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Bin Laden's Death

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So for people my age, the idea that you would greet the news of Osama’s demise with anything short of unmitigated exhilaration is ludicrous. Call up the Ewoks and get the bonfires started. Gather the, er, wizards, for the wizard banquet. We got him. The Big Honcho. The top cheese. The chief muck-a-muck. Besides, we’ll take any excuse to party.

But once we got started, the revel felt unseemly. It was simply the celebration of the death of one man, not a complete victory over any ultimate evil. Even as we cheered, we knew better. For us at 12 and 14, Osama was a reassuring monster. He was the face behind the random terror of the universe, the dragon we could slay and beat, the Boss of the Level. Now we understand that we have scorched the snake, not killed it. We know the difference between a hydra and a dragon.

But there is still that 12-year-old inside us, exultantly staring down the reactor shaft where we just tossed the Emperor.

Of course we’d want to party.



Washington, D.C

May 3, 2011

Alexandra  A. Petri  ’10, a  former Crimson columnist, writes opinion pieces for The Washington Post.

Reflecting on Obama’s Speech

President Obama deserves our unalloyed praise for hastening Osama bin Laden’s demise. Yes, President George W. Bush established the mission, but Obama made it a priority. Yes, the CIA secured the intelligence, but Obama acted on it. By doing so, he exhibited the quality that his supporters have long attributed to him without much evidence: judgment.

The operation was extremely risky, and the president was intimately involved. Although the CIA was unsure whether bin Laden was inside the compound—some analysts put odds at 60 percent—Obama carried on. His national-security advisers were divided over whether to attack by air or by land, but the president knew we needed the body. He ordered a ground assault. And despite the risk that Pakistan would chafe at a military strike deep inside its borders—and at our lack of a warning—the president knew too much was at stake. He made the right calls, and they paid off.

The president’s speech to the nation, on the other hand, deserves praise of a tepid kind—not because he did anything egregiously wrong, but because he didn’t do anything especially right. Appropriately, his voice was grave, his countenance sober. He reflected the gravity of the moment. (He also was probably tired.)

He spoke movingly about 9/11, placing the images of “hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky” and “black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon” squarely in our minds. He spoke concretely (but, thankfully, not too concretely) about the operation: his initial order to CIA director Leon Panetta, his subsequent meetings with advisers, his final decision to make the attack. He reminded the nation, and the world, that ours is not a war against Islam, that we are grateful for our military, and that we still feel the pain of 9/11.

Nonetheless, nothing he said was particularly memorable. (I admit I made use of a transcript.) And the president has an unfortunate tendency of ending his speeches with a little-engine-that-could shtick. “Tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to,” he said. “That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens.”

It was as if he were giving us a pep talk. And so the president pulled a switcheroo on Sunday: He showed himself to be less than eloquent and more than wise.


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