Honking cars and shouting young people made their way to the White House on Sunday night. American flags were everywhere. Revving motorcycle engines rattled downtown Washington in the middle of the night. Hurried news reporters jostled to get the best footage of the jubilant crowds celebrating Osama bin Laden’s death. Draped with red, white, and blue the crowd sang the national anthem and chanted “USA, USA!”
It all evoked the joyful scene at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. This time, however, the aggressive euphoria of carousing soccer hooligans ruled. The mob consisted largely of local college students, many donning their school colors. One large group from Georgetown University sang their school’s football song: “Ra, ra, ra, cheer for victory today!” An odd assortment of chants rang through the night. One group chanted, “Lower gas prices! Lower gas prices!” as they made their way around the Treasury Department.
Many in the cheering crowds seemed unclear on why they were celebrating. Newscasters were saying that this was a “mission accomplished” moment, as if the Afghanistan War and its tens of thousands of deaths, were all about capturing one man.
But did anyone really think that the whole of “Operation Enduring Freedom” was just a bin Laden snipe hunt in the lawless desert hills? What about the oil, the drugs, the other regional factors? What about the devastation and domination of an entire country? Those questions didn’t seem to be on the revelers’ minds.
“I am here celebrating. It’s justice day,” said Jeremy Stern, 21, a George Mason University student who was wearing the stars and stripes. Stern had traveled from his Fairfax, Virginia campus to participate in the festivities, walking over a mile at the end to avoid traffic congestion. “USA! It’s about f**king time! Freedom is the only way!” he shouted.
Joyful scene at the White House in response to Osama bin Laden’s death.
When asked why he was so enthusiastic, Stern became more sober. “As a Christian, I do feel a little bit guilty that I’m celebrating a human being’s death,” he said. “I’m sorry, love thy neighbor. I feel that. And in the end, I am out here celebrating.”
Young people seemed cheer for almost anything. A crossing guard, a young guy climbing a lamppost with an American flag, and a fiddler playing a foot-stomping bluegrass tune — they all got love from the crowd.
“Osama bin Laden has been hunted for over half my life,” said the fiddler, Henry Meyers, 18. “It’s unreal to see this happen,” the Washington, DC high school student added.
For 10 years, many Americans have seen bin Laden as the personification of evil, especially those who were young when the attacks occurred on 9-11. The news of his assassination seemed to strike a chord with the younger generation.
“America, f**k yeah!” said the handmade sign held aloft by Sean Levy, 20, a George Washington University student. The slogan, shouted often by the crowd, is the title of a soundtrack from “Team America: World Police,” a 2004 film known for ironic jokes about U.S. imperialism. Levy explained that his sign means that “America is one of the greatest countries ever.” He added that bin Laden’s death “means a lot to the country.”
Few revelers had much to say about the impact of bin Laden’s death. They weren’t sure whether the death would change U.S. foreign policy toward the Arab world. Not many asked whether bin Laden’s compound may have been known in advance to U.S. intelligence personnel. There were no questions being murmured about whether any official autopsy was performed on bin Laden’s body before his “burial at sea.” Or how many civilians were killed during the raid that ended his life. For all of the loud voices at the White House on Sunday night, there were few questions asked.
A much more subdued participant had some clarity as to why he was there.
“I’ve been a little motivated tonight. I’m a United States Marine,” said the man, a war veteran in his late twenties who declined to give his name because he’s not authorized to represent his branch of service. He was draped with an American flag and wore a gray T-shirt reading “USMC.” The man said he served in Afghanistan for a year.
“Today’s a big deal to me because me and my friends, we all signed up after 9-11, and a lot of them didn’t come home. So it means a lot to me that one of the main reasons that we signed up is now kind of over.”
One thing is certain. There are now fewer excuses for U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan or Iraq, and fewer reasons for the Pentagon to continue aerial drone attacks on people in Pakistan. No matter what the real reasons are for the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, whether it’s oil, drugs, money, influence, something else, Washington can’t continue to cause death and destruction in the name of some unholy manhunt to find America’s most wanted terrorist.
Now it’s really time to call on the government to bring our troops home now and stop the needless killing in the Arab world. Let the death of bin Laden, and the decisions the Obama administration now faces, lead us away from military aggression, and towards peace.
Matias Ramos is the 2011 Carol Jean and Edward F. Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Lacy MacAuley is the Institute’s Media Relations Manager. www.ips-dc.org