Friday night there was a party in my hometown to honor Mike Black and Tom Blackney, two U.S. Marines who are about to depart to Afghanistan to fight for our country in the War on Terror. Friends and family came together to eat, drink and show our appreciation of these two brave young men. In the spirit of Mike and Tom, the night was generally light hearted save for an emotional karaoke rendition of Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon” and an excellent thank you speech by Mike’s father, Joe. To close his speech, Joe said something to the effect of, “and we will see you all back here in one year to celebrate the safe return of Mike and Tommy!” which led to an eruption of cheers from the crowd. Sunday night, our country took a huge step towards ensuring that Joe’s statement would come true. I hope.
The past 10 years have been a confusing and divisive time in this country. I started college at the University of Maryland, located about 10 minutes from Washington D.C., less than one year after the 9/11 attacks. Every Wednesday at noon the campus played bomb sirens as a drill in case the nation’s capital came under attack again. I tell a story that my girlfriend hates about the day when the U.S. went to war with Iraq and every dorm room on my floor started playing Outkast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad”. I see now how terrible that was as it was the start of a misguided war that has cost a lot of American lives, but at the time it made perfect sense to me to celebrate our country bringing people we thought were our enemies to justice.
The patriotism that was so overwhelming for that first year after the attacks now seems like a distant memory. The controversial and deadly war with Iraq and the presidencies of George Bush and Barak Obama have driven a Texas sized stake through the middle of this country. Corresponding with a down economy, a landmark health care bill and ever increasing security concerns, it seems like people (me included) have set up shop on one side of every issue and have forgotten about gray areas. You are either an asshole Republican with a money driven blood lust or a pussy liberal who hates freedom. I have had conversations with people where I have had to defend the fact that I am not actually a Republican. I have heard people make ridiculous statements like, “even though they are a liberal/conservative I like them.” The statements that one political side makes about the other carry with them the same hatred as those that the terrorists make about America. We have to remember that we have real enemies in this world and that those enemies are not each other.
This Sunday, the heroic men and women of our military brought our most threatening enemy to justice. It was an historic day for this country that somewhat poetically came 66 years and 1 day after the death of Adolf Hitler. In killing Osama Bin Laden, the country took out the head and heart of a dangerous group of terrorists, but even that feels confusing to me. When I found out the news last night I threw my fist in the sky in victory and then high fived my girlfriend, but immediately asked, “Wait, is it ok to high five this?” It seems weird to me to celebrate someone’s death, even someone responsible for so many deaths himself. The truth is, we don’t really know what this will mean in our fight against terrorism. We all hope that this leads to the fall of Al Qaeda, that there will be confusion and in-fighting and the organization will lose power and its hold over a large group of people. But just as likely, a new leader will ascend or a new group will start and there will be some heavy responses to Osama’s death. All we can do at this moment is revel in the demise of a monster.
For one day we all get to come together as Americans again. We get to forget about health care, the economy, abortion, the death penalty, gas prices, Republicans, Democrats, race, sexuality and whatever else divides us for one day. We get to remember that the majority of us are decent people trying to make happy lives for ourselves and our loved ones. For one day we get to (rightly or wrongly) feel safe and secure. It’s my hope that we can continue this feeling for more than one day and all start to come back to that middle zone where life can be truly enjoyable, but I’m not optimistic. At the very least we can all be happy that a man who valued other human lives so little has finally been stripped of his. And I know that we owe it all to the resiliency of our military men and women who face criticism, loneliness, internal struggle, life and death every day. So I want to thank Mike Black, Tom Blackney and all of our armed forces for doing their absolute all to keep my family and friends safe and congratulate you on this victory. We will see you in a year.