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War on…

May 2, 2011

As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.
-Ezekiel 33:11

Like the eyes of every other American, mine were glued to the television last night while President Obama announced that a team of US forces had killed Osama Bin Ladin.

The biggest part of my mind went into the “go team go” mentality. That man did horrible things including attacking our country, my city, and killing 3000 people. He deserved to die, and I am glad he’s dead for a lot of reasons, the most important of which is that he will not be hatching any more plots to attack my personal homeland where I live, me and all of my tribe. It’s a victory for good ol’ fashioned intelligence and strong leadership. Yay America.

Go team go.

Woot.

Then the small voice inside my brain, the one that says things like “You’ve had enough to drink,” “Don’t wear that,” and “You’d better have that lump checked out ASAP” says to me, “Wait. Hold up. Think for a second.”

I’m cheering for someone’s death.

Is it justice? Is it vengeance? Does it matter?

Justice would see Bin Ladin brought before the court of the Hague, tried, found guilty, hanged, and buried in an unmarked grave.

Justice would see him grow old in a prison cell somewhere, watching his philosophy fail, and seeing himself becoming a footnote in history, a toothless asp biting at the bars of his cage, knowing that the world had changed and that he had been left behind to rot into obsolescence. But life seldom happens that way, and so we kill the bad guys to keep them from doing what bad guys do, because no one wants September 11: the Sequel.

I think back to just after 9/11 and I remember President George W. Bush declaring a War on Terror. I remember that he briefly called it a Crusade, which made me glad I had learned enough in 10th grade world history class to know what a bad idea it was to use that particular choice of words, and I remember that I chuckled amid my grief and horror at the gaff.

Not a Crusade. A campaign, a victory, in the War on Terror, a term that has come to encompass, in the decade since that attack on U.S. soil, Anyone Who Disagrees With Us.

I’m not sure that War On is the right term either. Not as bad as Crusade (and by the way, Bush writers, what on earth were you thinking?) but war implies a battle of defined entities, and terror is a slippery little bugger.

I know what terror is. It’s the fear that horrible things are going to happen to you, and the certainty that they might, and the knowledge that you can’t do a damn thing about it.

It’s what the drug cartels are doing in Mexico, just across the border.

It’s what the drug gangs are doing in our inner cities.

It’s finding out that the lump in your breast has spread to your heart and is about to end your life.

War on …

It’s rhetoric we love. War on Terror. War on Drugs. War on Cancer. Presto: good guys — us, and bad guys — them, the drug dealers, the terrorists, cancer. Bad People doing Bad Things, or a Bad Disease that strikes terror into the hearts of us all. Let’s get ’em. I wish it were that simple.

Sometimes it is that simple. Osama Bin Laden was a bad guy, and we got him.

More often it’s more complicated. 40 years ago, when President Nixon signed into law the War on Drugs, I doubt he foresaw the prohibition-esque rise in organized crime that would arise and spread like cancer throughout this hemisphere to fill the gaping maw of demand by an addiction-addled society. But 40 years ago yesterday, when President Nixon signed into law the War on Cancer, I also doubt he would foresee not just me, but hundreds of thousands of women like me, alive to raise our children, cured of cancer, cured through research funded by federal tax dollars, money spent fighting the War on Cancer, which is not rhetoric we hear much any more, because 40 years later, they still haven’t found a “cure.”

Patience isn’t part of our national discourse. I think it should be.

It took a decade to track down Osama Bin Laden.

It’s going to take longer than that to untangle the mess wrought by the illegal drug trade and by our response to it.

It may be another century before scientists discover a cure for cancer, not just a treatment that annihilates it from our bodies with the slash, burn, and salt the earth approach, but a real cure.

In the meantime, we celebrate our successes, constantly evaluate our progress, rethink, redirect, and keep fighting, because that is what we do in a free society. And we call it a War because that word is a clarion call to action, but a better term might be Persevere.

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