Could We Have Marked Osama Bin Laden’s Death Differently?

This is a time for our nation to reflect on what we've lost and set the tone for peace and prosperity

The raw emotion of September 11, 2001 overpowered most of us. We watched the second plane drive into the Twin Towers, the smoke unfurling heavenward, the slow and methodical meltdown of the buildings as they were incinerated. The collapse. The people running. It shocked us. We knew we had enemies. That day, we learned they were capable of anything and we seemed powerless to stop them.

I think the extent of their hatred for us was made clear from the news broadcasts of the Arab street. There was pure joy in the faces of that footage: people singing, dancing, firing their weapons into the sky. Where were the moderates, I wondered, who saw the scenes of American devastation and felt compelled to warn their neighbors, “This will be bad for us”? For days there just seemed to be some spiritual power that unleashed the built-up hatred into the streets, the hatred for all things Western and modern.

Fast forward to Sunday night. I was at the Phillies game when the smart phones started vibrating all over the stadium. Within seconds, there was joy and an eruption of chants: “USA, USA.” For a moment, it sounded like we were at the World Cup and had just scored a goal against Brazil. As the days have passed since the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s assassination, the joy and euphoria on the American street has not abated. The joy we have been expressing has, no doubt, made its way onto YouTube and Al Jazeera and into the homes of Arab citizens. They must be wondering the same thing that we did: Why do they hate us so much?

Revolution has been sweeping through Arab countries, yet it appears most Americans believe that Osama and al-Qaida were prevailing in their struggle for a new direction. They are not. We seem to be shouting past each other.

I understand why the need for vengeance boiled over with the American public. Finding Osama and destroying him was a national priority. I am glad we did, and I am proud of the military and the intelligence community for their planning and implementation. I am glad that President Obama chose the path he did and that the certainty of the success of the mission is secure.

But I wish, in planning the military and diplomatic actions, some deeper thought had also been given to shaping the American public reaction and how it might be read on the Arab street. I wish that in addition to our pride and our patriotism, our chants and our anger, that we had collectively stopped, reflected on the act of revenge that had been taken and then gave our hearts and focus to the memory of the loss we have revenged. I wish Citizens Bank Park had gone dark and we had the chance to light candles to remember the thousands who perished in the brutal acts of terror. I wish we had not even for a moment engaged in acting on our emotion the way we had seen it done to us in 2001.

We are that nation that sets a moral tone. What a moment we could have shared on Sunday night had we spent it giving thanks for the bravery of our military, remembering how much we lost on September 11, and reflecting on how we might use our great triumph to shape a world order for prosperity and peace.