May 022011
Authors: Jim Sojourner

Monday may have been a day for celebration; today must be one for reflection.

It will be for me.

I’ve been recovering far too slowly from an infected wisdom teeth extraction surgery last week, but despite sitting in an opiate haze Sunday night, I wouldn’t have missed coming into the Collegian’s newsroom once word of Osama bin Laden’s death broke for anything.

Breaking news is the reason I love journalism. I got chills scrambling to find the most up-to-date stories on the heroic operation that put a long-awaited bullet through bin Laden’s skull, and I watched with wonder as thousands marched on the White House and on Ground Zero in New York chanting “USA, USA.”

I got caught up in the thrill of history, and I couldn’t stop watching. And then Monday, something happened: I started to wonder.
I wondered: when I look back at today in 10 years –– much as we look back at Sept. 11 almost 10 years past –– what will I see?

I wondered: What does the decade-long saga of hunting down and killing bin Laden –– a saga that cost the world hundreds of thousands of lives –– and our gleeful reaction on our day of vengeance, say about us?

And I wondered: What does it mean to be American today, as opposed to on Sept. 10, 2001?

And I found I’m not sure I like the answers.

This column isn’t meant to give hard answers to those questions; I don’t know the answers to them. And it isn’t meant so much as a criticism as a reflection of my fears as I watched Americans behave in a way I’ve never seen before –– in a way that scared me.

Bin Laden deserved to die. I’m not questioning that. I’m not a pacifist, and I believe in destroying evil. But I can’t shake the feeling that Americans across the country celebrated a new tomorrow, dancing on bin Laden’s corpse, only to wake up today and find that nothing has really changed … except for us.

Evil still exists. Terrorism hasn’t gone anywhere.

The United States is still fighting two (or three) wars in the Middle East, breeding new Bin Ladens in the fires of our war machines and in the fires of the enemy’s.

Hundreds of thousands of innocent and not-so-innocent Afghanis and Iraqis are now dead.

And the thousands of innocent Americans, who died in the World Trade Center, in the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001 are still dead.

But, as I watched scenes of American mobs waving flags and dancing in the streets, raising their shrill voices to the heavens in triumph, I realized that something might be different: The America I saw reflected back at me isn’t one I’m sure me-10-years-ago would recognize.

The America I saw Monday was a new place –– one forged by paranoia, united by vengeance. It was a place at once both consumed by hatred and elated in bloody victory.

Although Sunday night I wished to be apart of the crowd at the White House gates, I wish now that rather than chanting and dancing, thousands would have instead turned out to Ground Zero or to those gates to sit solemnly, to quietly soak in justice instead of howl in vengeance and to, most of all, reflect on the tragic destruction and loss-of-life the last decade has wrought.

The deaths of the innocents, of al-Qaeda’s victims, are the ones who should matter. Their many lives, not the death of one mass murderer, are what we should be celebrating.

But the American we live in now, I fear, is no longer capable of that.

In his address at a Truthdig fundraiser Sunday night, famed New York Times war reporter Chris Hedges invoked one of Friedrich Nietzche’s famous quotes, which also happens to be one of my favorites.

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

We’ve spent almost a decade fighting with monsters and gazing into an abyss. With justice now done and our thirst for vengeance slaked, I hope it’s not too late to heed that warning.

Jim Sojourner is a senior journalism major. This is his final column. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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