Should we rejoice when our enemy is vanquished? Should we celebrate his demise? Can you celebrate victory without cheering your opponent’s defeat? Is war hell? Is one man’s freedom fighter another man’s terrorist? When does a feeling of nationalism become a blood lust?
I am struck by the range of response I witness when it comes to killing in the name of country especially in the realm of limited and covert operations. Four recent events have struck me with respect to how we feel about killing and assassination: the killings of Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gadhafi, Iranian Nuclear scientists, and Anwar al-Awlaki. In the case of bin Laden, there was nearly unanimous acclamation for the killing on the grounds it was justified for the global reign of terror, especially the 9/11 attacks. There was a lesser effusion of celebration as many Americans felt uneasy high fiving the taking of a life, even someone the likes of Osama bin-laden. Nonetheless, the scenes outside the White House that night in May contained a certain level of blood lust. Was it catharsis gone amok? Were people caught up in the moment? Were they celebrating the success of the mission and/or the killing or a human? I neither condone nor condemn anyone’s behavior in the aftermath of the news as emotions were riding high. The capture, killing, sodomizing, and desecrating of Gadhafi was what happens when a mob takes over. I do not mourn the demise of one of the world’s nastiest tyrants; fortunately I have never had to live under such a despot and I can’t imagine what I would have done under the same conditions. The world is definitely a better place without Gadhafi, but the way he was killed and his body treated is not how a civilized people act. Am I splitting hairs? Perhaps. But I find it impossible to accept sodomy under any circumstances.
The recent tete-a-tete between Israeli intelligence assets and their counterparts from Iran have exemplified the rising stakes in the region. The Israelis have been conducting a 10 year program against the Islamic regime to sabotage its nuclear aspirations. These covert operations including computer viruses, explosions at critical research sites, and assassinations, and yes these assassinations of scientists have happened in broad daylight and have been carried out by Iranian proxies. These proxies are on America’s terrorist watch list and have been linked to killing American servicemen in Iraq. But is Israel conducting an acceptable campaign against key assets or are they performing state sponsored terrorism? Those that defend Israel’s action point to the Allied campaign to kill German scientists to inhibit the Nazi’s from developing the bomb. Those that believe Israel is acting like a terrorist say the WWII example is not applicable as we were in a declared war with Germany and Israel is killing educators and scientists. After the Munich kidnapping and murder of Israeli athlete’s at the hands of Palestinian terrorists in 1972, the world looked on approvingly as the perpetrators were systematically hunted down and killed. Two things have changed, public opinion of Israel is significantly lower and these targets are not hardened killers. But is it legal or even moral? Once again I have not lived under the same conditions as Israelis, but any nation that has been under constant attack or threat for its entire 63 years will take extreme actions. In this case I side with the Israelis as a nuclear armed Iran is a threat to all of us directly and indirectly.
The drone attack that killed Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen sparked some outrage and concern in America. Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen living under protected cover in Yemen while preaching death and destruction to America and its citizens, wherever they may be living or visiting. Was it legal or moral for the US government to order the strike that killed the terrorist? I believe yes and yes. That being said I can respect those that have deep convictions that the Israeli and U.S. actions against non-combatants or citizens are immoral. If they believe that all killing is immoral, I can appreciate that; I disagree with that position because I believe there are some evil people out there and there are people in the employ of evil that have placed themselves in the crosshairs. Is that a slippery slope? Have mistakes been made? Again, yes and yes, but I side with the Israelis and U.S. government. I still have enough trust in government to believe the cause is just.
The final aspect is should we rejoice and celebrate the men and women who perform these very acts? We cheer for the Mossad and Seal team Six, but bristle when they fail or are implicated in a botched operation. Now there many will tell you all killing is bad and even when it’s justified it is no reason to celebrate. I can appreciate that view point, but I also do not condemn a society that celebrates the murder of villains. That does not make me bloodthirsty or a war monger, I simply believe there is a certain catharsis that happens when the likes of Bin Laden are killed. In Israel Mossad applications are up and tee shirts featuring the secret organization are flying off the shelves after the mission in Dubai to kill a Hamas operator. Americans have elevated Seal Team Six to a cult of personality status after the successful Somali pirate and Bin Laden missions. We should honor the brave men and women who put their lives at risk to defend us, to begrudge them esteem and popularity is hypocritical. It’s a dirty business.
Not very liberal of me, but I can live with that too.