Reveling in the Death of a Villain 721.4

Yesterday I admitted I was glad and grateful to learn of Osama bin Laden’s death, an emotional reaction I’ve had some difficulty connecting to my principles as I became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of reveling in the death of another human being, even though he was a villain.

My niece Eliana helped me realize the complexity of the situation when she described her pride and exhilaration being part of a celebration at Ground Zero: “As I stood amongst a crowd of proud Americans, cheering and chanting and singing with American flags waving high,” she said, “I felt an uplifting sense of communal triumph.”

It was moving counterpoint to another posting by my niece Edana, responding to news that the following quotation was misattributed to Martin Luther King: “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

Edana said, “Regardless of its source, it perfectly describes how I’ve been feeling but have unwilling to voice in fear of being misunderstood or seeming insensitive to the pain this horrible man has caused. While . . . the death of someone evil can be a blessing that saves many – I can’t help but worry that it’s humankind’s ability to continue to find glee in the death of an enemy that perpetuates the vicious circle of violence.”

What do you think?

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.


This is Eliana’s post:

I was just 9 years old. To me, the wars that we studied in history were distant memories, no longer a part of my reality. Then, one hot September morning, my parents walked into my room, pale with concern. My whole body was shaking as I waited for my parents to deliver the bad news, figuring someone I loved was dead. For me, a national crisis, a national horror was unimaginable. There was no such thing as a universal wound, a cut so deep it could be felt by a nation.

“The Twin Towers have been hit by a plane.” I remember being led across the hall into my parents’ bedroom where the TV flashed images of the crumbling towers, disintegrating behind a cloud of black smoke, thinking it was a movie. Only months before, I had stood on those buildings. Yet now, those same buildings, seemingly the most powerful and unalterable in the world, were falling to rubble before my eyes.

With comprehension came fear. My grandparents were there, living in Jersey, only a ferry away. Luckily for me, however, both were safe, although I soon realized many others had not been as fortunate. It was then that I, 3000 miles away in Southern California, realized that true unity was not something to share only in celebration but also in heartache. It was something to lift you up in triumph as much as to pick you off the floor of defeat. I was only 9 years old but I was part of a nation that was in its third century and in that moment, we all stood together.

I am now 19 years old. To me, the world has always been full of fear and war. It was a chilly May night in New York City, roughly 10:30, when I flipped up my Facebook before bed. “Osama is dead.” At first I figured it was a prank. For me, Osama was somewhat of a distant memory, an evil spirit associated more with his crimes than his being. “Osama is dead” Status after status, posting the same thing from friends all over the country. Then, a friend posted a link to a streaming video of President Obama’s speech as he confirmed that Osama bin Laden was, in fact, dead.

I cannot explain how I felt in that moment, not because it is so profound, but rather because I am not truly sure how I do feel. On one hand, I am disturbed by the moral implications of rejoicing at a man’s, even an evil man’s, death. At the same time, however, I am not able to deny the relief that pulsed through me, knowing such a great threat no longer existed.

However, as I traveled to Ground Zero at 1 AM, dressed in red, white and blue, I wasn’t thinking about Osama’s death at all. For me, that wasn’t what this was truly about. Perhaps it is because I am only 19, but as I stood amongst the crowd of proud Americans in the crisp, early morning air, chanting and cheering and singing, as American flags waved high, I was not focused on death but on rebirth. Ten years ago, a 9-year-old little girl watched in awe as a nation stood together and shouted “we won’t give in.” Last night, a 19-year-old young woman watched as a nation stood together and shouted “we never gave up.”

Eliana Michelle

Comments 37

  1. I was going to post my surprise yesterday, and at last, decided not to. Today I weigh in. I am happy to hear that you had difficulty reconciling your feelings with your principles, as I was troubled with the disconnection. The mark left by Bin Laden and 9/11 leave complex issues to work out for all of us, some more deep than others. I think Edana’s post-a’la King- is what shouuld dominate our feelings. It would be too much to ask not to have feelings of elation, who doesn’t, and why shouldn’t we? But it isn’t it critical at times like this to conduct our actions appropriate to an assassination of a human? Maybe certain things like showing or admitting our feelings are left unseen or unspoken at times.

  2. I am so grateful that you expressed your feelings on the death of Bin Laden. This was exactly how I was feeling and I thought it to be strange and insensitive to the families of the victims of 9/11. I do not want to rejoice the death of someone yet there is a sense of relief. Kudos to you Mr. Josephson!

  3. I was appalled at the tv and news photos of people wildly celebrating the death of Bin Laden by chanting and waving flags. I believe with Poet John Donne “Each mans death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind”. Perhaps we are not yet a truly civilized nation. My first reaction to the news of his death was a feeling of relief and the hope that we could now declare victory and withdraw our military. I was no fan of the man but I am content to leave his legacy to history.

  4. Feelings are not subject to debate as to being right or wrong,judged as good or bad, they just are. It is your actions concerning your feelings that are to be judged.If you want to feel guilty or not about feeling good that this Evil man was killed then do so but this is your own internal debate. Mankind was endowed with a range of emotion and sometimes we feel conflicted with more than one emotion at a time, but that is ok. It is what you do with them that changes your character for good or bad. I felt a certain satisfaction that this man was found and killed and now this country can now go on to look at the future a little differently, but I really would have liked to see this man go on trial for what he did, but that is an option we now don’t have, and maybe that is a good thing. I’m not a decision maker ,I’m little people caught up in events that are difficult to make sense of at times and there is too much that I can’t change, but what I have control of in this life is my decisions. We decide to do good or bad and we know the difference. This is the gift and responsibility God gave us along with life. Do the best you can, and make the right decisions. The rest is out of our hands.

  5. Dear Mr. Josephson,
    Thank you for putting into words what surely we all must feel as you discussed moral conflicts in your response to Osama ben Ladin’s death.
    You put your finger on the exact issue that defines us, mortals and moralbeings… the determining factor separating Man from Diety, and Good from Evil; the question of what right does anyone have to determine another’s right to live or die?
    Your niece was impressively succinct in her comment… “While . . . the death of someone evil can be a blessing that saves many – I can’t help but worry that it’s humankind’s ability to continue to find glee in the death of an enemy that perpetuates the vicious circle of violence.

  6. Josephson-
    Your commentary is aired every morning during my drive to work. I must say I was extremely disappointed with your May 3, 2011 commentary. I was troubled because over the years I have come to admire your perspective and the way in which you help others to monitor their approach and interaction with members of the human race. To hear you relished in the death of Osama bin Laden and attempted to counter your position with a lot of weak tongue-twisted gibberish was insulting. Then to add the injury, the following morning you used your niece to gain empathy from your listeners for the comments of the previous day.
    Throughout time, man has dealt with death through war. I can only hope the sense of relief man senses for bringing justice and accountibility for the wrongs that have been committed are not mis-understood and perceived as jubilant celebration for one’s dealt. The savage nature that man has resorted to is shocking and shameful. I sincerely thought you were above it. Deep down, you know better. Hence, the back pedal!

  7. Dear Mr Josephson,
    I want to thank you for you coments on the death of Osama Bin Laden. I too am having trouble with the rejoicing over his death. While it is true that he was an evil man and has done much damage. He is still a human being created by God. Although God hates the evil that he has commited He still loves the man. Proverbs 24:17 says “Do not gloat when your enemy falls: when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice….”
    Although evil must be stopped we need to spend more time praying for the person than rejoicing over his defeat.

  8. I heard your commentary this morning just before 5am, as I usually do on KNX, just before beginning my day. I appreciate your statements as they helped me acknowledge my similarly conflicted thoughts. Yes, we must always attempt to contain or rid the world of villans; but must we be barbaric and revel in the person’s death? Respect for the dead is an idea that kept resonating with me in spite of his terrible history. The decision to withhold pictures of his death is sound policy and I hope that they are not “leaked” too soon. As humans and as a nation, we can demonstrate to others that we practice what we believe with regard to the dignity of human life and the respect for those who have died, no matter in what manner. Your commentary has helped me start my day for over 10 years; today’s was another special start to a wonderful day. Thank You.

  9. Just as an “individual” murder victim’s family is allowed to be present at the execution of the murdered via death penalty, we as a nation were assaulted, our safety murdered, and many thousand people literally murdered, because of this man. Why should we not be allowed to see proof of his death? Not to gloat, not to enjoy some sort of blood lust, but for “closure” as has been splashed all over the headlines this week? Why can’t we be glad he is dead, so that he cannot use his G-d-given free will for evil actions instead of the good and useful activities which most of us choose?? Do I “revel” in his death? To be honest – perhaps. Because he was EVIL. The same as I really don’t believe in hell, but am happy to think that OBL is there now, with Hitler, Pol Pot, Saddam, and the other immense villains from history.

  10. I agree we should not revel, but for some it is hard not to. If there ever was an exception to this rule, this would be it. But morals must withstand even the most trying of circumstances. Thus, while I don’t fault anyone for doing so, especially anyone who lost friends and family on 9/11 or in Afghanistan, I did not celebrate his death. But a sense of relief seems justified. Just like the end of a natural disaster, knowing this man can’t hurt anyone else should make us feel relieved. After all, we only feel relieved out of a respect for human life.

  11. I am pleased the Osama bin Laden is dead. I am not happy that he was killed, I am just pleased that his death means that he will no longer lead his followers into suicide missions that kill innocent people. Everyone dies, so to be pleased that an evil man has died is a blessing. If he had lived even one day longer on that day he could have, if he were able to, caused the death of more innocents.
    His evil mind will no longer cause pain, that is a blessing. I would have been just as happy if he had died of natural causes. Being killed by US forces does not make his death more important to me.
    I do not understand the glee that so many have that he is dead. I agree with Michael Josephson that such glee is part of what allows these terrible wars to continue. Revenge is a terrible thing because it has no logical end. Someone has to stop the killing. I think we as a nation are better than that.
    Philip Henderson, Ethical Magician

  12. Perhaps if we look at it from the perspective of dealing with a bully, that will help. Neale Donald Walsch (Conversations with God) suggests we ask (should have asked?): ‘What’s hurting you so much that you have to do so much harm to another?’ Maybe the answer to that question would have taken us along another route and maybe we would not have had such an end to this saga.

  13. I appreciate your post…I attempted to say something similar on Boston’s WBZ talk radio during Dan Ray’s Nightside program regarding whether or not to release the bloody photos of a dead bin laden. My point was that we have to do, as is always the imperative, what is best for the American people, including our children. Evoking shared hatred for a man, granted an evil man, is not good for anyone. It doesn’t promote healing or closure as many may think. It draws attention once again to the man himself and the evil deeds he committed. Why not evoke, as your niece said, patriotism and hope for a future of peace? Why not honor the families of those lost in 9/11? Let’s stop giving bin laden center stage, especially now that he is dead. This approach I could share with my third grade son who was in utero on 9/11. Cheering at pictures of a deformed and bloodied human being will do the opposite. It will show my son that hatred is alive and well in America, because he won’t understand why, even under the horrifying circumstances, a country would revel in another human being’s death. Let’s get past this one horrible man, and move on to better, hopeful, peaceful days. Frankly, I never want to see his face, nor hear his name ever again.

  14. Jesus said ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’ about his murderers. I’m not even particularly religious in the tradition sense of the word, but this is extremely powerful. If we all lived this way, think of what a wonderful place this would be. To forgive does not mean that we are condoning the behaviour of the other or that we don’t have a right to feel hurt or resentful and in the case of Bin Laden, terrified. It just means that we can choose to put it behind us. Most of the time we do not know the other’s real story – his motivations, his wounded past, his misguided beliefs. I say, ‘forgive me for judging them without really knowing their story.’ I find that if you ever do become privy to all or any of that, their actions start to make sense from their perspective.

  15. Consider ‘googling’ the 9/11 photo “Man Falling from Building”… if you haven’t already seen it.
    I’m sickened whenever I think of the (now historic) photograph of the man who chose to jump to his death from one of the Twin Towers; rather than being burned to death. When that man, and the other 9/11 victims, left their homes that morning, they’d have given everything to hug their children ‘just one last time’. Due to the murderous work of a religiously fanatical madman, that was not to be. For the surviving children of those who would’ve welcomed ‘just one more hug’ from their fallen parents… I say please accept my deepest condolences and prayers that the death of this evil man will somehow ease your suffering.
    May God bless us all and direct our steps. May God also bless those in our nation’s armed forces who stand up to right these wrongs.
    Our God is an awesome God. Osama bin Laden will eventually stand before Him.

  16. Bin Laden was an evil, twisted man. His death is like a doctor cutting out a cancerous tumor. Many others have stated they can’t rejoice over killing another human being. They should remember Bin Laden would have killed each and every one of them without a second thought. No amount of love and non-violence could have ever changed that.

  17. Thank you! I greatly appreciate the opportunity and challenge to further explore my own thought and feelings on this subject – interestingly enough – like many other readers, we’ve had similar conversations in our home.
    Futher, I greatly appreciate and admire the courage shown by you, Eliana, and Edana…it isn’t easy exposing such personal things for all to judge, and as I’m sure you know, there are many who judge without thinking, without empathy, without even an attempt at understanding. Thank you.
    My initial feeling was relief, then, caution. Many of Edana’s comments would sum up my feelings and thoughts.
    However, after reading Eliana’s comments, I better understand and support where she’s coming from as well; it didn’t register with me that many, many of the people who were “celebrating” had been living with this fear most of their lives. Eliana’s generation grew up very differently…perhaps the first to grow up under a constant possibility of threat…a cloud of fear.
    Many of them don’t remember an America free from threat, free from inspections, free from an existence of Home Security. Their perspective IS different, and thanks to Eliana’s eloquent expression, I get it…I have a much better understanding.
    It IS a new day, Eliana…one that still requires caution, but one that demonstrates YOUR America didn’t quit, didn’t give up, and perhaps most importantly, DIDN’T FORGET!

  18. I think your niece Eliana may have been referring to the comment by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stating that the loss of even one soul diminishes us all.
    We are all children of the creator, making us all brothers and sisters. As co-inhabitants of this beautiful planet we mourn the loss of a family member.
    Unfortunately there are occasions that require the removal of one to save the lives of many. I celebrate the lives that are saved and the evil hatred removed by the loss of Osama Bin Laden!

  19. It is a sad day when we celebrate with joy death of someone we hardly know except from the media and political briefings. This was a person that the US used to drive out USSR from Afganistan, a man who was a business partner of Mr. Bush Sr. There seem to be more than what meets the eye. As for 9-11,there is more investigation in a automobile accident than that went into the twin tower’s sad incident of historical propotion.

  20. I had similar feelings to those described by many of your correspondents. The reaction to bin Laden’s death brings to mind an event in the Spanish American War that in my day every Naval Academy midshipman was required to know and understand.
    At the battle of Manila Bay, Admiral George Dewey, aboard the USS Hartford, in command of American forces, observed the horrendous explosion of a Spanish battleship. The sailors aboard Hartford began yelling and cheering. To which Dewey said (famously): “Don’t cheer boys, those poor devils are dying”. A great warrior with a great heart.

  21. When we say that we are grateful that Osama is dead, maybe we should look at the reason for the gratefulness.
    Are we grateful because he will never be able to commit horrible evils again?
    Or are we grateful that he will never draw another breathe?
    I think there is a difference.

  22. I do not rejoice or revel in this man’s death. I do not celebrate – but neither do I mourn. I feel justice was served. The war is not over, but a small battle was won.
    Not nearly as eloquently stated as Eliana – or as many others before me – but the sentiment is the same.

  23. I applaud the eloquently written essay of this 19-year old young woman. Her mature perspective and reflection on the entire subject matter of 9/11 and the death of bin Laden is impressive. Thank you for sharing her essay – and may all of us see in it some hope that America has some amazing up and coming future leaders!

  24. I’m so grateful for the opportunity we have in this country to “post” our views and read; often to our enrichment, the posts of others. The feelings we have around the deaths of others, where there are “charged” or larger issues, makes for difficult and complex dialogue in these circumstances. Osama Bin Laden’ killing has many complex issues. There is one profound, and I believe primary issue that cannot be lost here. It is the moral issue of good and evil. There is a great national discussion taking place over whether it is proper to “rejoice” over the death of another human being. Is that in fact what people are doing? Are people elated at the death of another human being, or experiencing the many different, natural feelings that come with the end of evil intentions and evil behaviors. Is it abnormal to have these various feelings when justice has occurred? I presume most of your readers get their standard of right and wrong from a holy, just, loving, and unchanging God. Whatever Osama Bin Laden’ intentions were, his thinking and behaviors were evil. They resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocents. Had he the means, he would have killed millions more because of his thinking and behaviors. There are more like him. We are thankful for our empathy, and our ability to be saddened at the loss of any human life. All human life is precious. It is sobering to think on the beauty and value a person who is morally stable can bring to their fellow human beings. Every human deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Yet all human life is flawed. There are consequences for evil behaviors. When evil behaviors occur by an individual, that individual has lost their right to be afforded those considerations. Every right, God given or otherwise, comes with an equal responsibility. The world would ignore the responsibility and focus only the right. There is a clear attempt to elevate the right to the only consideration. We should never be made to feel guilty over experiencing joy, relief, triumph, whatever; when evil hearts and evil deeds meet with the just consequences of their actions. Yet many in our culture would condemn the responses to those normal ( and I would contend holy, just, and loving) feelings, placed in our hearts as the standard of our God. There is a clear attempt by the world to distort the moral standard God has given us. This IS a moral issue. Our feelings of triumph over the end of evil intentions and evil acts merit no condemnation. Rather they are an affirmation that good has won out. We do not rejoice in the death of another human being. We recognize that the lives of men and women are precious. When evil is defeated, when evil acts are met with justice, when that evil can no longer cause fear, pain, suffering, or death;what morally clear heart does not rejoice in that?

  25. Dear Mr. Josephson,
    I had also experienced the news of the Seals’ success in killing Bin Laden on two different emotional levels, and I agree that I don’t revel in his death. I am proud of our Navy Seals for a job well done and of Mr. Obama for giving the risky order to “Go.” As many of us recall, this can end badly as it did in Jimmy Carter’s attempt to free the hostages in Iran with a raid. So the emotions I felt when I heard were relief for our Seals and hope that this symbol of hate and disregard for human life will fade away.
    Thanks for voicing your reservations.

  26. What an amazingly insightful young woman! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and also putting into words what so many of us could not. You are what makes America the wonderful country that it is!

  27. I think there is a difference between rejoicing and feeling relief.
    I feel relief and I am not conflicted about it. Not only did this man change the world forever, but, more importantly, we were able to discover future plots and thus save more innocent lives. What would have happened if Hitler were killed before he could put so many millions to death?
    My feelings are my feelings, as noted by one comment above. They are not right or wrong. I am doing damage to no one by having these feelings. I will not apologize for them in the name of political correctness.

  28. Our reactions to the demise of Osama bin Laden give each of us an opportunity to assess the the level of spiritual growth we have achieved in our lives. It’s natural to be confused or flooded with a variety of emotions, some of which may conflict with one another. The process of sorting these out gives us a yardstick to determine how far we’ve progressed as moral, ethical and spiritual beings.

  29. One of our pastors spent some time talking about this. As Christians we believe that each human life is sacred, even bin Laden’s. One of the commandments forbids the taking of human life. Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again to earn salvation and eternal life with God for ALL sinners, which includes every human being who ever lived – or will live: you, me, and bin Laden included. However, salvation comes only to repentant sinners who believe Jesus died for their sins, even the worst one they ever committed. They receive the forgiveness Jesus earned for them on the cross that makes them righteous in God’s sight. Bin Laden had nearly 10 years to repent, but did not. Justice has been done.

  30. The Amish taught us the most when they forgave the man who killed the children in their schoolroom. They reached out to the parents of the murderer. And, had great sorrow for the murderer of their children. Sorrow because his soul was clearly so far away from God. But, most importantly, they did not seek revenge, but instead, sought prayer.

  31. What is being celebrated is justice being exacted, percervearance being rewarded and the defeat of an enemy. This is not an innocent baby in the woumb or vulnerable patient on life support.
    To play god with those innocents would be wrong. It would be wrong to celebrate an abortion or a mercy killing. But this is someone with much blood on their hands.
    We do not have the capability to exact justice or revenge upon someone’s soul but we do have the duty to carry it out on their body.
    So, when political leaders and soldiers stick their necks out to carry out that justice, yes, we celebrate their succcess and our enemies demise.
    I think to express any shame in the matter is to dishonor their loyalty to us.

  32. I think the very worst part of this whole debacle is that ignorant people are celebrating this man’s death based, largely, upon the BS created and/or perpetuated by our vaunted American media. Everybody’s becoming crazy, flowing rivulets of bitter vengeance, thinking this man was responsible for 9/11 when the professed (and confirmed by the 9/11 Commission Report, by the way) mastermind of that sad affair was actually Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Take that “accomplishment” out of the bin Laden rap sheet and I think a lot of people’s fervor would be taken down a peg or two. I’m sure, if you took a random sample query of individuals in this stupid mob, as to the naming bin Laden’s crimes, not many would be able to cite a one. He’s been so villified as to become this a-morphous bogeyman, like so many a-morphous bogeymen before him. They SAY he was responsible for the bombings of the embassies in Africa. Okay. Where’s the proof? Was he brought to justice, as our president insists, interrogated and placed at the scene of ANY crime or was he just a loudmouth idealist who happened to be an expedient target? Justice? I do not call someone entering your room, unannouced and putting two bullets into you “justice”. “Crusades justice” perhaps, but there was no justice done the other night in Pakistan. It’s easier to kill a bogeyman than to attempt to ferret out and confirm his crimes. Imagine the years and years of preparation for such a trial! Naw, let’s just send in the Seals to do “our” bidding; a killing in the name “of all Americans” that will simply lead to more Hatfield/McCoy-like bloodshed. Not in MY name. We must remember that OBL fell from grace with the intelligence crowd. He was once considered a “freedom fighter” as he fought with the Mujahideen to keep the hated Russians out of Afghanistan. Once he tried keeping US out of Afghanistan and elsewhere, he became a terrorist. It’s all BS. Yeah, he’s dead. No, we do not need to see the pictures, lest this fan the flames, leading to ever-more-noxious bloodletting. It’s just sick. It’s all sickness. More light, please.

  33. Bin Laden deserved to die; justice has been done. However, I cannot celebrate his death; we murdered him as the coward hid in room. Let us never become callous to the act of taking a life, even wehn it is justified. John Donne’s famous essay states in part, “if a clod be washed away, Europe is the less… ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Justice has been achieved; let his death stand as a testament of determination. “The bell tolls for thee.”

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