The Library Basement
Reading under ground

US kills Voldemort, unsure of what to do next

I made some rather conspicuous comments about Osama bin Laden recently:

We hear a lot about al Qaeda and the Taliban, but very rarely the name of the infamous architect of 9/11. His name cannot be mentioned, because to do so would be to admit the impotence of US military power and intelligence. One man living in a cave has defied the will of the largest, most advanced military on the planet.

As it turns out, he was living in a rather large compound, not a cave. The name "Osama bin Laden" re-entered official Washington vocabulary in a big way since the US military killed him. There is now a lot of discussion about whether the US did the right thing in killing bin Laden. Was bin Laden a belligerent or a criminal? Does Christ condone the killing? And so on.

I am ambivalent about the situation. I do not rejoice in his death. Assuming his guilt he deserved death, but I say that with the caveat expressed by Gandalf in the Fellowship of the Ring:

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.

Osama bin Laden blurred the line between belligerent and criminal. So while I largely condemn as foolish the Justice Department's creation of a tertium quid between criminal and prisoner of war (the infamous "unlawful combatant"), I can see how the unprecedented nature of the crime of 9/11 lead to the decision. Indeed, the only comparison to 9/11 was Pearl Harbor, which was an act of war by another state.

Bin Laden was the leader of a militant movement against the United States. There had been no cessation of hostilities called for by al Qaeda, so he was very much akin to an enemy general in war. As such, he did not have the right to a Nuremberg style tribunal, so long as hostilities continued.

Does that make assassination any more palatable? No. I am not greatly acquainted with the details of Christian Just War, but it seems to me that killing in the course of war must be done to achieve the just aims of the war. It is not clear how a targeted killing of a leader of the opposition would meet that end. And certainly pacifists are skeptical of such a killing. But I digress.

My major point is that I found the celebration of the killing somewhat depressing. We really patted ourselves on the back for having a system in place which can apparently find and kill anyone, anywhere in the world (though not at any time, and for a steep price). Americans seemed very proud of this fact, as they fixated on the Navy Seals, the armored attack dog, and the live helmet-cam stream. Obama declared that

today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.

This is not the sort of national greatness I desire.

Category: politics