While we’re on the subject of Bin Laden and an innocent and accidental mash-up of a MLK quote, I don’t think the attribution “controversy” (such as it is) isn’t the interesting thing here, it’s the sentiment. The genesis of the quote is from an English teacher in Japan, who posted her Facebook status thusly:
Which raises the question: If you don’t believe in the death penalty, and you don’t believe in killing other human beings, is it still okay to kill Osama bin Laden? In the morally relativistic world of adulthood, it can be answered with a shrug, but that’s not the world you live in if you’ve got kids.
When Lucy was about two and a half, we were driving along the West Side Highway in Manhattan, and the car conversation invariably turned to the giant gaping hole in the ground where the World Trade Center had been. Not one to let anything slip by uncommented, she pressed us on the issue. As any of you with kids knows, the words “September 11” are in the ether – short of hiding them in the attic, your offspring are going to hear those words, and they’re going to know they’re bad in some way.
I finally told her a very bad man knocked the two towers down, and she mentioned it every time we saw skyscrapers from Brooklyn – not in a scared way, just matter-of-fact. Fast-forward to this Monday morning, and Tessa felt like she had to say something to Lucy about the breaking news, since it was going to come up at school, somehow, someway.
“You remember that really bad man who knocked those towers down in New York, sweetie?” Tessa asked.
“Yeah,” Lucy responded.
“Well, he died last night.”
To which Lucy immediately asked, “Did we die him?”
“Yes,” Tessa said, “we did.”
Lucy has a habit of using nouns for verbs and making shit up on the fly, hence jewels like “the boys were swording each other on the playground” and something heartbreaking like “did we die him”. I found it pretty amazing that her first response upon hearing the news was the assumption Osama bin Laden did not die of natural causes.
Often the way you keep your kid from freaking out about something is to act as if everything is natural and suspected – after all, they get most of their cues from you. When my Auntie Donna died, we did a pretty good job of being honest and loving about it with Lucy, and she responded in kind. But this is different, because we – as a country – went into another country, found someone we’d been looking for, and murdered him. It’s pretty hard to make up a cute parable for that one.
Part of the overwhelming jumble of emotions I experienced Sunday night was unadulterated jubilation. I wanted that motherfucker dead, and I would have been willing to take a crowbar to the back of his head for what he did to New York City and my psyche. But I am devoutly against capital punishment, like to consider myself a pacifist, and Buddhism is the only “religion” that has ever struck me at the soul. So what am I made of, really?
There’s an internet meme called Godwin’s Law, which states that every argument, if carried on long enough, eventually mentions Hitler, in which case the argument itself is rendered irrelevant. But this is one time when mentioning Hitler is warranted, because Bin Laden hits Americans in the same place. He evokes similar rage, gouges at a similar wound. Sure, we nominally would have taken Bin Laden alive, but like Hitler, is that a trial we wanted to experience?
Even the usually-equanimous Jon Stewart admitted last night he was far too close to the subject matter to be rational; instead, he relished Al Qaeda’s demise, saying they might attack us again, but even if they do…
“…you know who won’t see it? Bin Laden. ‘Cause we shot out his eyes, and now he lives in a pineapple under the sea!”
I share his enthusiasm, and to be honest, much of the hand-wringing I’ve seen among my cohorts smacks of weenie-minded namby-pambyism from people who feel massive relief Bin Laden is dead, but still want to feel as though killing people is wrong. Weirdly, I share their unease. And you can bet your ass this paradox will not be lost on our kids.
But maybe that’s just life. You can strive for ideological purity, but when it comes down to it, if you invent a time machine, you kinda have to go back and put a bullet in Hitler’s brain. Perhaps “I don’t believe in killing anybody, but I would kill Bin Laden” isn’t necessarily a logical fallacy. Only question is, how do you explain it to a 6-year-old?
Lucy pontificates from back seat of car, June 2008