What a hideous, unworthy enemy this is. Consider the parallel images of 9/11 and 5/1: Yes, Americans cheered the death of a mass-murderer, but the enemy cheered for mass-murder. Americans and their armed forces strive to protect the weak, the unarmed, the innocent; the enemy targets them for slaughter. America weeps when innocents are killed; the enemy dances in the street. America was sickened by the hecatomb of September 11, the enemy emboldened by it. America teaches is children that war is a last resort to be avoided, the enemy that war is a divine commandment to be followed.
America is not perfect. America’s leaders are not perfect. Without doubt, innocent people die because of U.S. military action. But the undeniable difference between bin Laden’s kind and the U.S. soldier or airman, sailor or Marine is motive and intention: As bin Laden once put it: “We do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians; they are all targets.” U.S. forces do differentiate—and they go to great lengths to prevent the loss of civilian life. We see the difference by the way the enemy defines success and by the way we react to military failure: we court-martial people, change targets, scrub missions, order bombing pauses, investigate, apologize and invest in ever-more precise weapons to somehow protect innocent life while doing the dirty work of global security, policing the world’s toughest neighborhoods and defending America’s interests.
Even now—even though the one-man terror superpower known as Osama bin Laden has been sent to wherever mass-murderers go when justice catches up with them—those interests still need protecting. Just as the targets on 9/11 were symbolic to the enemy, so is the killing of Osama bin Laden largely symbolic—a potent symbol, to be sure. It sends a powerful message about America’s resolve, resilience and reach. But it doesn’t end the battle that was joined on September 12, 2001. The jihadists and their patrons and partners killed Americans before and after 9/11, with and without bin Laden’s direction. And they will continue their war until their leaders and foot soldiers go the way of bin Laden.
Let us hope that 5/1 infuses America and those who defend her with a renewed sense of resolve to hasten that day.
Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.
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