Sunday, May 01, 2011

He Deserved It

[Cross-posted to Front Porch Republic]

That's a terribly unChristian thing to say, I know. To speak in moral terms--to speak of "desert"--in matters of war is to invariably invest those actors which participate in war--in other words, to invest states like our own, to say nothing of terrorist cells and other organized bodies such as those Osama bin Laden lead and inspired--with a level of moral significance that is frankly idolatrous. Bin Laden, the enemy of the United States, the enemy of all that the United States stands for, is finally dead! Righteousness wins, evil loses! That's the sort of way of talking which opens up all sorts of abuses, which leads one into all sorts of disturbing equivalencies. There's plenty of room for moral judgment when one looks at the consequences of actions; there's no need to take up those consequences and turn them into game of winners and losers, of deserving and undeserving, of God's favorites and those whom God wouldn't mind being blown apart by an bomb. The moral plane of the universe is not somehow improved by the killing of a man. "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he is overthrown"--the author of Proverbs had it right.

I believe all that....but I still think he deserved it. He deserved it, because he lead and inspired actions whose consequences, in a very real and specific way, not only left nearly 3000 human beings dead, and which gave rise to an occasionally desperate and often mismanaged war which has killed many thousands more (both innocent and guilty), but which have also generated pathologies that have plagued and damaged American politics ever since. He was hardly solely responsible for these results, but neither could he ever escape the blame.

Are you frustrated by the loss of civil liberties which The Patriot Act represents? Blame Osama bin Laden.

Are you disturbed by the bureaucratic mentality which has decided, in the mad pursuit of absolute safety, to treat ordinary citizens as suspects to be manhandled and debased by the TSA every time they get on a plane flight? Blame Osama bin Laden.

Are you embarrassed by the vaguely racist and often paranoid accusations which have haunted our rhetoric and our relations with other states over the past 10 years? Blame Osama bin Laden.

Are you concerned about the expansive complications and enormous costs which the United States has piled up, not only in terms of the blood and treasure expanded (perhaps necessarily...but then again, perhaps not) in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in terms of entanglements with numerous onetime foes, and disagreements with numerous onetime allies? Blame Osama bin Laden.

And are you troubled that the United States, a country founded on revolution and independence, has spent a decade sincerely playing around with the possibility of unapologetically embracing a new role as a "democratic empire," one committed to waging an endless "war on terror"? Well, again, blame Osama bin Laden.

I've not doubt that many millions of people will quite sincerely, and reasonably, see the news this night as pretty straightforward: this is a success, a triumph for soldiers that have suffered too much for much too long, and a richly deserved bit of payback for the horror of September 11th, 2001. I remember the horror of that day well, as do millions of others, and I can remember the slow realization about the challenge which Osama bin Laden's ideology posed to the American way of life which followed in the weeks and months afterwards. All of which was true.

But what I didn't realize until much later was that the pre-occupation we had with that threat was itself a perhaps even deeper threat to the American way of life...a way that, whatever else we all disagree upon, really shouldn't be a life conditioned by endless low-level wars, and the costly divides in American life they give rise to. We did that to ourselves, but Osama gave us the pretext for doing so, and for that, I suppose he deserved what he finally, finally, got. If only I could believe that a well-executed firefight could rid us of all the civic and international damage he has left in his wake.

7 comments:

The Modesto Kid said...

Are you frustrated by the loss of civil liberties which The Patriot Act represents? Blame Osama bin Laden.

Well, but this seems to take a good deal of responsibility off the shoulders of the people who actually, you know, proposed and enacted the Patriot Act, and of the people who elected and re-elected them.

Nate Oman said...

I think that you may have lost me after the death of 3,000 innocents. Frankly, I am pretty uncomfortable with the idea that having a negative effect on political culture warrants assassination, and the notion that we are going to place the TSA's idiocies or the rise of vaguely racist or paranoid rhetoric in the same moral category as mass murder is also troubling to me.

Rejoice that the killer of innocents has met his just rewards, and leave the handwringing over political culture for another day.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Modesto,

I don't mean to take responsibility away from all of those--really, all of us--who acquiesced to all the damage which my post describes, in the name of some "higher" cause. As I hope the first couple of paragraphs of my post makes clear, I really don't think we can, or should, play connect the dots in some grand moral sense, and say that THIS particular person was responsible for THIS particular evil, and therefore deserves THIS particular end. But I do think we can, and should, acknowledge that, simply on the level of asking "how did we get here?," that it was the decisions made by Osama bin Laden, more than any one other particular person, which lead us to being entrapped--and entrapping ourselves--in a perhaps endless "clash of civilizations," and that therefore a particular culpability does rest with him.

Maybe I should just use some basic Aristotle here. Osama bin Laden was surely not the material cause of our present predicament; that was you and me and all of us, in all our passions and paranoia. Nor was he the formal cause; that was our (and others') governmental system(s), and all our bureaucratic and social structures. And he certainly wasn't the teleological, end cause of it all. But the precipitating, efficient cause? Yes, there I can label him as at fault, and in that sense, "deserving" of the effects of the whirlwind he helped to sow.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Nate,

How am I equalizing the mass murder which OBL caused to happen, and the ridiculous, disturbing, profoundly disconcerting consequences which he was also, in the "efficient" sense anyway, the cause of? I make it explicit that OBL "not only left nearly 3000 human beings dead," but that his actions also "gave rise to an occasionally desperate and often mismanaged war which has killed many thousands more." I'm not minimizing that by also detailing some of idiocies and pathologies he also helped to cause, am I?

As for rejoicing that "a killer of innocents has met his just reward," well, yes...and no. As I said in the original post, I'm leery of making the actions of war tools of "justice." I don't mourn his death, and I can see that an important civic purpose was served by achieving it, and perhaps that's good enough to "justice." Perhaps justice, after all, really is just a virtue of efficiencies, of rectifying imbalances. But let's not allow ourselves invest his death with some grand moral purpose here. I'd rather rejoice over unambiguously good things, rather than the fact that a killer got killed.

Nate Oman said...

My unease comes from the fact that you referred to the other ills of which you see OSB as the efficient cause as justifying his assassination. I am not denying that you acknowledge his role in mass murder, which you clearly do. I just find it oddly disorienting that you need to add the decline in civic discourse and the TSA in to really get your indignation rolling. It just seems oddly disproportionate, as though one had justified the execution of Eichmann by noting that he participated in the mass extermination of millions of innocents AND he provided a horrible trope for Glenn Beck. I think that mass murder ought to stand alone in the indictment when we are justifying assassination rather than, say, justifying the claim that Osama Bin Ladin was a bad civic influence.

As for justice and war, I think that you are wrong. War my often be justified or necessitated by some concern other than justice, but it seems to me that an act of war is particularly going to be justified when the act itself is an instance of justice. Now one might argue whether this particular case was a just one. (I think it was.) You might point out that talking about war and justice is very dangerous stuff that can lead to self-deception and the like. To deny, however, that an act of war can have anything to do with justice is, it seems to me, to deny the possibility of a just war. This strikes me as both mistaken and a bit precious.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Nate,

My unease comes from the fact that you referred to the other ills of which you see OSB as the efficient cause as justifying his assassination.

I don't think that's what I actually wrote, but I suppose it can be read that way, especially since towards the end of the post, in connection with all the disturbing contortions which I believe his actions prompted us to engage in, I speak of him being the "precipitating" factor in generating the "whirlwind" which ultimately brought him down. Perhaps the blame there is trying to speak to multiple audiences. In writing the post last night, I was anticipating the reaction which would see his death solely in terms of payback for 9/11, and the reaction that would see his death as being another pointless exercise in a global hegemon chasing phantoms. It's hard having friends and readers on both the pacifist left and the libertarian right, sometimes.

War may often be justified or necessitated by some concern other than justice, but it seems to me that an act of war is particularly going to be justified when the act itself is an instance of justice.

Part of our disagreement here may be simply semantics; "justice" as a condition that obtains when the moral plane is in accordance with some higher will or nature or argument, versus "justice" as delivering what the agreed-upon law and/or popular consensus mandates. Assuming, however, that we really are talking about "justice" in its full sense, then I think I just disagree with your above statement. It seems rather close to saying that any attempt to respond to an injustice is by definition an act of justice, and I don't see that.

I think there are necessary wars, and even good wars. But "just" wars? The tradition of that idea is a fascinating one, but I'm not sure I find it persuasive.

Nate Oman said...

"It seems rather close to saying that any attempt to respond to an injustice is by definition an act of justice, and I don't see that."

I come close to saying that, but don't quite say it. This is because I don't believe it. I do, however, think that there is a very important and primal kind of justice that consists not simply of states in the world but in those that have been wronged acting against those that have wronged them. This does not mean that every action in response to injustice is itself just, but it does mean that SOME actions in response to injustice are just not simply because they bring about some state of affairs in the world but because they involve acting against the wrongdoer. Smiting the sinner is not simply revenge and it is not simply the bringing about of a state of affairs in the world. The smiting itself is an act of justice.