My memories of 9/11 are dim, as I was only eight years old at the time and had no loved ones in New York. I was home schooled that year, so I was in my living room. We still had an antenna on our TV back then, and I think I remember a news story with images of the Twin Towers on the TV in the corner. I lay on my stomach on the carpeted living room floor as I wrote about it in the spiral notebook journal I had for school, and drew pictures of the Twin Towers. I knew that it was a great tragedy, that many people died, and that it was because of some bad guys (did I even know the word "terrorist"?). At that age, I didn't quite grasp the importance of the World Trade Center and probably only thought of the Pentagon as a shape. I definitely couldn't fully grasp the tragic and political impact of the attack. At that age, I didn't need to.
I can’t remember what if feels like not to be waging a war against terror. 9/11 is my first memory of international awareness outside of ancient history, so as far as I’m concerned, I may as well have never lived in a time of peace. As a child, I figured out that I live at a very safe distance from any important targets terrorists may find, and then, for the most part, I left such things to the adults to mull over. War has become normal. My family doesn't get the news or a national newspaper, and none of my loved ones have enlisted. And so, as sad as it is to admit, war became background noise to me. It came to the surface in fifth grade when they found Saddam Hussein and my teacher showed us part of a news story about it. It surfaced again when I read stories in Readers Digest or heard about a teacher’s son serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
I might have been alive before 9/11, but I’d never heard of (or probably even seen pictures of) the Twin Towers. The terrorist attacks that day almost feels like another tragedy listed in my history books, and the fiction inspired by it feel like Historical fiction. Almost, but not quite. After all, as young and naïve as I was that day, I still had some awareness. I clearly remember thinking through where I lived and whether Washington DC and anywhere else important were a safe distance away. I understood the security checks at the airports when I next flew. No matter the hassle of going through security, I was thankful for it – and I hoped it was enough. I’ve always been aware of my brave fellow Americans over in the Middle East, and always thankful for their sacrifices, always wishing the sacrifices would be kept to nothing more than leaving their families and sweltering in the heat. I’ve grown up aware of the threat from terrorists, though it wasn’t until the past few years that I understood that the threat was coming from more than one organization. Ever since I was old enough to form political opinions, I thought, “Keep up national defense. Don’t trust the terrorists. Be alert, federal government. Be alert, airport officials. May the Lord protect our country.”
By the time I began reading adult fiction (mostly Christian adult fiction) five or six years ago, there were plenty of books relating to the war on terrorism. I’ve read books about Navy SEALs, CIA agents, and many other characters based on real life heroes. I’ve read books that weave conspiracy series and apocalyptic tales with real life terrorist organizations. It’s almost like historical fiction… except I know we still have soldiers, intelligence agencies, and an entire country sacrificing, searching, and praying. I know that the threats novelists use as a basis for fantastic fiction are still very real.
So when I looked on Twitter and saw the news about Osama bin Laden, I immediately clicked the news story linked in the tweet. A small part of me had forgotten that bin Laden had still been alive – in my mind, he was a legendary threat, and legends are usually dead people. Moreover, despite my resolution to start following politics a good amount of time before my first election day, it’s only after hearing about bin Laden’s death that I’m actually following through. And thus, because of my ignorance, bin Laden felt to me like just a name, just a face, albeit an important one, for the overall threat.
My immediate reaction to the news went: “he was still alive? Oh right. I knew that. Wow this is big. Is it really true? Is he really dead? The president wouldn’t say so unless he knew for sure… right?” As I began to believe that yes, bin Laden is dead, I felt some relief. Not a ton – even with my limited knowledge of international affairs, I realized that the terrorist threat is very much alive, and that our soldiers are still overseas. I didn’t feel the jubilee that some expressed all over Facebook and Twitter. Yes, justice prevailed, but I knew it would eventually – didn’t God promise that? In my mind, the authorities did their job (though we all wish they’d been able to do it sooner), and if they’d failed, then God would have still doled out justice. Bin Laden deserved to die. He deserved it, and it’s nice to have another bulwark of terrorism removed. But I’m not necessarily joyful about it. Watching the celebration explode across the internet, I wondered if it was naivety that kept me from taking pleasure in my enemy’s death. Then I spotted one of the verses a friend had posted on Facebook in response to all this. She quoted Proverbs 24:17, which reads:
“Do not gloat when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.”
She also quoted verses about justice and triumph: Romans 13:4 and Psalm 31:23. Then today she quoted Martin Luther King Jr.:
“I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”
That quote from King sounds quite similar to my thoughts right now. I mourn the loss of so many lives. But I cannot rejoice in bin Laden’s death. I believe that justice was done. I believe it was a victory, and I am glad for that. However, I cannot join in the celebration just because bin Laden was killed.
That’s not all. The fact is, the threat of terrorism is just as present as ever. I’ll wait to party until they say the War on Terror is officially won, however much longer that may take. Meanwhile, I’ll rejoice in the smaller things – each soldier home and reunited with his or her family, for instance. Now there’s something I can celebrate.