Paul R. Hollrah
May 12, 2011
The killing of Osama bin Laden on Sunday, May 1, 2011...or Sunday, April 24, whichever White House version of the event you choose to believe...has confronted us with a number of quandaries and anomalies. For example, exactly how should we feel about American special operations forces charging into the bedroom of an unarmed foreign leader in the middle of the night and shooting him to death in front of his wives and children? Like the British, should we consider that to be “not quite cricket?” Or should we stop to remind ourselves of just who and what bin Laden is...er, was...and what he has done to merit our profound hatred?
And what are we to make of the thousands of revelers...many college students...who took to the streets on the evening of May 2 to celebrate bin Laden’s death, shouting, “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”...amid spontaneous recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem? Are we to take that as a genuine outpouring of patriotic fervor...something we’ve rarely seen among members of the “me” generation? Or was it something else?
During the Reagan Administration, Islamic terrorists attacked the US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut; the US Embassy in Kuwait; the US Embassy Annex in Beirut; Kuwait Airways Flight 221 at Tehran; TWA Flight 847, in Beirut; the Rhein-Main Air Base, in Germany; the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro; TWA Flight 840, over Greece; Pan Am Flight 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland; and the CIA Headquarters at Langley, Virginia. At the time, these attacks were all seen as random acts of violence, the work of a few crazed extremists.
During the Clinton Administration, Islamic terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York; two US military bases in Saudi Arabia, one at Riyadh and the other at Dhahran; the US Embassy in Kenya; the US Embassy in Tanzania; and the USS Cole, in Yemen. These attacks were also viewed, not as terror attacks, but as law enforcement issues for our courts...although Clinton did send cruise missiles to destroy a Khartoum aspirin factory in retaliation.
It was not until September 11, 2001, during the early days of George W. Bush’s presidency, that Islamic terrorists finally decided that they’d have to strike hard at the American homeland if they were ever to get our attention. On that day they attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, killing more than 3,000.
In these eighteen attacks, some 3,900 people, mostly American civilians, were killed. But it was not until the 9/11 attacks that we were finally able to put a name and a face on the terror attacks. The name was al Qaeda and the face was that of Osama bin Laden.
In the years following 9/11 the attacks inspired by al Qaeda increased in number, if not in severity. In early June 2006, Canadian officials arrested twenty-one Muslim terrorists in connection with a plot to blow up the Canadian Parliament Building in Ottawa and to behead the Prime Minister. The terrorists had already acquired twice the amount of ammonium nitrate used in the blast that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995.
On June 23, 2006, FBI agents arrested seven home-grown terrorists in Miami. The men had all sworn allegiance to al Qaeda and had expressed an intention to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI Building in Miami. The following month, FBI counterterrorism agents arrested the mastermind of a plot to blow up the tunnels beneath the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.
In August 2006, British authorities thwarted a plot to simultaneously blow up as many as ten Continental, United, and American Airlines planes heading to the US using liquid explosives smuggled in carry-on luggage. As an example of their sheer madness, one Muslim couple planned to blow themselves and their infant child out of the sky. Their bomb components were concealed inside their baby’s bottle. More than 25 Muslim terrorists were arrested in connection with that plot.
In September 2009, undercover FBI agents arrested a 19-year-old terrorist, an illegal alien from Jordan, who planned to blow up the 720 ft. tall Fountain Place skyscraper in downtown Dallas, the fifth tallest building in the city. And on November 5, 2009, a US Army physician, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, shot and killed 13 servicemen and wounded 30 others in a random shooting at Fort Hood, Texas...all were returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is men such as these who were inspired by Osama bin Laden. However, the war on Islamic terrorism reached a milestone on May 1, 2011, when a US Special Operations assault team attacked a large house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a suburb of Islamabad. In the attack they shot and killed Osama bin Laden.
But how should we feel about that? Many Americans have expressed shock and horror that American forces would carry out such an attack...killing an enemy leader in his home, in the presence of his family, wrapping his body in a white shroud and later dumping it into the sea. Some have suggested that it was a criminal act.
It is ironic that, on the same day that bin Laden was killed and given a respectable burial at sea, I received an email from a reader in New York who, in the weeks following 9/11, was assigned the unthinkably gruesome task of supervising the sifting of rubble from the World Trade Center, searching for bits and pieces of human remains. One wonders how critics might have reacted had they been assigned to the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) at the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.
Most of the victims found at Ground Zero were sent directly to the Medical Examiner’s Office, but what of the thousands of human body parts mixed in with tens of thousands of tons of debris...glass shards, chunks of concrete, metal fragments, etc...delivered in a steady stream of trucks shuttling between Lower Manhattan and the landfill?
Officers and police cadets assigned to the grizzly task of sorting through the debris were often uncertain if what they found was actually a human body part. With all of the restaurants in the Twin Towers, a great many chicken bones from the fast food restaurants were found, as were large bones from the stock pots in the expensive restaurants such as Top of The Towers and Windows on the World. It was left to forensic anthropologists at the site to determine which remains were of the human variety and which were not. When human remains were found in the debris...body parts as small as a fingertip and as large as an entire human body...they were photographed, bagged, tagged, and sent to the Medical Examiner's office
One badly decomposed body was found; it was mashed flat, almost as if it had been run over by a steam roller. The victim was quickly identified by a serial number engraved on a prosthetic hip implant. As my reader describes the scene, “The body parts were horribly torn apart and fragmented due to people falling at or above terminal velocity (120 mph) through the tangled wires and aluminum structural beams as the buildings collapsed...it was as if the bodies had been put through a paper shredder.”
To this day, nearly half of the World Trade Center victims remain unidentified. The Medical Examiner's office currently has in storage over 20,000 pieces of cryogenically frozen human remains, hoping that one day they might be identified.
And while we should never take pleasure in the death of another human being, those who cringe at the thought of American troops assassinating a foreign leader, sewing his remains into a white shroud and dumping him into the sea, need only imagine themselves sifting through the debris at the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. Focusing on the horrors of 9/11 it is important to gain a bit of perspective on the sheer evil that bin Laden represented. As my reader explains, “Sadly, bin Laden received far better treatment than the unidentified remains that I found at the landfill. To suggest otherwise is an outrageous insult to those who died so horribly on 9/11.”
One wonders how the thousands of reveling students who filled the streets in celebration of bin Laden’s death might have fared at the Fresh Kills Landfill. Where was their latent patriotism when Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Cal (Berkeley), and other liberal colleges and universities were banning military and CIA recruiters from campus? Where were they when ROTC programs were banned from their campuses? If and when it comes time for them to step forward and wear the uniforms of our US fighting forces, will they have the courage to do so?
And finally, it would also be most interesting to know...if they are so high on fundamental American values...where were they when conservative speakers such as Ann Coulter and David Horowitz were being denied their 1st Amendment rights on college campuses?
Was their sudden expression of patriotism just that...patriotism, love of country? Or was it something else? Was it perhaps just another excuse to get roaring drunk and make perfect asses of themselves in public? True patriots would like to know. We’d like to think it represented a rebirth of patriotism among those who are the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the “Greatest Generation.”
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