There was something unseemly about that gathering of college-age Americans outside the White House just before midnight on Sunday, cheering at the news of Osama bin Laden’s death. Some of the kids had draped flags over their shoulders; they chanted “USA, USA, USA.” I doubt there was a true patriot in the bunch.
Patriotism is not the same thing as cheering in the streets when your side wins the Super Bowl. Patriotism is truest and best when it is quiet, the acceptance of civic duty, as a kind of fate—never with childish glee, but with mature resolution. I think of Pat Tillman, sitting alone in a football stadium after September 11th, deciding that he needed to abandon the boyish game that he loved and instead enlist as a soldier.
In the great novels, as in the great American Westerns, the moment when the tyrant or town bully is killed by the townspeople is a solemn moment. Victory over evil requires also a moral compromise. In order to destroy evil, the townspeople must bloody their own hands.
I doubt that the Navy Seal (whose identity we must certainly never know) is prancing around today with a flag draped over his shoulders, gloating over the fact that he shot the monster in the head. I could be wrong. But my guess is that the act of bringing down such a grotesque figure as Osama bin Laden does not provoke a skilled warrior to laughter. This is a solemn business. And the true patriot knows it.
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