On May 2 we all awoke to the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a daring helicopter raid on his million-dollar compound in Pakistan. There was no bomb that obscured the outcome. He's dead. Several things come to mind.
First of all, we should not be so quick to think that with the death of this one man, the al-Qaida jihad is over. Far from it. Of all the things that will last through the ages, the ideas and images of dead martyrs will last the longest: Witness Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King. While I hesitate to mention their noble and righteous names in the same thought as a skunk like Osama bin Laden, the comparison of martyrdom must be made. I think we have not seen the last of things done in bin Laden's name, and we may be witnessing the final stages of the debate of terrorism with its indiscriminate killing and popular uprisings in more than one Arab nation.
Then, of course, one has to wonder about the million-dollar compound in a military town in Pakistan, one of our purported allies. It has long been thought that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, but the popular notion was that he was somehow moving from one isolated cave to another. Not so. In fact, for the past five years he was in a large, comfortable home with family members not far from Pakistan's equivalent of West Point.
At last count, the United States has given over $18 billion dollars since 2001 propping up corrupt Pakistani dictators and building infrastructure for the civilians. In the process, we seem to have purchased little good will. It has always occurred to me that we are in Afghanistan as a show of support, not so much for the Afghans but for Pakistan, which is supposed to even the odds between them and India. While great strides in economy, education and contribution to world commerce are coming out of India, one wonders what is the redeeming value of our supposed Pakistani ally who, even now, upbraids the United States for "an unauthorized" incursion.
Consider what I am going to say next and think about it before you call me a dirty rotten bin Laden lover. Terrorism has long been an instrument of regime change that has proven highly effective when one opponent is much smaller and less capable of waging "contemporary warfare." In fact, this country was born in terrorism. Had it not been for some of the tactics of Sam Adams and John Hancock, we may never have had an American Revolution.
In the Boston Massacre, the five men killed got pretty much what they asked for. After a fairly significant string of terrorist activities and actions of mobs in the colonies, the final act of the Boston Tea Party pushed England over the edge and, within two years, they were in a war with us they could not win.
More recently, the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel had its own fair share of terrorism on both sides. I guess if you win, terrorism becomes a patriotic struggle for freedom in which the end justifies the means.
Taken in the strictest definition of terrorism, what happened on 9/11 was, without a doubt, the purest, most efficient act of war ever perpetrated. It will, I believe, even beat out Pearl Harbor as to its long-term effect. It has made us go to war in at least two countries, and caused us to be painted as evil imperialists by the most vocal of one of the fastest growing segments of the world's population.
All of this suggests, at least to me, that warfare as we know it is pretty much a thing of the distant past -- a fact that seems to have eluded most folks in Washington. A simple act that cost a mere few hundred thousand dollars and involved, at least actively, less than 50 -- albeit dedicated --individuals, changed the way the world works, probably forever, and will eventually cost, if it hasn't already, trillions of dollars in direct costs and lost productivity.
"Justice has been done." That is true, at least in terms of the most guilty forfeiting his life. At the same time, we are bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq at a cost of billions of dollars, the lives of our soldiers and the diminution of our prestige in the world. To be sure, that is exactly what bin Laden wanted all along. It probably said as much about us as anything that, after all, it was reported that bin Laden was given a proper Muslim burial. For us to ultimately triumph, which in this case means that bin Laden loses, we will have to continue to take the high road, which is never an easy path. I just hope we can do it with common sense.
Chris Belland's Hindsights & Insights column appears here on Sundays. Belland also writes a biweekly column on environmental issues, which runs in our Sunday magazine, Solares Hill. All of his previous columns are available on his blog: hindsightsandinsights.blogspot.com. Contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.