We have been disturbed all week by the joy expressed over the U.S. military's killing of Osama bin Laden on Sunday. We are troubled that so many of our fellow Americans see it as sweet revenge.
Justice, perhaps. Everyone must die sometime, and this man who inspired the deaths of thousands might have caused more if he hadn't been stopped. By many of the world's measures, this killing is just. Truer, idealistic justice would have been for him to show remorse and dedicate the rest of his life to reparations, although that wasn't likely. This killing was more just than many other possible outcomes.
We are thankful for the precision with which it was done. The military could have just bombed his house and killed more people, many of them innocent.
We're also glad our president did not gloat about it. Mr. Obama's announcement was sober and framed in terms of justice.
But that doesn't mean we are happy about this death, or anyone's. We would have rather seen a national week of reflection than one of jubilation.
Osama bin Laden dedicated his life to a cause dependent on killing other people. His choices caught up with him, just as they did for Adolf Hitler in his Berlin bunker and continue to do for Charles Manson in his California prison cell. Their lives should sadden us, from the bad choices to the bad ends.
We worry that, by reveling in this killing, Americans relinquish any moral high ground over our enemies in the so-called War on Terror - that we become too much like what we claim to oppose.
Americans are only human, of course, and revenge is a natural inclination. But so is theft. So is addiction. So is racism. While these sometimes give short-term satisfaction, in the big picture they hurt their practitioners as well as humans' ability to get along with each other. They are vices we know we, as a people, can overcome.
Many cultures embrace and nourish revenge, from childhood on up. We don't want our culture to be one of those.
Revenge is also unwise. In this case, the satisfaction of "payback" fools Americans into thinking we have closure after 9/11. We do not. The chain reaction from that attack is far from over, making 9/11 all the more tragic. Our nation is at war in multiple countries, at odds with others, and showing no signs of backing away. Osama bin Laden long ago shifted from an actual leader to a symbol for al-Qaida franchises all over the planet. Tens of thousands of people have died, and hundreds of thousands have been devastated. Bin Laden's death won't end that.
"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars," the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his 1963 book, "Strength to Love." "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ... So when Jesus says 'Love your enemies,' he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition.
"The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."
Breaking that chain reaction is up to each of us; we can't wait for some collective or cultural or national shift. It's an individual decision that must be, as such decisions have always been throughout human history, made against the popular current.