I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s late, and I’m tired, and while I’m telling myself it must be time to sleep, I’m refreshing my Facebook feed and watching that quote appear and re-appear, posted again and again by people I know, from country after country, across the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean, just as I re-posted it myself this afternoon.

The news broke soon after I’d copied and pasted it from the status of a friend in America; that the quote was incorrectly attributed to Dr. King, and that while it was flooding Twitter and Facebook in an ever-expanding circle, its inception was in fact the work of either someone ill-informed or wilfully deceptive, and the internet had simply seized upon it without question in the wake of the news of Osama bin Laden’s death and the subsequent celebrations across the US and the world.

Investigative news outlets quickly clarified that only the first line was a fraud – the rest had been taken from Strength to Love, a collection of Dr. King’s sermons. That first line however, conveniently less than 140 characters, had been taken up by Twitter users in their hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Already, jokes and satirical references have taken on a life of their own in the social networking universe, from new faux-MLK quotes to all manner of references to public figures proclaiming they invented whiskey, they killed Hitler, they want these motherfucking snakes of this motherfucking plane.

I copied and pasted because in the wake of bin Laden’s death, with my first visceral response of We got you, you fucker fading away, as I started to question how I’d somehow painted myself into a narrative of celebrating the death of another human being, as I started to wonder and wonder again if people should celebrate, or if they shouldn’t, if they had the right or they didn’t, this seemed like a standard that someone had lifted and that I could rally behind. This was, with the refrain of love and understanding ringing out time and time again in this one forum of communication, a chance to add my voice, however quiet it is in a world of billions, to a single human response that said: No, we will not be the same as those who destroy.

Because the truth is I don’t know what else, right now, right at this minutes, I can do, and the world so sorely needs something to be done.

I can’t pretend I’ll ever shed a single tear for the life of a man who, if accounts are to be believed, went to his death sheltering himself from bullets with a human shield. A man who planned the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women, and children, in a tragedy that stunned the world; a man who supported and sheltered with a government responsible for cutting off the nose and ears of an eighteen year old girl who was given away at the age of twelve to satisfy a blood debt; a man who became a figurehead for violence that inspired bombings in London, in Madrid, in Bali.

I don’t care what bin Laden’s reasons for jihad were; there can never be a justification for these atrocities, and in the absence of prevention, all we are left with is justice. And there’s so much of me that says if the death of a man like bin Laden isn’t a good thing, then I don’t know what is.

But more of me says that tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, the world will keep turning. And it’s wide, in so much more than distance, and it’s confusing, in ways that go so far beyond the evening news, and it breaks my heart with the inhumanity that goes back in cycles of years and decades, that repeats on the pages of every history book. And I don’t have answers to the questions I want answers to, because these questions are too big for one person to answer, and it’s all too easy to stop questioning and just feel like one of the good guys when I turn on the TV to see that an American SEAL team has killed the world’s most wanted man.

Everything I know tells me there are as many heroes and villains as there are people on the face of the earth, and there are just as many rights and wrongs and just as many uncertainties, but everything I know also tells me that somewhere a line has to be drawn and the sanctity of human life has to be defended, and sometimes maybe there’s only one best option to see that come to pass. And I don’t know how to reconcile everything I know and everything I feel, but one thing I’m certain of is that the easy way out of the dilemma is the one that sees people dying.

So rather than turn from this, rather than say the world is too complex, and too cruel, and, ultimately, too sad, to engage with, rather than try to ignore the knowledge that the bad guys look just like us, what I want to say is that when I wake up tomorrow, I want to live in a world that’s better than yesterday’s. I don’t want to take the paths of least resistance – the ones that deny reaching out to one another and demand we act selfishly, and stupidly, and in hatred, because sometimes it’s simply easier to hurt people than to understand them.

I know the reality is that nothing I say will make a difference. It’s just words; the words of one person. But louder – so much, much louder – are the words of hundreds of thousands, speaking together, repeating the words of a man braver and better than I will ever be, who was himself killed for preaching the cause of freedom, peace, love, and understanding:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

And while it may not be action, it’s a beginning, and perhaps in the world we live in, that’s the best that can be asked for.

TAGS: , , ,

SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

79 responses to “All the Way with MLK”

  1. Kimberly says:

    Yeah. What you said.


  2. Lorna says:

    “I copied and pasted because in the wake of bin Laden’s death, with my first visceral response of We got you, you fucker fading away, as I started to question how I’d somehow painted myself into a narrative of celebrating the death of another human being, as I started to wonder and wonder again if people should celebrate, or if they shouldn’t, if they had the right or they didn’t, this seemed like a standard that someone had lifted and that I could rally behind. This was, with the refrain of love and understanding ringing out time and time again in this one forum of communication, a chance to add my voice, however quiet it is in a world of billions, to a single human response that said: No, we will not be the same as those who destroy.”


    • I thought it was such a positive things, the copying and pasting of that quote. At the end of the day, it’s an action confined to Twitter and Facebook, and who knows what, if any, real-world further action there will (or can) be. But the overwhelming repetition of it was a good sight to see.

  3. Meg Worden says:

    Yes, Simon. Eloquent and lovely and spot on. Thank you for writing this.

  4. Yes, yes. Well said, Simon.

  5. For all we have lost there still can be no rejoicing, even for someone who has caused so many to suffer. As humans we should strive to be on the higher end of evolution, even if the gut reaction is not. Your words are lovely, Simon.

    • I can’t speak for others, but I think it’s that striving that makes it so hard – we have to constantly rise above to our better natures, we can’t just be them. All the more so when we are attacked, or wounded, or injured, or forced to see others suffering.

      Which are the times when we need leaders like Martin Luther King most of all, even if he didn’t say the things we think he said.

  6. zoe bee says:

    Beautiful writing, beautiful heart.

    You should send this out to Huffpo. It’s better than a lot of stuff being written on there about this right now.

    weird times indeed. x

    • Thanks ZB.

      I haven’t even checked HuffPo since all this hit two days back. Most of my news is coming from either The Age or CNN.

      What a world we live in.


  7. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    Very movingly said, Simon.

    Since none of us actually knew bin Laden personally and therefore can’t actually hate that person, what we react to is the death of the twisted ideas he stood and took credit for. So then, saying “we got you, fucker” is a natural, necessary and, in the end, positive reaction. You have to be able to tell intolerance, bloodlust and megalomania to “suck it” every now and then.

    Thanks for writing this, here’s to the world a little better than it was yesterday.

    • I think there’s a lot of value in what you’re saying, Nathaniel. Because bin Laden became a symbol of his cause and the lives lost to it, and I think it’s nothing if not natural and positive to react to the ending of that.

      Yeah, man. You gotta be able to tell those guys to suck it. Well said.

      Thanks for reading, and I’ll drink to that.

  8. Gloria says:

    I don’t know how to reconcile it all either. But I love what you say here.

    • I think for a day or so I was trying to tell myself what my opinion was, to be certain of what the ‘right’ reaction was, but really, I don’t think, for me, there is one, because I have too much contradictory information at my fingertips.

      Thanks, Gloria.

  9. Tawni Freeland says:

    I love what you say here too, Simon. Very well done. xoxo.

  10. Brad Listi says:

    Great essay, Simon.

    What comes to mind for me is that whole thing about “if you strike him down, he will appear in other forms.” You can’t exterminate those you disagree with, and if you act out violently and succeed in killing, you actually cause them to grow and even multiply. I’ve read that. I think there’s some truth to that.

    It’s a tangle. I mean, I’m anti-capital punishment. I’ve never been in a fistfight. I’m generally opposed to violence. But at the same time, I’m not bothered in the least by the majority of the jubilation I’ve been seeing on TV and on my Facebook feed, and so on. Osama Bin Laden dying with an American bullet in his head — however grotesque — feels like justice to me.

    Fuck him.

    What were our choices? Maybe we could’ve captured him. Jailed him. Put him in solitary confinement. Maybe that would’ve been a better outcome. I don’t know.

    If we could have captured him, we would have. (I think we would have?) But he [I should say: his henchmen] came out firing. So we shot him.

    Personally, the most visceral thing I did — and I did it about an hour after I heard about Bin Laden’s death — was go back and watch YouTube footage of 9/11. (To say nothing of the U.S.S Cole or the embassy in Nairobi, and so on.)

    Watching that, and thinking about what those poor people went through, I came away thinking that Bin Laden got better than he deserved in a lotta ways. He died in a quicker, more humane way than most of the 3,000-plus innocents who died on 9/11.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I still haven’t thought of anything eloquent to say publicly about OBL’s death, nor have I felt any inclination to try, not with so many others already out there. However, like you, I watched YouTube footage of September 11th after Obama’s announcement, and I had the same feeling–that he suffered far less than the suffering he doled out.

    • It’s a motherfucker of a tangle, and unraveling it would probably take more time and research than I have readily available, no matter what today’s bite-sized insta-media would have me think.

      And I couldn’t agree more, Brad – I’m anti-violence, pro-pacifism, very pro-sitting down and talking to people and trying to reach understanding and resolution rather than sending in the troops. But I can’t say I look at the death of bin Laden as anything but a victory, and a net gain for the world. The situations that created him and men like him may have been deplorable, he may have come from a background that informed his choices, but, as Alison said in her essay on this, it’s all about free will. No one made him take up arms against civilians, and I think once you’ve crossed that line, one way or another, there must be justice. Or at least, there should be. Even if it takes ten years.

      And given the amount of suffering he introduced to the world, the fucker got off pretty lightly.

      • It’s been said already, but I don’t think he was ever going to be taken alive. I don’t know whether or not it was possible for those SEALS to grab him without killing him first, but I don’t think that was their order… It would be a nightmare having Osama on trial. Like with Saddam, you just don’t want to give him that chance to say what he knows before he croaks in regards past dealings with the US govt and their friends.

        • The big debate raging now is over the revelation that he was unarmed when the compound was stormed, and what that means in terms of justice and morality.

        • Yes, absolutely. I just reckon – without any proof to back this up – that they told to go in and execute him. I can’t imagine him having been taken into custody and allowed to speak in any courtroom.

        • People who are better-informed than I about this stuff are taking varying positions, ranging from the fact it would have been better to put bin Laden on trial to demystify him as a figure of radical martyrdom, to the idea that he never would have been allowed to go to trial.

          It just all gets more confusing.

  11. Oksana says:

    I feel as confused as you Simon. It is wrong to celebrate a death. Period. When our soldiers are home with their families and the wars are no more, then there will be reason for it. Osama was one man. Those who followed his orders were/are as terrifying as any tyrant. Just think. If Hitler didn’t have thousands of admirers he would’ve been that crazy guy sitting in the back of some dark cafe muttering insanities to himself about everything that’s wrong with the world.

    An army is what makes a leader, and an army of fanatics (no matter the race or religion) will always find another. Osama is gone, but somebody is ready to step in. I think the only solution is to stop the violence, leave those who want to be left alone. We’d be better off to stengthen our nations’ defences, and take care of our own people by using every resource we have for betterment of our children’s lives, our people’s health.

    • It’s hard, sometimes, to stay conscious of the fact that death is death, no matter whose, and everyone is someone’s child, and a human life. Particularly when a life, such as bin Laden’s, has contained such terrible acts.

      There’s a limit to how much damage one person acting alone can inflict; they have to be supported by followers and allowed to act in the way they do. As both you and Brad have been said, killing the man doesn’t solve anything. It’s the root causes that have to be addressed, and I think that’s a problem of both international politics and human nature.

      Unfortunately, ‘Hey, why can’t we all be nice to each other?’ doesn’t always make for a particularly effective rallying cry.

  12. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Our TV happened to be on a news station that night. We watched the announcement but decided not to stay up for the president’s speech. My reaction was sadness–not for bin Laden’s death but for the inevitability that violence will continue. However, the next morning, I was surprised how many people were not celebrating, for lack of a better word, the event. Maybe there’s hope after all.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mr. Simon. For the record, they do matter, if only for others to realize they aren’t alone in a wish for peace.

    • I was surprised by the scale of the celebrations – I could never have foreseen the reaction to this that the US and the world has had, but I was also incredibly heartened by how quickly people turned around and said ‘OK, we’ve seen this happen in Arab countries and we didn’t like it, let’s not do this now.’

      Thanks for reading my thoughts and for sharing your also, Miss Ronlyn. I’m quite happy to steal Nat’s toast about – here’s to a better world.

  13. James D. Irwin says:

    It pleases me greatly that almost everyone I repsect has posted, in one form or another, something which makes me feel positive towards human nature.

    Hate is never a good thing.

  14. Zara Potts says:

    It does make a difference.
    You make a difference.

    That’s all.

  15. Richard Cox says:

    “A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, ‘I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.’ Good point there. After all, he was the Walrus. I could be the Walrus. I’d still have to bum rides off people.”

    –Ferris Bueller

    • “A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.”

      MLK – and no, it was really him this time! Promise!

  16. My niece is a freshman in college. Yesterday she sent me an email, upset by the events on her campus, where people were partying and waving flags on the quad, yelling hateful things and spouting right/frat political views. Other friends of hers chose to stay in their rooms, making cutting remarks about those who were celebrating. She wasn’t sure which side she wanted to stand on, except that she didn’t really want to do either. And so she asked me if I could help her understand the wider meaning of the death of Bin Laden.

    Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t. I started typing, but there was too much to encompass, too much to explain, too much that I don’t really know and never will. I understand why people are celebrating. Which doesn’t make it any easier for me to watch. And I understand why others are uncomfortable with the idea of yelling and waving flags as a response to anyone’s death, even Osama. I found my inability to even begin to form a framework for her both humbling and fascinating. It’s not an argument about what Bin Laden deserves, even if we allow ourselves the hubris to judge what anyone deserves. It’s also not a condemnation of those who say “I’m not interested in genuflection right now. The poets can stay in their rooms and parse things, I’ve carried this for ten years and now I just want to yell!” It seems to me this is really one of those rare events in which a critique of reaction is not only pointless but unfair, no matter where you stand.

    • I couldn’t agree more. I don’t even know where to begin to talk about everything surrounding bin Laden’s death; where is the beginning? Whose beginning should inform whose outcome? Uche’s poem is a wonderful instrument of reminding us that there is always a greater backstory to be taken into account, and at the same time, it shouldn’t eclipse the things we see happening to and around us.

      Everyone has their own truth in a moment like this, and are simply acting according to them. And the more I think about it, the more I think I understand, and the more I realise just how much more there is to think about.

      And in the end I just want to say, I’m sorry your niece is having a shitty time.

  17. dwoz says:

    I can tell you all one thing.

    The guy who pulled the trigger was not motivated by a fist-pumping, hell-yeah fuckin’ “A” America first you bastard! kind of sentiment.

    A guy like that would not have been allowed within 100 miles of the event.

    The trigger man was thinking about the man in front of him, a man just like himself in some ways. A man with wives, kids, who ate breakfast and took naps and got up every morning. He was mindful of the fact that he was ending a life. He was thinking that it was not his place to judge what was happening, but that he had a purpose in this moment and he carried out that purpose. There’s nothing noble about dying nor killing. There’s precious little dignity in it either. He will bring home no personal satisfaction, though he will feel comfort that his actions were in service of something larger and more important than himself. He has a sense that he’s changed the world, but that is something vague, ephemeral, and not something that he really owns, personally.

    It’s nothing like the movies.

    • It’s certainly something to hope for; that the men on the ground had a sober awareness of the wider ramifications of their actions, beyond just the physical. What little I know of Seal Team 6 speaks of a group of highly, highly dedicated people. I’m not confident enough to be able to suggest I could accurately describe what they were or weren’t feeling at the time and will or won’t in the future, but I’m glad none of them lost their lives.

  18. Thanks for this, Simon. It’s nice to hear someone speak about these events eloquently, without trying to reduce them down to either a chant or a reprimand.

    I have to admit my initial reaction was quite giddy–but not over the vengeance, over the crass political significance for the 2012 elections. That this was my knee-jerk response is a fact that’s had me feeling fairly shitty in the days and hours since…

    • You’re welcome Tyler; I think as more time goes by there’s room for different perspectives rather than the immediate – which adds more confusion, but more room for discussion, at the same time.

      Honestly, you’re not at all alone, as both I and Facebook will testify (specifically thinking of the meme that erupted of Obama: ‘Sorry I took so long with my birth certificate; I was too busy killing bin Laden.’

      I think the fact of the matter is that this is an event that will affect the political landscape, and it’s something that will probably demonstrate a side of Obama that perhaps hasn’t been particularly illuminated before. What was the quote? ‘The ballsiest Presidential move since WW2’, or something along those lines?

      You can’t be unaware of consequences if you’ve noted them, and as Nat said above, it’s not the death of the man that’s being celebrated (necessarily), it’s what it means. And it could very well mean a victory for Obama in 2012.

  19. Greg Olear says:

    I’ve been sort of avoiding these UBL posts, because my feelings confuse me, and I’d rather not think about them too much. The mature, refined part of me would rather not feel happy because another human being has been killed — especially when it is announced on TV by our president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a presumed moral leader. On the other hand, there is part of me that wants to stick Bin Laden’s severed head on a long pike and parade it around Times Square. Hatred, like anger, is an unpleasant and difficult emotion to process, but there are times when hatred, like anger, is justified. There is no right way to react to this (his death, I mean; not your post). And I can’t pass judgment on how anyone else reacts, whether they join the Women in Black or have a keg party or flip back to “Celebrity Apprentice.”

    (Not that you’re passing judgment; this is a good post, and I feel more or less the same as you do).

    On the making-the-world-better-than-yesterday wish, two points:

    1) If Al Qaeda were a literary magazine, Bin Laden was the trustfund baby who bankrolled the editing, the layout, the production, and the distribution. Without him, there will still be people who love literature/hate America, but the nice glossy magazine is kaput.

    2) The election of 2012 is over. Obama won on Sunday night.

    • Honestly, I was dodging a lot of the discussion until that quote came around, and I reposted, and then I saw people gloating over the fact the first line had been exposed as a fraud. It seemed a colossal missing of the point that the sentiment was entirely laudable, regardless of who said it.

      Thanks for reading, and commenting, Greg. I was talking to Zara about this and I think one of the problems is that in today’s day and age, there’s something of an onus (whether it’s real or imagined) to respond instantly and knowledgeably to questions of great import or small; and I think there can be something of a reaction to saying ‘I have no idea, let’s sit down and work it out.’

      Which is what’s necessary, so much of the time.

      Maybe it’s the episodic nature of TV that’s done this to us.

      But yeah. I wouldn’t know where to begin to say to someone ‘You can’t feel anything but sorrowing humanity in the death of someone responsible for the deaths of your friends, your family, your neighbours.’


      1) Very apt analogy.

      2) We’ve been talking a lot about this over here. It seems to be the opposite of the nightmarish Carter tragedy.

      • Greg Olear says:

        Well, David Shields, for one, would be totally fine with use of the quote in that way. Take what we need, and leave the rest behind.

        It’s true, the idea that we must react so quickly to everything. I think FB and Twitter are more to blame than TV, which has been ubiquitous since the 50s. We demand instantaneous reaction from all, and then we hoot and holler when someone like Gilbert Gottfriend, in an attempt to be funny quickly, tweets something inappropriate and winds up losing his endorsement deal. It’s kind of crazy.

        One more thing…here’s how to balance the deficit: 1) Make half-hour documentary of the SEALS taking out URL, complete with cut-away footage of Obama’s War Room reactions (they videotaping the whole thing); 2) Release it in cinemas at $100 a ticket. 3) That should do it.

        • I can’t make up my mind if Twitter is a symptom or a cause, or both. Because honestly, 140 characters seems, from one perspective, about shunting information out, rather than engaging with it.

          It’s very crazy. And yet, it’s the way of things, for now.

          Oh, wow. That’s a very good idea. The deficit would disappear overnight.

          At least, if the spam video of the death scene doing the rounds on Facebook overnight is anything to judge by.

  20. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Two days later and the whole thing just gets more complex. I haven’t had much time to watch the news since Sunday night since I’ve been on business travel, but tonight I caught a bit of a debate indicating people are arguing bin Laden’s death is justification for torture of detainees, and then I saw a poll saying that 60% or so of people want Obama to release photos of bin Laden. With all that perplexing flotsam in the mix, I’m glad that so many of my friends have such sensible thoughts on the whole matter. Thank you for being one of them, and for sharing yours.

    • I’m only really reflecting on it now; that as we gain more distance and more time to talk things out, that also means there’s going to be more space for agendas and disinformation and unconstructive dialogue to thrive. We can only hope, I guess, that in the end, the more measured and thoughtful will win out.

      The very same sentiments back to you, Uche, and thank you for posting your piece also. I hope I’m not tempting fate to say this, but I’m pleased to see that there hasn’t been any of the name-calling or degeneration of dialogue on TNB that Andrew Panebianco referenced in his recent post.

  21. Can I just leave kudoses? I’m just leaving kudoses.

  22. It’s been a long time since I posted something here other than a comment. Today, though, I was working in my garden and mulling over this post… before having read it. I was thinking about that quote and about Osama’s death and all that stuff, and I was going to write something pretty much just like this. I was struggling, though, for anything original or eloquent to say.

    So you’ve saved me the bother. Thanks.

    Anyway, I found it amusing because I kept seeing that damn quote come up over and over on FB and Twitter. It made me think moreso than the original thoughts people posted that droned on about the immorality of killing Osama. I agree… to an extent. But personally I was delighted when he died and I don’t think that I’m mature or decent enough to say that I don’t celebrate a person’s death when they have it coming. I thought to myself, “What if some douche killed my family? I’d fucking dance on his grave.”

    Anyway, awesome essay, Simon.
    Then I found out it was fake. And I laughed and laughed. I’d fallen for it, but I hadn’t posted it, so I laughed.

    It’s weird that so many people got behind a fake statement like that. I guess whoever came up with it should probably get his/her own Wikiquote page, and maybe years from now it’ll be remembered like MLK’s “I have a dream…” speech. It certainly captures an admirable sentiment.

    • For that first day, as everything was going on, I was thinking Man, seriously, what the fuck am I going to say that has anything to do with anything and means anything more than blah blah blah I’m watching something happen on the news, and then the MLK re-posting became kind of a window into it for me, but at the same time, I started to think that well, I have as much right as anyone to express, you know, my opinion, and my thoughts.

      I think it takes a very elevated mindset to not take pleasure in retribution, or at the least, the balancing of the scales, and you know, I think I’d probably be hugely pleased if someone killed my family and then met death as a result. It wouldn’t bring them back, but I’d still feel good about it. And maybe that’s proof I’m not enlightened, but that”s not something I can lay claim to anyway.

      At least, I think that’s how I’d react. There have been some very moving essays from people who lost loved ones in 9/11 who have said this celebration is the furthest thing from their mind.

      Anyhow. Thanks for reading, amigo. I think some journalist somewhere has done the detective work and found Patient Zero in the quote furore.

      • I certainly don’t have an elevated mindset. I don’t believe in capital punishment… but for some reason I was just ecstatic when he was shot. I think it dates back ten years to when I was a much younger, much less mature human being and I watched the towers fall. It was something I thought about every day for years, and even though I never knew anyone who was killed then, it deeply hurt me and left me always wanting some revenge. I’ve grown up a lot and never felt that America’s foreign policy was really going to pursue justice. When the news broke, I felt very much like the younger and stupider me, just elated that someone irrefutably bad had been served some kind of brutal and primitive justice.

        • I think a lot of people feel exactly the same way, man. I know I certainly did when I first heard they’d shot bin Laden. There was a complete and overwhelming sense, for me, of The good guys won, this is a good fucking day..

          And I didn’t go out and celebrate in the streets over the feeling, but at the same time, it wasn’t my city that was attacked, and it wasn’t people I knew who died, and I can’t imagine how the people who are in that position must have felt when they heard the news.

  23. Joe Daly says:

    Well fucking said.

    I was in Boston when the news came out, and before I could even begin to let my feelings and opinions form, FB, Twitter, newspapers, and all the talking heads were jockeying for position. I found myself composing replies to these verbal salvos before I understood my own position. A mental danger zone, to be sure.

    Like many, I knew people who died in those attacks. I still have an inordinately difficult time talking about that day with anyone and I have never watched any of the movies, specials, or documentaries of that day. I just can’t. I don’t have it in me yet.

    When the news of UBL’s death hit, I was getting ready for bed and my gut reaction was one of glee. Before I could think, I turned to my girlfriend and said, “They got that fucking pussy.” I have always thought of UBL in those terms- another loudmouthed millionaire orchestrating death from the safety of distance. I believe in karma and I believe he is reaping his, and perhaps has been for quite some time.

    The next day I was at a baseball game, where chants of “USA! USA!” broke out between innings. It was surreal. Some of the planes from the 9/11 attacks left from Boston, taking so many of its sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and children helplessly to their deaths. That city is still licking its wounds and I will begrudge no one their moment of catharsis.

    Still, I wish that as a country, we had done better at putting aside platforms and party lines, conspiracy theories and smarmy one-liners and just breathed together, all of us united by our Constitution, our history, and by the men and women around the world who have kept us safe for the past two hundred years.

    Instead, it was just another race to be the most clever, the most wise, and the most right.

    I’m glad they iced that pussy but I have a hard time pumping my fist. I’m still haunted by the images of people hanging from the top floors of the World Trade Centers, letting go and falling.

    Thanks for sharing this thoughtful account. Hopefully as the dust settles, more people will be able to step away from their own notions of what they should be thinking, and just feel for a little while.

    • I didn’t know you knew people who died on 9-11, Joe, and I’m truly sorry to hear you did. It was a terrible day, and I don’t believe there’s any way of looking at it that doesn’t make bin Laden a monster, and the world is a better place without monsters, to simplify the discussion extraordinarily.

      And, as some commentators in other places have put it, catharsis and celebration are different things, and neither will bring back the departed.

      I think, especially in moments as overwhelming as the news of bin Laden’s death, which connects to so much, for so many, thought gets pushed aside in the rush of emotion for a lot of people, and with time, I hope, people will take what positives they can from it – as you say, breathing together and feeling united.

      Thanks for reading, brother.

  24. This is at once investigative itself, informative, lyrical, heartbreaking, and inspiring. What I’m trying to say, SS, is: you rock.

  25. Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

    I’m getting to this late and most others have said what I wanted to say but I wanted you to know that I read it and it is beautiful. Not that my opinion matters much but I’m just adding my hands to the round of applause. Bravo.


    • A pleasure to see you comment, Ms. Menchaca, and I’m grateful for your reading and for your comments. Of course your opinion counts, and thank you.

      – Love right back.

  26. D.R. Haney says:

    I still don’t know what to make it of all, beginning with 9/11. I worked for three years a block south of the World Trade Center, in a restaurant where I waited on people who in some cases (I’m sure without definite proof) were killed on 9/11. I’ve spoken again and again to good friends who continued to live in NYC after I moved to LA, and were in the city on 9/11. But it’s just too big for me to fully aborb. On a human level, I empathize with everyone who suffered not only on that day but in the years afterward, the thousands of innocents killed or mutilated or bereft of home or loved ones after we declared war on Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. Did our own leaders not exploit our thirst for vengeance while manipulating evidence as they sold us on the war in Iraq? Was our desire to shape, or reshape, the Middle East to our own liking in no way — even remotely — a goad to the likes of Osama bin Laden? Even now, it’s dangerous to suggest such a thing, and I can only say, for myself, that I never felt as if I knew enough to judge, even after reading numerous reports, with one raising points omitted in another.

    So I’m uncertain as to how to process bin Laden’s death. Already the reports are contradictory — did he, or didn’t he, use his wife as a shield? — and so far, I don’t feel much of anything, as I wait to see what will happen next. I’m not surprised that we took to the streets to wave flags and dance for joy after the elimination of a bogeyman; I understand the impulse, though I don’t share it. I’m more interested in the mark it will make, if any, on our foreign policy and national character, and it may require, in the latter case, many years before there’s a conclusive verdict.

    • I’m not sure there are any clear beginnings, or endings, that you can latch onto and draw a thread from which to untangle a mess like this, because there’s just so much in play, and so much to be considered. I think there’s a wanting, in some ways, for things to be made simple, but so much of what happens is generated by the shifting nature of international politics, and saying that should be simple is akin to saying it should be easy to perform brain surgery.

      But I think, whether goaded or not, and I’m certainly in no position to comment on it, as I’m hardly a knowledgeable source of Middle Eastern fundamentalist knowledge, Osama had free will – as Alison has so ably pointed out – and I think his choices should be on him, regardless of goading. 9-11 wasn’t some instantaneous action or reaction, beyond conscious control; it took planning, and forethought, and thinking, and I think that should be condemned (not that I think you were suggesting otherwise).

      Iraq is a very different situation to Afghanistan, and one that generated its own response, as well it should have, and the men, women and children injured and killed in both countries should be no less important than those killed anywhere else.

      I think the best we can hope for is that the future will hold more wisdom, on all side, than the past.

      Thanks for reading, D.

  27. Reno Romero says:


    This was thoughtful and beautifully written. Very heady. Just so you know I didn’t hoist beer and cheer when I heard the dude was dead (If I was a gambling man I would have bet that he’d been dead for some time). I watched the news for ten minutes and then played Zuma.

    • Thanks amigo. I’d be interested to hear your take on the whole thing over a long lunch at Greenblatt’s some day; you’re man who thinks about things, I think.

      Thanks for reading; I’ve never played Zuma, but I hope you win.

  28. jmblaine says:

    at least we struggle
    with these things
    & I think in confusing
    times that’s about the
    right-est thing we can do
    even though it’s tougher.

  29. Shann Ray says:

    simon, thanks for your heartfelt essay.
    MLK is an illumined voice.
    have you gone to http://www.thekingcenter.org and listend to that voice call us to something higher?
    I appreciate your depth of voice as well simon, and how you too call us to something higher.
    thank you.

    shann ray

    • And thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Shann Ray.

      I haven’t been to the site, no. MLK’s presence isn’t felt as strongly over here as it is in the States; while he’s certainly recognised as a leader on a inspirational level along with Gandhi, Mandela, and JFK, he’s known more for his work overall than in a way that would lead to any specific archives or resources.

      So thank you for the link – I’ll follow up on it. I have an MLK biography on my shelf which I’ve yet to read; I’m hoping the time I need to read all the books I want to read will free up over the coming months.

      Thanks again, Shann Ray. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.

  30. Erika Rae says:

    This was nicely put, sir.

    You know, it’s strange. At about 9:30pm MST on the night he died, I was working on edits for my book when I suddenly began thinking about bin Laden. Just randomly. The house was quiet, kids were in bed, and I was just working on a Word doc. No media on anywhere. I hadn’t thought much about him for some time, but for some reason I was going over in my mind how long it had been since I had heard anything about him. I was wondering about when he would finally be caught. Whether he would be captured or killed. Even whether the “bin” was capitalized or not. I didn’t find out what had happened until I was in the car the next morning.

    In other words, I had a Simon Smithson moment.

    Thoughts like these happen to me from time to time – but the last one I remember of this magnitude was before a massive earthquake in California several years ago.

    To me, Osama’s death doesn’t come as a relief. More as a natural disaster. Like nothing good can come from it. I feel like something in the earth’s belly was just dislodged and set in motion. It’s a sense of foreboding.

    • Thanks, ma’am! I’m always grateful to see you pop up in the comments section of my pieces.

      Wow, that’s eerie. And unsettling, as well.

      Especially when you refer to it as ‘something in the earth’s belly was just dislodged’; that’s a very evocative image.

      Fingers crossed for the best; the tide has to turn sooner or later, right?


  31. kristen says:

    “Because the truth is I don’t know what else, right now, right at this minute, I can do, and the world so sorely needs something to be done.”

    Yup. Just keep on lovin’, S. That’s a ton.

  32. Janey says:

    Another inspired pastiche on the trite and sanctimonious liberal! What will your encore be? Perhaps you are shocked by global warming but remain unwilling to compromise on your first world lifestyle and thus find yourself grimly resigned to an unknown future.

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