by Eli McCarthy

Celebration outside the White House“Osama is dead, Osama is dead,” they repeat on CNN, and then people gather outside the White House waving flags, cheering, chanting “USA,” and singing the national anthem. What are the feelings in these hearts? What habits led to these people gathering in this way for this occasion? What habits will be perpetuated by this gathering? A human being has died. A person with a family has died. A child of our God has died. Yet, many of us celebrate. Many think that “justice” has occurred and that somehow we’ve honored those killed at 9/11.

I assume the “killers” of Osama will soon be honored. More “heroes” of violence for our youth to model. Jesus, what are you thinking and feeling? Why did you draw in the sand and say, “Who here is without sin, throw the first stone,” to those who were enacting ‘justice’ by wanting to stone the woman caught in adultery? Why did you tell Peter to “put down your sword; those who live by the sword will die by the sword”? Why did you dare, of all things, to challenge us to “love our enemies”?… Jesus, don’t you see the faces of “joy” in front of the White House?

Yes, in fact we all do. And that “joy” is the tragedy that builds on the tragedy of death, and the tragedy of killing, and the tragedy that after continuous wars we still, still celebrate violence as if it redeems, as if it brings ultimate security, as if somehow more violence won’t flow from this. Why aren’t we people that mourn violent death?

We seem to mourn when the tsunami hit Japan or when our troops are killed. But we don’t appear to mourn when we torture others, when we execute those on death row, when Saddam or Osama is killed. Are we too obsessed with our capacity to separate the “good” from the “bad,” to point to the “guilty” and to feel assured of ourselves as “innocent?”

I’m sure many will read this and call it anti-U.S., unpatriotic, unsupportive of our troops, socialist, idealist, religious fanaticism and the list of distracting name-calling goes on. But what this is about for me, and I hope for some others, is what does it mean to live as a human being? What vision of human excellence are we promoting? I am searching and I hope others will search with me.

Eli McCarthy is a member of Pax Christi Metro-D.C.-Baltimore. 

12 thoughts on “REFLECTION: Why do many of us celebrate violent death?

  1. Thanks, Eli, for articulating the mixture of thoughts and feelings that occupied me as I watched and listened to various news reports late last night and this morning. Crowds gathering and rejoicing, jumping and shouting… newspaper headlines and pages of details… tours of the inside of the blood soaked room where the shooting took place… the media’s hunger for more and more datails, the questions about why it took so long… the concern about what will happen next. Be assured that others are searching with you.

  2. Capturing Osama bin Laden in order to hold him accountable for his role in terrorist attacks in the US and around the world would be a good thing. If bin Laden resisted arrest, using force to subdue him, even deadly force, might be lawful. Some may argue that killing Osama bin Laden in the process of attempting to capture him is even just.
    It’s hard for those of us who believe in holding wrongdoers accountable and also believe that it is always wrong to kill another human being, to stand firm in that belief when we know that this is a man who did not flinch from killing innocent people to make his political statements.
    To say that an extra-judicial execution = justice is a Pharisean statement. The letter of the law gets a nod of approval. Bin Laden can no longer order terrorist attacks. But we don’t solve the problem of terrorism by killing a terrorist leader. President Obama, like the Pharisee Caiphas in John’s Gospel, decided that it would be better the one man should die, rather than the people. If the death of Osama bin Laden means that US troops will leave Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, then perhaps he will be legally correct. But the law is still flawed.

  3. Is it fair to say that the joy, that all people feel, is about the killing of another human being, rather than on a sense of relief that one who hated Americans enough to kill innocent men, women and children, can no longer be a threat to themselves and to their families?

    1. Good question Lily! I certainly think some people are “relieved” as you say. When I said “yes, in fact we all do,” I was referring to the fact that we all see this expression of “joy” on the faces in the White House crowds. Multiple emotions are certainly possible. But a healthy “relief” and genuine mourning for those who experience and perpetuate violent death seems quite different than what was generally expressed in these crowds. A further question is, what level of “relief” is fitting if we still continue in these habits of violence? Even more, shouldn’t we expect what the CIA calls “blowback”?

  4. Thank you, Eli, for articulating this message…as long as we meet violence with violence there will be violence in our world. Why is that so hard for people to grasp? Why is it so easy for those who call themselves by the Christ’s name, Christian, to not grasp the message of non-violence that Jesus gave us. The only way to peace is not to engage in violence. I pray for peace for our world.

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more. This man was bad, no doubt about it but we are so barbaric in our actions. This afternoon I did hear that they offered to let him surrender and he chose not to. That did make it a bit more of his decision. I wish we could rid the world of weapons.

    1. The “offer to surrender” is an interesting piece. I’ve heard a “US Official” quoted as saying the “operation was designed to kill Bin Laden.” So, hard to say. If you have Navy Seals at your place, you know the US recent history of torture and the ease at which we use the death penalty, the “choice” may be a bit clouded. Also, if they were committed to his “surrender” and he did resist with a gun, could they have shot him in the legs rather than the head and chest? A tricky question, but your point about armed weapons is well taken. They certainly seem to intensify situations and make our “choices” seem limited.

  6. The closing line of the president’s announcement to the nation included the blessing statement, “God bless America.” I was authentically horrified, both by the announcement and the blessing. As of 7:30 PM, CST, I have not seen any comment from the USCCB, nor noted any remarks from local ordinaries, shepherds and teachers of the Gospel. I need to file, as it were, my own comment.

    This is a sad day in American Catholic history. Somehow we have not lived nor preached the Gospel. Integrity seems to be at a nadir. Have we never heard the words of Jesus (“Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.”) ? I do not wish to be critical of those who acted, nor acted under orders for the sake of the perceived greater good, but I do want to be critical of our faith community who seem to not have sincerely preached that blessed are the peacemakers, the ones who hunger and thrist for righteousness, they who mourn, and so forth. This is a day of challenge to renew our hope in living the Gospel, forgiving our trespassers, and restoring the seemless garment of Life. Mercy!!!

    1. I don’t disagree with you, but here’s a comment from the Catholic Church regarding the death of Osam Bin Laden:
      “Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions to this end. In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.” – Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, on the death of Osama bin Laden.
      (Catholic News Service)

  7. It seemed strange to me to feel both saddened at the news of his death and very grateful that Osama was found. I had been, and have continued today, to pray for his soul. I cannot find peace within if I would wish for the loss of his soul even knowing of the terrible things he has inflicted on others. Over the years of being attentive to the peace/justice issues, and attempting to learn and practice living in a more personal peaceful way daily, I have become more sensitive to the hope of salvation for the worst of sinners. Even as I am grateful that Osama can no longer inflict harm I do pray for God’s mercy, if it will be accepted, perhaps as a last attempt offered. I believe the place called Purgatory is meant to be a purifying, perhaps 2nd chance offer. If this is so I pray Osama will repent and at some “time” be able to rejoice in the experience of God’s face.

  8. It is so good to read the above comments and especially those by Eli McCarthy from Pax Christi Metro- Baltimore. When I [picked up my local paper with kthe headline of Bin Laden’s murder, I was horrified to read about the celebrations going on. We, the United States, had just assassinated a man who had done horrible things but assassination, as I understand, is against international law. And just the day before NATO had attempted to kill Ghadafi and did manage to kill one of his sons and three of his grandchildren! This is not what I as an American expect of my country.
    Yesterday (May 2) On Democracy Now, Amy Goodman feautured people who speak for me and hundreds of others. Alan Nairn said: “We need an American revolution. An American Romero is needed. To say ‘Stop the Oppression,'” And by this he meant for the US to stop killing people – thousands of people – including civiliana every day the world over. It goes on and on and has been going on and on for years now. The American people pay little or no attention to this killing. We must pray for the wisdom to figure out how to stop our leaders from this bloodletting.
    Marmete Hayes, Pax Christi Burlington (VT)
    55 Cross Parkway
    Burlington, VT 05408

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