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May 4th, 2011
12:01 PM ET

My Take: No apology for celebrating after bin Laden's death

Editor's Note: Lauren Kolodkin is an undergraduate student at Boston University; among her professors is CNN Belief Blog contributor Stephen Prothero, who wrote that the celebrations that followed bin Laden's death made him cringe.

By Lauren Kolodkin, Special to CNN

For the past 10 years, my generation has had it pretty bad.

Our youth was taken away by the attacks on 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our teen years were pockmarked by the Great Recession. Our college days are splattered with political unrest. And when we graduate from college, we will emerge overeducated and underprepared into an America with no jobs, no opportunities and no hope.

My generation has been told for years that our world is a place where there is little reason to celebrate anything.

But then, on Sunday night, President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden, leader of al Qaeda, mastermind of the attacks of September 11, 2001, was killed in Pakistan. The man who murdered thousands of Americans and instigated the war on terror is finally gone. And my generation celebrated.

Hundreds of college students across the city gathered in Boston Common and cheered together. I went from my dorm at BU. We cursed bin Laden and sang rousing renditions of “God Bless America.” We smiled and laughed and waved at cameras. A friend of mine turned to me and said, “Someday we’ll talk about this with our children. This is amazing.” For a night, at least, we forgot our troubles and reveled in the joy of our peers.

But what exactly were we celebrating that night? Someone’s death?

I know some students who shied away from the celebrations, in Boston and elsewhere, because they felt uncomfortable cheering someone else’s demise. We are taught by our parents, by God, by the world around us that life is sacred, and death is a time for reflection, not revelry. For some people, this death renews memories of a mother or father lost, a friend gone or a life ruined.

Closure is rarely delivered by vengeance, and this death surely isn’t the end of our sorrow. A bullet through the icon of terror does not bring your sister or brother back, it doesn’t rebuild the twin towers, and it doesn’t erase a decade of sadness and hardship.

I cannot imagine what it would have been like to lose someone on 9/11. I’m not from New York. I don’t know anyone who works at the Pentagon. No one I knew died on that day. But I remember watching my fourth grade teacher cry that morning and refusing to tell us why, because she’d been instructed to leave that grim task to our parents.

I remember getting off the bus to find my mother waiting to tell me what had happened. I remember seeing the smoke on the television screen, choking me from a distance, clips of disaster playing over and over again.

I remember seeing Osama bin Laden’s face for the first time. I was 9 years old.

My generation is cursed by those images of horror and destruction. We are cursed by that face. And since that day, we have been burdened with the consequences.

But on May 1, 2011, something changed. A man who hurt so many people will never hurt anyone again. I know that this is not the last of horrible men, but at least it is the last of this horrible man, this symbol of hatred and war and bloodshed.

That is why my generation celebrated on Sunday night and Monday morning. We did not celebrate his death; we celebrated the dawn of a new day without bin Laden. We celebrate because maybe the world isn’t as bad as they told us. We celebrate because we can.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lauren Kolodkin

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 9/11 • Death • Osama bin Laden • Terrorism

soundoff (642 Responses)
  1. Kim

    I disagree that our generation has had it pretty bad for the past TEN YEARS because of 9/11 and the recession. And after living through the great depression and WWII I'm pretty sure my grandparents would agree.

    May 13, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  2. Wastrel

    Thanks for your opinion, but you are wrong. It's not that human life is sacred, it's that this sort of thing should be done soberly and efficiently, without the emotional baggage you give it.. You should be taken out and shot, soberly and efficiently, because you are wrong.

    May 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  3. Lisa B.

    Celebrate if you want to or don't...I understand both sides, and would not condemn either. Good riddance either way.

    May 13, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  4. Den

    I celebrated his death. I only feel bad that it didn't occur sooner.

    May 13, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  5. Lisa

    What a spoiled little brat she is. This little girl refuses to place herself in the greater context of history...she does not realize how good she has it. People like her cause Americans to not be taken seriously by people across the world.

    "We celebrate because we can." Ok....what do you mean by this, Lauren? I'm guessing you were just looking for a poignant ending to your essay, but it really is quite meaningless unless you explain it. You can do lots of things, but you don't do them all, do you?

    So, even assuming that you are really celebrating the "dawn of a new day without bin Laden" (rather than his death, though I fail to see the difference between the two), it does not appear to the rest of us to be this way. You have further endangered Americans' lives by celebrating because those Muslims who hate this country will use the images and video against us as propoganda. Bet you didn't think of that.

    May 13, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  6. Windy Cooler

    "We celebrate because maybe the world isn’t as bad as they told us."

    No dear, it is much, much worse. As you have just proven to us.

    May 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  7. laila

    "We did not celebrate his death; we celebrated the dawn of a new day without bin Laden. We celebrate because maybe the world isn’t as bad as they told us. We celebrate because we can."

    lol really? so like for the past 10 yrs u lived in a cave or something? afraid of a man who might have died long b4 this political movie move... HA! hard ten yrs. child im 22 yrs college student and the world is full of hardship stop the generation bs. and blaming it on a man might be alive. funny how people believe every dose of false bs from the gov. umm u r like not being educated right. i second all those who doubt ur so-called yrs of hardship, overeducated ect....
    juz like Zachary Uram states...

    May 13, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Mandy

      You're in college?? You need to re-take English 101; stop texting and start learning.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  8. Zachary Uram

    "overeducated"? unlikely! kids are being dumbed down and a 4 year degree doesn't mean what it once did
    college is the new high school

    May 13, 2011 at 7:46 am |
  9. myoleman

    We must not rejoice over the death of any sinner, no matter how heinous his acts. Every terrorist who dies in his sins is a score in the evil one's favor. Far better that they repent and turn to our Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and a new life of service to him. Like the apostle Paul, who terrorized so many Christians, but finally repented and ended up writing half of the New Testament. The spirit of forgiveness is essential in order to obtain forgiveness ourselves from our Lord.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  10. TMG

    what did OBL had to do with the invasion of Iraq? would it be of for Iraqis to celebrate if their commando was to drop in @ the bush ranch in Texas and take him out and then dump him in the sea for all the murders he committed in Iraq?

    May 12, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  11. steven harnack

    Little girl, your generation doesn't know what hard times are.

    May 12, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  12. Michael Gast

    Lauren's attempt to explain her and others unseemly behavior is pure sophistry. So, this is the generation that will fill the power vacuum when we're gone? Well, things definitely won't improve. And that depresses me.

    May 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  13. Robert Werner

    Re: "For the past 10 years, my generation has had it pretty bad.

    Our youth was taken away by the attacks on 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our teen years were pockmarked by the Great Recession. Our college days are splattered with political unrest. And when we graduate from college, we will emerge overeducated and underprepared into an America with no jobs, no opportunities and no hope."

    Obviously, Lauren has not taken any History classes yet. If she did, she would realize that there has seldom been a time of no conflicts or catastrophic events, nor are they likely to stop with the death of Bin Laden (unfortunately).

    Personally, I am very glad Bin Laden was finally taken out, but dancing in the street in outlandish jubilation...... ridiculous!

    May 12, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  14. JonathanL

    Every generation has some kind of nemesis and a ton load of angst and challenges to get thorugh so this generation is not that unique. I grew up with the threat of the Atom Bomb, the cold war, and the winding down of socially approved racism and fear of communism etc...You can't blame all your difficulties on Bin Laden though he created problems for all of us in some way. If there is such a thing as hell and he is there fine, he desrves it, but I don't believe in such. Now he is dead. I didn't celebrate, but I did breathe a minor sigh of relief, and I do feel some pity for all us victimes. I was there and witnessed people jumping to their deaths. I suffered a form of PTSD for years – was moved around from my job. Certainly he didn't care what happened to our bodies. I hope this whole terrorist Jihad dies out with him. It is a sad thing in itself when killing someone can be termed a good thing but so it is, an evil, but good because it is a lesser of other evils, such as allowing him to live and continue to promote his cause.

    May 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  15. Nathan

    Oh please! It's called life!! Your generation has "had it bad" for the past 10 years? Are you serious?? I’ve never read anything more self centered. Go live a little, get a few years under your belt, then come back and write an article that doesn't make you sound like a spoiled child.

    May 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  16. Lora

    I commend the author. I don't think it could have been written any better!

    May 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  17. Bart in Omaha

    To Concerned Student: Not all life is sacred. If you had cancer, would you seek treatment? Cancer is a living organism – is it sacred? I know, you'll say that life (cancer) has to be eradicated so that the other life (your own) can thrive. Kind of like killing Bin Laden. And I agree with Ghandi, the change I'd like to see in this world is where bullies get their comeuppance. I applaud your sensibilities and compassion, but your compassion for a mass murderer is misplaced. Remember, different people have different emotional responses to events. You don't want to celebrate? Fine. Other people do. Fine.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  18. Bob

    And then we went to Iraq and murdered 260,000 children and a total of nearly 1,000,000 civilians...who is the boogie man now....911 was an inside job and Bin Laden never admitted to the crime..Ever! In fact Bin laden was never put on the FBI most wanted because they never had any proof that he was responsible....Know your facts folks and the truth will put you behinde bars.....facts have become subversive...2 + 2 = 5....we are down the rabbit hole....

    May 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Jordan

      260,000 children , 1,000,000 people??? Where did you get your numbers??

      May 12, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Kat

      http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/topten He has been on the top ten list with the FBI for a very long time.

      May 12, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Artist

      Bob you are rambling again. Take your meds please.

      May 13, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  19. Food for thought

    I was honestly conflicted on the question of if it is appropriate to celebrate Bin Ladens death. Fortunately I have many friends and work with veterans of all ages (current and past conflict veterans), who served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I was most surprised by the feeling I got from most of them. That it Was NOT okay to celebrate his death. Dont get me wrong, they were happy he was dead, he was the guy we were going after.. BUT... They all said that one of the worst parts about being in Iraq or Afganistan (and there were many) was seeing the few small crowds of people in the streets celebrating in the aftermath of the killing of U.S troops, burning the US flag etc. I will never forget what one vet who served for 2 tours in Iraq and 1 in Afganistan told me... "When I saw all this celebration in front of the white house, I was so angry. I thought we were better then that!"

    May 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • vasechek

      i was wondering about the reaction of those in the military.
      thanks for sharing some of their perspective.

      May 12, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Sage

      Your experience must have been singular. Because of all the military personnel that are close to me, to describe their mood as celebratory would be a gross understatement. The sense of relief at the fact that all the time, the sacrifice, the blood that was given in the search for this man (who surely would have killed any of them if he could have) had finally paid off. It's hard to fathom someone being responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent lives. It's so much easier to label political opponents whom we know won't behead us. But the idea of mass murder and hate on such a scale is not something that easily computes with every day experience...unless you're there to see it on a regular basis. The military are. They are aware of the grave threat that he posed. And their lives were constantly put on the line to eliminate that threat. Like in 'To Kill A Mockingbird', no one complained when Atticus put a bullet through that wild dog. The difference is, bin Laden had a moral choice. Without the resistance offered by the military, he certainly would have inflicted his hateful ideology over a population that thinks it's experienced tragedy when the Starbucks server gets them the wrong latte.
      But that threat is no longer there. Not from him anyway. And when a leader is removed, the structure suffers incalculable damage. It was an elimination of threat that citizens & solders no longer have to wake up to. It's the victory of a peaceful ideology over a hateful one. It's the hope that evil does eventually meet justice. All these things are worth celebrating. If your version of celebration is solemnity, fine. If it's cheers, fine. If it's tears, fine. But one thing we know....there will always be a segment of the population who is just looking for an opportunity to establish their own moral self-worth by heralding how much higher a pedastal they stand on than those who don't value terrorist life as highly. They aren't usually the ones tasked with having to drop into the compound in Abbottabad. They haven't been personally affected by any of the deaths and tragedies. But they will always be here to tell us how much more ethical their uninvolved response is than anybody else's.
      Rather than argue with them, it might be better to understand that this need to find moral superiority in even the most emotional & important of issues demonstrates a lack of acquaintance with true face to face tragedy. We might envy for them for their fortune in life to be able to wake up so comfortably every morning...or we may pity them with having to wake up to the reality of the world as it is if they should ever be confronted with true tragedy & evil. Because odds are they probably will.

      May 13, 2011 at 3:45 am |
    • vasechek

      "But that threat is no longer there. Not from him anyway. And when a leader is removed, the structure suffers incalculable damage. It was an elimination of threat that citizens & solders no longer have to wake up to."

      Sage, for the sake of all your comrades in uniform, I really, really hope they don't take these your words as Truth. If they do even for a moment, we will have more of them never returning or returning in pieces. This is not a vertical organization, where you take out the top guy and everything collapses. this thing is de-centralized, and is fed by religious extremism that makes people into suicidal/homicidal/genocidal zombies as soon as they learn how to walk. This enemy has thousands of heads, millions even. We've cut off one, but it will surely grow another in its place and keep coming at us. It's funny you should throw a barb at those who value OBL's life too highly – I think you're guilty of that yourself. yeah, a high value target, but one of too many. Your liver will give out before we're half-way done there, if you get drunk over each of their deaths.

      May 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  20. Concerned Student

    I believe you are wrong. All life is sacred, even that of a serial mass murderer. I am a student at Georgetown University and I watched these events unfold outside of my window and it was one of the most traumatizing experiences of my life.

    If you need the death of an unarmed coward (that is what he is. when you kill civilians, you aren't a mastermind or some type of archetypal malignant sociopath, you are a coward) to celebrate and see something great in this world, then you need to GET OUTSIDE AND DO SOME COMMUNITY SERVICE.

    Gandhi once said "be the change you wish to see in the world." Our generation, although we have faced much, have also done much in the face of adversity and hardship. Celebrate these things.

    Maybe I just hope we are better than that, better than a war mongering group of young people celebrating with a patriotism stained with years of bloodshed.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Artist

      Not all life remains sacred. Some humans fall short of that and must be removed and absorbed into our earth. I was not happy at his death, rather felt a GREAT relief.
      .
      When dealing with suicidal type people who like to explode themselves, unarmed does not mean safe. They had miliseconds to make a decision and when they say he was unarmed but resistant, that tells me he was making a move that cost his life.
      .
      Myself I would have rather seen him captured alive and sentenced to life in a very small cell to suffer and see the daylight for 1 hour a day. 24 hour cam so the public could see his suffering at will. And when he died then cast his body to the ocean for the creatures to consume him to where nothing remained of him.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Stork

      Concerned Student said about watching dead Osama celebrations, "and it was one of the most traumatizing experiences of my life. " If that is the most traumatizing experience in your life then you are WAY TOO sheltered. I guarantee that 9/11 was much more traumatizing.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Concerned New Yorker

      I really wonder how that could be the most traumatizing experience in one's life. I'll tell you something from personal experience: witnessing 9/11 unfold in New York was the single most traumatizing experience of my life. The devastation, the panic, the shock and fear on people's faces, the pictures and posters of loved ones, the makeshift vigils, my friends parents killed, my teachers brothers killed - THAT was traumatizing.

      Osama Bin Laden was an unjust aggressor, having killed innocent people and waged war against all the good and moral people on this earth. It was morally right (and perhaps even required) to put an end to his evil ways. It was not wrong to kill him; it was not wrong to celebrate his demise. This is the world we live in. Denying this is like denying human history.

      There is, in fact, absolutely nothing wrong with patriotism, and what happened that night was not warmongering. That night, America celebrated a victory over evil. If you don't believe it is right to rid this world of evil, and you don't believe people have a right to wage war in self-defense, I think you live in an idealism that will never be present in the real world.

      May 12, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • vasechek

      new yorker, your experience must have been so traumatizing that you can't think clearly (at least re: matters related to this subj) and your post is mostly emotive. sorry for you pain, but can't agree with you on the celebrations for a bunch of reasons. 9-11 was close to home for me, too, and I will never forget that day, but that makes me NOT want to dance in the streets about anything connected to that event unless we figure out a way to reverse history and make it so that it has never happened.

      May 12, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Concerned New Yorker

      @vasechek, you are right - my post was emotive (probably should've been clearer on this), and I completely respect your right to disagree with me, but I should probably clarify my thought process:

      On the matter of Bin Laden's death: While the act of killing is bad always, I believe it is always OK in self-defense. While it would have been better to capture him alive, question him, and send him through some sort of court system, the SEALs were in a risky environment that required split-second decision making; and even if it was the intent to kill him the entire time, I still hold it was okay as an act of self-defense against a man proven (not suspected, proven) to have waged war on our nation. Simply put, in war, you are allowed to kill your enemy. The following is a quote from the catechism of the Catholic Church (IMPORTANT: not that it makes it better that it's from a religious authority - I'm just using it because it happens to sum up my view): "The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility."

      On the matter of celebrations: I should have probably used a better word than "demise," because I'm not really convinced anyone was celebrating death. Sure, they were celebrating IN someone's death, but I don't think anyone was going "yay death is great." I think what was really being celebrated was a tangible victory in this intangible conflict we are engaged in. While I understand many still don't believe it's right to celebrate your enemy's fall, and I thoroughly respect everyone's opinion on this matter, embracing that position also means embracing the position that celebrations of any victory over an enemy is wrong, including the Allied victories in World War II. Maybe I am a pessimist, but I think many (not all, and I'm certainly not accusing you or anyone in particular of doing this, it is only a general statement about the world we live in today) people have a hard time separating aesthetics from morality.

      May 13, 2011 at 2:05 am |
    • vasechek

      new yorker,
      I have nothing to disagree with in your first paragraph. It is very clear to me that this guy chose war and virtually imminent violent death and only got what was due to him. I don't believe he was going to surrender given the chance and I am not going to second-guess the seals for a second.
      On the celebrations, when you have to write an essay on why even if it looks like a war dance of blood thirsty barbarians, it really is something white, warm, and fuzzy, it already has a certain smell.
      Then I take the argument that this is celebrating victory, similar to the celebrations on V-E day and it doesn't hold any water for me either. V-E day was the END of a 6 yr long all out war. Everyone knew that on the next day will be peaceful, all involved (save for the dead) will come home, the bad guys will be punished and no one will even think of going into war again for the foreseeable future. Can you spot 10 differences between these 2 pictures :)? The first thing they told us was that we should expect an uptick in terrorism now that OBL is gone. Yes, this is a battle won, but this was a minor battle and the victory comes 10+ years and countless lives too late. The war is nowhere near won. It goes on, and no one will be happier than yours truly when it finally does end in the demise of terrorism. The terrible thing is that unlike some dictatorship in some country where everything swings on one figurehead, this terror machine is based on ideology that turns people into zombies, living terminators, and the fact that their current leader died a violent death at the hands of their common enemy will only give more weight to his preachings.
      Then there is this – it took us, the self-proclaimed biggest, baddest, strongest and a bunch of other -ests ever 10 years to locate someone who was living pretty much in plain sight. The seals' raid was in retrospect nothing much to be proud of: a NYPD SWAT team would have done no worse. they didn't meet a whole lot of resistance and even had some mishaps along the way in what otherwise would have been a walk in the park-type operation compared to what they train for. Not a knock on the seals by any stretch – flying in there they had no idea what awaited them and they were brave to go in there and efficient in doing what they had to do. But the end result is – 25 commandos went in and took down 4 sleepy men and a woman. Excuse me for thinking that this isn't the occasion to celebrate our military muscle. Rather I am feeling a bit down about our intelligence community and our politicians who couldn't find him within some more respectable timeframe.
      Now let's see what these images of rock-concert type celebrations tell people outside the U.S. Our enemies see that a largely insignificant win that comes a generation too late is cause for dancing in the street. Conclusion – U.S. is weak and Americans know it – they think they got lucky when successfully cleaning out a sleepy household. They also see another little point – we behave just like them when we "win", so we surely don't have the moral high ground. This is also for independent observers and even our allies. For Canadians, Euros, Aussies, Zealanders to see us pis$ in our boots in celebration means that we were only serious about avenging 9-11, not stopping terrorism which they came to fight shoulder-to-shoulderd with us. and in addition – we behave the same way the terrorists do, when we score a hit. This maybe somewhat of a shallow analysis, but i bet you this is what the overwhelming majority of our allies think of us – blood thirsty barbarians. Most Americans are not that – you and I know it, but the select few will paint all of us the same way and the result can only be negative.
      anyhow, lots of characters. if you read this far – congrats on your patience and be cool 🙂

      May 13, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • concerned reader

      couldnt agree with you more on many of these points, our generation has plenty to be proud of, and celebrating the death of a coward is not one of them. Bin laden doesn't even deserve that much attention even in death. every new day is a cause for celebration in my book, it's this swirl of negativity and self pity that is poisoning our planet

      May 14, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.