National pride, it’s a feeling that is often lacking in the American psyche. And when I say national pride, I don’t mean the everyday garden variety patriotism. I am referring to the flag waving, “oh say can you see,” wake up feeling like you live in the best damn country on earth kind of national pride. The death of Osama bin Laden revived that American spirit. For the first time in a long time, there is a feeling of accomplishment. And why not, America has disposed of the first great tyrant of the 21st century. But can the death of this one man serve as a turning point in our history?
The Self-Conscious Superpower
Ever since Vietnam shattered American invincibility in the 1970s, Americans have asked the question: are we in decline? In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the country went from reaching to the stars, literally with the Apollo mission, to helpless with the weight of the Iranian hostage crisis bearing down on the country’s collective shoulders. What shook America to its core was its inability to deal with Middle Eastern aggression. Jimmy Carter became a martyr of these circumstances, but eventually things turned around. American exceptionalism was solidified when the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War was won. The blink of an eye brought good fortune this time around. Suddenly, American power was unmatched. The 1990s brought the internet boom and the growth of the middle class. The 20th century had been known as America’s century; there was no indication the 21st century would be any different. No one could have imagined that the son of a wealthy Saudi construction mogul named Osama bin Laden would change all that.
In Search of Evil
September 11th served as a time machine. In the years that followed we reverted back to doubtful America. Here we were, engaged in two wars that seemed endless. A financial collapse ensued that more closely paralleled the Great Depression than any recession of the late70s. As 9/11 drifted into the annals of history, the unity that followed in the days after the tragedy gave way to division. The list was daunting: the wars themselves, the treatment of prisoners, Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act, enemy combatants, military tribunals etc. The country couldn’t decide on how to prosecute “the war on terror,” let alone win it. All the while, Osama bin Laden taunted us. Between 2001 – 2011 Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language news network, broadcast dozens of bin Laden’s video recordings. Again and again bin Laden was brought into our living rooms, even having the audacity to preach. In one 2004 video bin Laden remarked, “I am amazed at you. Although almost four years have passed since the [11 September] incidents, Bush is still practicing distortion and confusion.” Thousands of America’s sons lost, and nearly a trillion dollars, but still he eluded us. As a nation, we began to lose hope that we even had the capability of finding him. A 2010 CNN poll found that just 30% of Americans believed bin Laden would be captured or killed. A group of Navy SEALS proved that we should have had more faith in our military.
The scenes outside the White House and in New York City put a smile on every Americans face. There were no two sides to this issue. The killing of Osama bin Laden showed the world that America has a long memory. No other military force in the world could go into a sovereign nation and hunt down the world’s most wanted man. A discussion is taking place in the world community if the U.S. had the right to do this. Indeed, Pakistani lawmakers are now reconsidering their relationship with the United States, or so they say. In reality, this is more political grandstanding than substantive debate. Pakistan has no recourse because of American military might.
Will the death of Osama bin Laden be this generation’s Berlin Wall? Can bin Laden’s death save a modern empire in decline? Only time will give us the answers to these questions. For now, let’s take solace in the fact that we accomplished a goal first formed in the ashes of the twin towers. The threats against America will not cease, but bin Laden will spill no more American blood. Tomorrow you can wake up knowing that you live in the best damn country on earth!