Bin Laden’s Death and the Meaning of American Patriotism

by on May 3, 2011 · 13 comments

in American Empire, Culture

By Richard Rodriguez/New America Media/May 02, 2011

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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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie May 3, 2011 at 9:40 am

Beware the moment when we dance on the graves of our enemies.


Goatskull May 3, 2011 at 10:26 am

More likely than not you are right. Just by nature of their mission, SEALS have to keep things secret. They don’t even tell their families where they’re going, when they’ll be back or what they did when they were gone and based on the few SEALS I’ve known, they don’t gloat. If you ever meet one off duty, you would likely be surprised he is even in the military, let alone a SEAL. These guys are true heroes.


Dickie May 3, 2011 at 11:13 am

A welcome meditation on deeper meanings. Thank you obrag for printing it.

For a related rumination on OsamabL’s execution, but from an Arab intellectual’s , I suggest the following link. It definitely deepened and broadened my thoughts on the matter. . . .:


Outlaw May 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Now lets get the troops out.


Frank Gormlie May 3, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Right on! Let’s get the troops out and let’s stop paying billions to Pakistan and other Middle East countries, including Israel.


Andy Cohen May 3, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Perhaps this is better left for another discussion, but to simply pull out at this point would be irresponsible for us to do. It all goes back to the words of Colin Powell: “You break it, you bought it.” To simply bail before the country is stable and able to stand on its own would be worse than the war itself. Al Qaeda and the Taliban would simply move back in and oust the Karzai government (which, despite our problems with him, is still much better than the alternative) and once again become a home base for the planning, training, and launching of attacks across the globe, including here in the US. Once the Afghan government can stand on its own, and once the military and police forces there can take on the responsibility of defending their own country, then we can leave.

The US needs to get its forces out. We are all in complete agreement on that. But it needs to be done in a responsible manner that will not allow the place to become the cesspool it once was. What our people need to be doing is turning up the heat and force the Afghans to start taking more and more responsibility for their own country, and I think they’re doing that.


Outlaw May 3, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Ok, I see your point.

It would be like another Vietnam. Pull out now before they’re ready, then they’ll get taken over again. I never thought of that.


Robert Burns May 3, 2011 at 7:03 pm

But, in Vietnam we far outstayed welcome and logic, left broken, and saw that it all collapsed anyway as if the loss of 60,000 of our young men, countless Vietnamese, and untold billions of dollars and the “Carter inflation” that followed were wasted. So, two U.S.M.C. majors last week described to me Afghanistan as a senseless disaster. We got Bin Laden who presumably had been protected by Pakistan (and by family friend Bush?!?). The bad guys are in power anyway. The poppy war is a red herring. So, are we just catering to the pretense of national security while propping up the regimes who have acquired our industry, cater to our petroleum addiction, and are making us subservient to China? How many Vietnams must we fight? One for each new generation of deniers?


Abby May 3, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Speaking as someone who was living in NYC when the attack happened, this doesn’t feel right. I don’t feel any better, and I feel no closure.


Rick Ward aka mr.rick May 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm

I really don’t know where to butt-in to this conversation, however, as for Abby, my dear. As close as you were to the sickness that was visited upon us on that day,you will probably never feel right about any of this stuff. No matter what happens with this or where you are in your life,this will always feel bad in your soul. Just try to show everyone you meet in life your lighter side . And I mean that in the spiritual sense. As for the rest of us who aren’t so emotional as those who were there. We need to let every one express thier “Patriotic” feelings as best they can. Maybe we can channel this “Patriotic” fervor into some sort of action that is beneficial to the “US” that we all see the “United States of America.


Michelle May 4, 2011 at 8:27 am

The point of above article is that cheering in the streets at Osama’s death is not a display of patriotism. It is a mob mentality adrenaline rush. I understand that the demise of OBL resulted in a mixture of emotions for the American people, and we continue to grapple with those emotions to the best of our ability. However, the exuberant flag waving displayed by some, is a shallow assessment of the situation and its only function is to assert that America is still #1 and we’re all winners.


Frank Gormlie May 4, 2011 at 10:56 am

Very nicely said. Thank you.


Old Hermit Dave May 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm

CIA PR writers are direct decedents of the first writers of all religions.


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