Capitol Idea: ‘It Is Unusual To Celebrate A Death’

Coming, as we do, from opposite ends of the political spectrum, it’s rare indeed that I give even a second thought to anything Republican Mike Huckabee says.

But I couldn’t help but be struck by his response to the news that Osama bin Laden was dead.

“It is unusual to celebrate a death, but today Americans and decent people the world over cheer the news that madman, murderer and terrorist Osama bin Laden is dead,” says Huckabee, the potential presidential candidate.

Like nearly all Americans, I had been celebrating the news of bin Laden’s demise since it broke late Sunday. I watched with interest and revelry as crowds gathered outside the White House to cheer the news.

And I hadn’t given any of that much reflection until Huckabee’s statement somehow caught me up short.

Bin Laden was, of course, a monster beyond words. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. The world, as so many have remarked since he was shot dead, will be a better place without him.

And, yet, Huckabee’s words echo in my head: It is unusual to celebrate a death.

This wasn’t even a traditional battle in which the death toll involved could be made abstract to justify some larger victory or end of conflict.

In this case, it really does come down to being glad for the demise of one individual human being, no matter how terrible that individual might have been.

And that fact gave me a moment of pause. Not out of any love or regret for bin Laden, to be sure.

Most immediately, I hope bin Laden’s death does provide some relief, comfort, or closure for the families and loved ones directly affected by the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001 — even nearly a decade later.

But in my own Buddhist faith, we are counseled against seeking revenge, or from taking joy from the pain, or death, of another. Other religions, it seems to me, have similar proscriptions, as well.
Was that just what I had succumbed to, though?

That question prompted some real soul-searching on my part.

Honestly, I don’t think so.

For me, it’s about simply — hopefully — that ridding the world of the relentless menace that was Osama bin Laden may truly prevent others from being hurt or killed.

We’ve been reminded regularly since bin Laden’s death that his al Qaeda organization already has been transformed from a vertical, command-and-control structure to a looser confederation of terrorist affiliates in which bin Laden called fewer shots.

Even still, I only can hope Clinton-era White House chief of staff John Podesta is correct when he says, “Osama bin Laden’s death is a severe blow to Al Qaeda and an unprecedented victory in the fight against terrorism. Our fight with Al Qaeda is not over, and there may be more dark days ahead, but today, for the first time in a long time, the end is all that much closer.”

The terrible hurt bin Laden caused on September 11 only has been compounded by the 10 years that we’ve had to live with it, and the fear that we’d see more.

Our thoughts and feelings are no doubt complex, and the sense of relief at bin Laden’s passing enormous.

Let us cling, though, to the better angels of our nature and vow to become less, not more, like the man whose death so pleases us.

Even as I’m glad bin Laden is gone, I’m also grateful for the introspection Mike Huckabee’s words has stirred.


Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as ‘It Is Unusual To Celebrate A Death’ on Blogcritics.

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