When patriotism goes overboard

By Carolyn Freeman

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May 1, 2011, was much more patriotic than any Fourth of July I’ve ever witnessed. D.C. residents and college students celebrated in the streets outside the White House at midnight, and newscasters on every channel tried to hide their glee.

That was the day U.S. Navy Seals Team 6 burst into Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and shot him while he was unarmed.

Crowds cheer outside the White House after President Obama’s announcement that U.S. Navy Seals had killed Osama bin Laden. www.cnbc.com.

The people who danced in the streets after President Barack Obama’s announcement seemed unbridled and free from any more worries about the War on Terror. But citizens shouldn’t shout for joy because of bin Laden’s death, and the government shouldn’t promote his execution. The country shouldn’t assume the war is over and that there is no more threat.

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,” Martin Luther King, Jr. once said. Bin Laden’s death doesn’t signify an end to the War on Terror or to the fears that have pervaded the country since September 11.

In fact, Obama warned against the threat of retaliation of al-Qaeda forces. Bin Laden’s death may provoke even more anti-American violence from remaining al-Qaeda members, according to a Washington Post article.

On the National Mall, souvenir trucks feature T-shirts with slogans like “Osama got Obama’d,” “Number One Enemy” and “Hide and Seek Champion.” The patriotic shirts  stand out against the usual collage of “FBI” and “I Heart DC” T-shirts. Photo by Julia Berard.

The spontaneous burst of patriotism seen across the country last Sunday was in poor taste. Sixty-two percent of Americans believe that celebrating bin Laden’s death is immoral, according to a survey released May 11 by CNN.

Although bin Laden was responsible for countless terrorist attacks and the deaths of thousands of Americans and other innocent civilians worldwide, cheering outside the White House with vuvuzelas is still inappropriate. Celebrating vengeance won’t return the lives of the departed that bin Laden stole.

The logistics of capturing him alive would have been complex, but capture was the U.S.’s original goal, according to General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of the U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan. Bin Laden could have been arrested, put on trial in the U.S. and held in a containment cell for the rest of his life, a fate some consider worse than death.

The raid was lightning fast, occurring in just under 40 minutes. But it’s not impossible to surmise that the U.S. military could have captured bin Laden alive. Team 6 could have adhered to the stance the U.S. took when capturing war criminals during World War II—better to capture rather than to kill. Instead, the United States essentially violated international law because bin Laden was killed without a trial.

Lethal force is only justified if it’d strictly necessary in order to prevent the loss of lives, according to Anthony Dworkin, an international law expert at the European Council for Foreign Affairs. The administration has provided no evidence so far that says this to be true.

While it is true that he was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people worldwide, killing bin Laden without a trial sets a precedent that contradicts the democratic ideals of the United States.

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