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Unpatriotic thoughts on the death of a madman


Sorry it’s been so long since my last post. I don’t want to disappoint my legions of fans, so I’ll try to update more often from now on. By the way, I uploaded more pictures to Facebook (the link is on the Links page) from a recent trip to Mendoza. If you’re planning a trip to South America anytime in the future, put this place on your list. Here’s a sampler:

Yeah. Pretty much.

Anyway, on to what I sat down to write.


A month ago, I posted a proudly patriotic entry after hearing Hugo Chavez speak. I felt like I had to defend my country in a place that has a number of reasons to be hostile towards it. But the news coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden triggered a flood of thoughts that have been building up during my time here.

There’s an Argentine television program called “Duro de Domar” (“Hard to Tame”) that consists of “Daily Show”-esque editing together of news and pop culture clips on a specific issue, making fun of it, and then discussing it more seriously. Their spin on the killing of bin Laden was more or less this: A.) it’s really messed up that US citizens were celebrating in the streets after the news broke, and B.) and this incident is just more proof of US empire and worldwide military supremacy (and not in a good way).

Like I said, spin. What made me extraordinarily uncomfortable is the nagging feeling that they might be right.

First of all, while I definitely understand the need for vengeance or some form of justice against bin Laden, it is messed up that there were impromptu celebrations in our streets after the fact, especially from an Argentine perspective. Think about it. This is a culture steeped in a history of violence, state repression, forced disappearance, and torture. To most Argentines, the very idea of celebrating anyone’s death is repulsive. As it should be.

Now as Americans, it would be easy to say, “We finally got him! He got exactly what he deserved. U-S-A! U-S-A!” and be done with it. But shouldn’t we be using the occasion of Osama’s death to commemorate his victims, not get drunk in the streets? Are we so desensitized to the reality of war that we turn the death of an enemy into a party? And isn’t celebrating the death of the man, in a perverse way, vindicating the power he held? Have we just succeeded in turning him into the martyr he always imagined himself to be?

Even more disturbing was the “Duro de Domar” segment’s second implication: that the operation that killed Osama bin Laden was not the steely hand of American justice finally finding its target, but rather a display of the United States’ arrogant self-assumed authority to intervene anywhere in the world, sovereignty of other nations be damned, in the pursuit of its interests.

Don’t get me wrong. Osama bin Laden was an evil megalomaniac who twisted the teachings of Islam to promote a war against the West in a quest for personal vengeance and was ultimately responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people. I’m relieved he’s dead, and the world is a much better place without him. That is not at issue.

What I’m getting at is the very action itself. What right does the US have to that kind of power? I ask that question in light of the fact that literally no other nation on Earth could take the kind of actions the US has taken in the war on terror (invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, bombings in Pakistan, killing of bin Laden) without substantial and tangible opposition from the developed world. Plenty of people questioned the motives for these interventions and opposed them in theory, but very few people (in the States, at least) asked the even more basic question: what right do we have to intervene in the affairs of other nations in such a direct way?

The war on terror is one thing; we were attacked and we responded, and every nation certainly should have the right to defend itself from enemies (at least, Afghanistan fits into that logic. Iraq…that’s another story for another time). But when you talk about Latin American history, the issue gets real murky, real fast. Knowing what I do now about the actions of the US government in the region, I can’t help but think that thousands upon thousands of people, people just as innocent as the victims of 9/11, would still be alive if the United States had simply chosen NOT to intervene, to allow Latin Americans to choose their own destiny. I’m talking about the 1954 coup in Guatemala and the 1973 coup in Chile. I’m talking about the Contra War in Nicaragua. I’m talking about Operation Condor. I’m talking about a US government that treats Latin America as its backyard playground instead of a continent of sovereign nations and an American public that, in general, knows far less about its southern neighbors than it does about the intimate details of Prince William’s wedding.

I guess I’m really talking about the greatest danger of being American citizens: the assumption that our amazing Constitution, the miraculous stability of our form of government, the freedoms we enjoy, and our rise to world power give us the right to do whatever we want. The notion that our system is inherently better than any other. In other words, the tantalizing but ultimately corrupt notion that might makes right.

In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, “Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?”

And even if we can, should we?

One Comment leave one →
  1. 05/04/2011 03:34

    Awesome man, great article. Good thoughts.

    One thing though… what about when a ‘nation’s affairs’ affect the world? Such as instability in Egypt/Libya?

    What about when Pakistan blatantly either knew or ignored the fact that Osama was hanging out 40 miles from their capital in a mansion? And if they really didn’t have ANY clue, then WHY is that?? Is their country either extremely supportive of al-Qaeda or just that pathetically inefficient in the security department? I mean, it’s a definite fact that the ISI is or was a strong supporter of al-Qaeda.

    It makes much more sense in Latin American history to use this ‘let’s not interfere in other people’s affairs’ but it remains to be seen when the US will start to truly draw a line between ‘our’ affairs and ‘their’ affairs.

    Meaning, most of these terrible incidents were all based on the ‘fact’ that because of the Cold War, ‘communism’ was the devil and it couldn’t be allowed to spread ‘in our backyard’. Hence it was ‘our’ affair to go to Guatemala, Chile/Condor/etec etcetec.

    Then there’s the ‘damned if we do, damned if we don’t’ — why didn’t we intervene in Rwanda in 1993? Why did it take us so long to intervene in Serbia/Bosnia/Kosovo? What about Uganda today? Somalia? DR Congo? Ivory Coast?

    And even worse to think about, are these aforementioned countries just simply not ‘relevant’ enough to US interests to make ‘their’ business ‘our’ business?

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