we should have had national day of prayer and reflection. Isn’t that a more natural reaction to death?


8 thoughts on “Celebrating Death?

  1. “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that”

    As nice as that sounds, when the love is unrequited, no make that met with terror and more terror, it rings hollow.

  2. And my example might be complicated but (since RP is probably not now
    considered any kind of moral exemplar). . .

    After Sharon Tate was murdered by Manson and his family, Roman Polanski (at the time married to Tate, who was expecting their child) was asked by a journalist what he thought ought be done to the murderers when found. Polanski responded that they should not ask him that question because, given his relationship to those killed, particularly Sharon Tate, he of course felt vengeful. But he added that justice would not be served by the vengeful, and pointed out that the state was tasked with proceeding in a manner that was consistent with a larger conception of justice.

    So to your point about perhaps feeling differently if a loved one had died
    on 9 / 11: justice must be able to temper the boil of vengeance. If it
    doesn’t, we’re lost.

  3. I suspect that had you a family member who was killed on September 11, 2001, you would have had the same unease with all of the glee and gloating as vengeance is cold comfort. I hope that we will see a more muted and thoughtful response in the intervening days.

  4. For the vast majority of people, American and otherwise, bin Laden has long been more symbol than person. Quite frankly, I held to the theory that was already dead, rotting in a cave somewhere – and that it was the symbol alone that lived. I don’t say this out of spite, or as a justification for the nationalism – only as a possible explanation. I think it is very, very hard to see OBL as a fellow human being – and this is probably not entirely dissimilar to the distance seperating those crowds who filled the streets on 9/12 and those burning insidethe twin towers, obscured. If he’s not a person, then he’s simply a symbol of American impotence and, if we’re honest with ourselves, evil.

    Can’t say I’m surprised. I do think many people did take a minute for sober reflection. I just hope we seize this opportunity to move on.

  5. Violence begets violence and radical fundamentalism begets radical behaviour even among formerly moderate people. Your call for sober reflection falls on deaf ears in a nation where ultimate fighting is the fastest growing sport. The referee, like the roman emperor in past holds the life of the contestants in his hands. Civilizing institutions like churches are wilting replaced by institutions of self interest, self indulgence and violence.

  6. Jim,

    I couldn’t agree more but I’m never surprised by how human beings are always so quick to react to news as opposed to creating a gap and then responding.

  7. Jim, I was really disturbed by the celebrations of OBL’s death too. This Martin Luther King Jr. quote has been turning up in my email inbox a lot since the events of Sunday night, and I wholeheartedly agree with it:

    “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.”

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