Last Sunday night, I have to admit to feeling uncomfortable watching the spontaneous celebrations outside of the White House following President Obama’s announcement that Osama bin Laden was dead.
My friend, Joe Templin, author of Financial Mistakes of New College Grads, provides some perspective. He reminded me that most of the people we saw celebrating were either in elementary school or middle school ten years ago. In their minds, they’ve lived most of their lives under an impending threat of terrorism. For them, it’s similar to the threat that we Baby Boomers felt about the potential for nuclear annihilation during the Cold War. Joe’s explanation helped me to better understand the students’ reaction. To them, it probably feels like an ending. I suspect that isn’t so.
Don’t get me wrong. A person with bin Laden’s list of crimes against humanity deserved a death sentence. However, as I watched the student’s celebrations and listened to their joyful shouts of “USA! USA!” the word tawdry came to mind. Perhaps the word I was really looking for was inappropriate. Probably, it’s my primarily English heritage and New England background but It seemed to me that a more reserved reaction would have been more dignified. We know we’re #1. The world knows that America’s #1. Why rub their noses in it. Isn’t our tendency to do so a major reason why they hate us?
I remember watching an old movie, “Saratoga Trunk” in which the character played by Ingrid Bergman is told that she’s beautiful. She responds: “Yes. Isn’t it lucky?” I’ve always admired that response and the sentiment behind it. Bergman’s character acknowledges that her natural beauty is a blessing which has been bestowed upon her rather than an attribute for which she is responsible.
It’s the same for us Americans. We take so many of our privileges and liberties for granted. We believe that it’s our right to vote even though we make little effort to actually be informed about what we’re voting for or against. As one friend defined that attitude, who needs facts when I can have an opinion!?!
I have faith that the core American values of fairness, equality, justice, industry and integrity will eventually win out against fear, evil and ruthlessness. When we triumph, I hope the primary image that history remembers won’t be of a Styrofoam index finger pointed skyward bearing the words “We’re #1!”.