May 032011
Authors: Shane Rohleder

This is not a column about Osama bin Laden. This is not a column about a conspiracy theory. This is a testament to a sad but true fact: Osama bin Laden never existed to me.

When I saw the news coverage — which amounted, in most cases, to blown-up images of Osama bin Laden’s face scattered across the front page of every major newspaper — I knew, without further investigation, that he was dead.

This human’s death, for our country, put an end to a long, arduous manhunt. For me, however, his death moved his existence from the ostensible to the real for the first time.

You see, Osama bin Laden had no direct effect on my life-world; no direct effect on my social milieus, my education, my family. So why should I consider his death a “victory”? Where is the victory in human death?

Is it the feeling of justice — the “he got what his deeds deserved,” feeling — that makes it a victory?

Is it the feeling of revenge — the “he killed so many people that his death will be sweet and nourishing for our country” feeling — that makes it a victory?

If I’m supposed to feel anything for Osama bin Laden, some sort of American patriotism, or hatred, or if I’m supposed to feel justified, I ask why?

I didn’t go fight overseas. I don’t know what it’s like to point a gun at a person and pull the trigger. I don’t know the fear a man or a woman feels, crawling through the sand, bullets whizzing overhead. I didn’t lose any friends or family members in the 9/11 attacks. I didn’t lose any friends or family members in the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. How do I connect?

When I saw Osama bin Laden’s face manifested again on the covers of every major newspaper in the U.S., my first thought was: Who decided he should be killed? Who decides when a human should be targeted for death? What gives that “who” the right to make that decision?

By now, you may have pegged me as a liberal, perhaps even an extreme leftist or even a bigot with an agenda. I ask you to take a look again at what I’m trying to tell you — I’m asking for help. How do I connect?

USA Today’s Jim Michaels, who wrote an article about Osama bin Laden’s death on Monday, referred to bin Laden as the “mastermind” behind the 9/11 attacks and President Barack Obama referred to him, not as a man, but as “a terrorist responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children.” How do I connect?

Asking me to feel hatred towards bin Laden because of the innocent people he killed — which is simultaneously asking me to feel justified by his death — is like asking a child what it’s like to be grownup. Like a child is unable to connect with the harshness of adulthood, I can’t feel justified by someone’s death while I have such an appreciation for life.

It’s a problem of connection, one I don’t know how to resolve; one I don’t want to resolve because it reminds me that I still have a conscience.

Shane Rohleder is a senior communication studies major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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