Calhoun’s Cannons for May 14, 2001
It’s hard to imagine how unremembered we all become,/ How quickly all that we’ve done / Is unremembered and unforgiven, /
The first thought I had when I heard the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed was the same response when I hear that some old, forgotten movie star has died: Huh? I thought they died years ago. This was followed by the all purpose, Good riddance to bad rubbish, followed by astonishment when the jumbled story of the raid came tumbling out: Meh. Navy SEALs. Well, of course. When you want extraordinary courage and breathtaking competence that’s who you call, the SEALs.
But for me, a joyous celebration over Bin Laden’s death never came. What came instead to overwhelm any sense of satisfaction was lingering sadness and fatigue. It had all been such a pointless waste that could never be undone and now it was all too late. Those twin dark stars, Bush and Bin Laden, in a deadly call and response, had unleashed a rain of death: Murderous phony Jihad colliding with the cynically ginned-up lethal God of Imperial PNAC War. Shock and awe, baby! And now the body count is beyond what either man could ever possibly atone or answer for. No real justice for the dead now. Not really. There’s simply too many of them for that.
Instead, we have to settle for a majestically executed kill/capture, then it’s time to change the channel. The dead are forever gone and Bin Laden is soooo yesterday; a pointless old man holed up in a ratty house, dying his grey beard for his recruiting tapes and dreaming of paradise, while his planned-for Islamic caliphate went all Facebook on him and brought an Arab Spring, not with guns but with cell phones. And Bush has holed up in the Texas countryside, cutting shrubbery while historians unravel all the lies and the politicians who aided and abetted his misbegotten war have changed the subject. Time to move on. Game over.
Except for the dead and maimed. They remain unwanted guests at the celebration whispering, “Tell me, after all, was it worth it?” And, really, what do all these evil schemes ever ultimately bring to their architects but failure, death, and ignominious Saturday Night Live jokes.
Yet it never ends. In another dark corner of the world, another fool is plotting paradise and the fools who will follow after him are gathering their knives and clutching malice to their hearts, all of them repeatedly slouching towards Bethlehem in one long, endless line. It’s the Groundhog Day of history – nobody learns anything.
All of which accounts for my sense of fatigue, no doubt. No balloons and noise-makers for me. Just another sad re-run to be followed by a re-make. While I keep hoping that somebody will come to tell me that what I’ve been watching all these years was meant to be a road-runner cartoon, not Macbeth, but due to some unfortunate technical glitch, both Wile E. Coyote and McDuff’s slaughtered children keep staying dead.
If there is a glimmer of hope in any of this, I must find it in the breathtaking competence of the Navy SEALs. And I can only hope that President Obama’s ridding the Spook Agencies of political cronies and hacks will return them to a professional competency that’s focused more on counterterrorism in a troubled world ripe for jihadi picking.
I can also hope that perhaps the years-long insanity that resulted in our national nervous breakdown when those twin towers fell is over. We desperately needed cool competency then. What we got instead was incompetent “hair on fire” bunglers in meltdown mode. If this Navy SEALs operation is an indication that icy focus has returned, then it’s possible the nation’s fever has finally broken.
When Bin Laden unleashed those planes against the towers, he opened a Pandora’s box of call and response terrors. But in the myth, after all the destruction, there always remained in the bottom of the box, one item: Hope.
Hope in the form of cool, hope in the form of seriousness of purpose, hope in the form of those cell phones and Twitters from the kids in Tahrir Square. It’s their future that’s being born now. They have a chance to break this particular Ground Hog Day and write a better script.
Come to think of it, we all do.