Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Responses Worth Foregrounding

In response to the article in the previous post, John Barton wrote on 3 May:

I am not sure why this article is a must read. It tries to tarnish and defame President Obama by alleging, without factual support, that the US violated international law by not capturing Bin Laden rather than killing him. The author himself, however, provides the obvious answer: Bin Laden "would have refused any offer to surrender. . . ." Indeed, reports regarding the raid confirm that the US forces would have taken Bin Laden into custody if he did not offer resistance (NYT: "American officials insisted they would have taken Bin Laden into custody if he did not resist, although they considered that likelihood remote. 'If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that,' Mr. Brennan said."). When a criminal who has killed thousands of innocent people chooses to die rather than surrender and submit to the legal process, President Obama is correct when he states that justice has been done.

To which MR responded:

Thank you, John. What you say is quite true. But what is at stake here in my view calls the whole notion of justice into question and goes far beyond the issue of bin Laden or a putative trial. It is not a question of whether Obama (whom I support wholeheartedly) was right or wrong—and the planning of this action seems to have been considered and expertly brought off. If it needed to be done, hats off to him for doing it well and guiding it with a firm and considered hand. But the image of Americans (and I am one) acting like Munchkins at the death of the Wicked Witch of the East is all too apt, too typical—mindless and shortsighted. And why should anyone rejoice at another's death? Grieve, rather, over the human brokenness that makes such a military action necessary. The revenge mentality is the same mentality that was behind the disastrous retaliatory hit on Iraq after 9/11 on the trumped up excuse of weapons of mass destruction. I'm not sorry Saddam is gone, but look what a mess has been left in the wake of this un-thought-through intervention. This revenge mentality is the same mentality that underlies the death penalty, still in force in a country that regards itself as civilised. And every execution further degrades America and our humanity. While eliminating bin Laden may have been a strategic necessity, and while he was a symbolic figurehead of a terrorist mentality, the USA historically has been all too eager to engineer or carry out the removal of leaders of governments, whether or not they have been responsible for attacking the USA directly: Allende, for example, Lumumba. One then might ask, if the action against bin Laden was justified, why hasn't the black ops brigade gone after Mugabe or Assad, both of whom have murdered thousands of their own people? Why were governments so slow—perhaps too late—to respond to the slaughter in Libya? In Ivory Coast? Few people would weep at the death of any of these tyrants; even so, rejoicing would still not be appropriate. Rejoice, rather, at the gift of opportunity for freedom and the creation of a system of real justice. Such situations as that concerning bin Laden are so extreme that the very notion of 'justice' is badly skewed—to the point that it is questionable whether the word should be used at all. I would rather Obama had said something like 'the situation has changed', or shifted, or resolved, or some other neutral word or phrase that did not claim any moral high ground. I would rather that Americans had mourned their dead anew and honoured their troops, than dance on bin Laden's watery grave. It's the triumphalism I find so appalling. And while this operation was sophisticated and by all accounts necessary, it is uncomfortably close to the wild west mentality that has motivated the USA to act in far less appropriate circumstances.

To which John Barton graciously responded on May 4:

Mea culpa. I again mistakenly believed that White House statements are entitled to the presumption of truth. The Times this morning is reporting that bin Laden was unarmed when he was killed. Even though the White House indicates that does not mean that he surrendered, it certainly appears that he could have been taken alive rather easily, although I guess if I were a Navy Seal that would be a difficult judgment to make. I, like many Americans, again feel let down by an administration in which we had put such great hopes. The only consolation is that the matter was clarified quickly and not buried as I probably would have been under other Presidents. Thank you very much for your insightful response to my reply to your post yesterday. I certainly agree with your analysis of our country’s reaction to bin Laden’s death and our sense of triumphalism. My only defense would be that, while the media focused on the “Munchkins”, many others had a more muted, thoughtful and nuanced response as I am sure you aware. Hopefully, our country (and the world) will ultimately realize the cycle of violence must be broken if we are find the peace for which we all yearn. I look forward to reading your future posts, which I enjoy so much.


Anonymous John Barton said...

I thought you might find this post from "Spiritual Politics" interesting:

I don't agree with it but it is a perspective I had not considered on the "celebration" aspect of bin Laden's demise.

6:42 pm, May 06, 2011  

Post a Comment

<< Home