For reasons I have not been able to fathom, there are those from both the conservative and progressive camps who seem to think that when Americans cheered at the death of Osama bin Laden that made them just as wicked and bad as those who cheered for the deaths of innocent Americans on 9/11/01. I believe that false moral equivalences are being drawn, and that people are ignoring the context implicit in bin Laden’s actions and in history.
The 3,000 dead on 9/11 were not all innocent people, but none of them other than the 19 highjackers had joined onto a secret army that had declared and was waging acts of war against the kindest, most industrious, and most powerful country on earth. Most of the 3,000 dead were innocents. They were husbands and wives and children and grandparents who worked for private companies producing goods and services that made customers happy, and for which those customers were willing to pay. Most of the remainder worked at the Pentagon doing desk duty, so they were logisticians doing the unglamorous, dreary support work necessary for the world’s most powerful military to have boots to pull on every morning. The 3,000 dead were engaged in commerce, businessÂ and military administration. Though there might have been some active thugs and criminals in their number, in a free country like the US that is usually less than 1%. The rest were good people who were killed by an act of war committed by international terrorists.
In the old days international terrorists, traveling on shipboard, highjacking other ships, mass murdering and invading towns, committing acts of war, stealing, raping, and enslaving, were called pirates. Almost every nation agreed on the punishment for pirates. They were hanged until dead. No trial was needed. No quarter was given. They were hanged at dawn as an object lesson to all who thought the life of a pirate might be romantic and better than the alternatives. Sometimes they were hanged by the “short drop,” which slowly strangled them to death, sometimes by the “long drop” that broke their neck, and sometimes in a cage that killed them by drowning as the incoming tide submerged them. The only nations that disagreed on piracy were those like Algiers and TripoliÂ that believed in a jihad justification for piracy and used pirates and other international brigands as an irregular military arm of the state. Even when states like England and the US issued Letters of Marque that blessed privateers with an official commission, they never argued that piracy itself was perfectly legal or ordained by God.
But they did hang pirates who survived long enough to reach the gibbet.
This internationally agreed punishment comes from Natural Law. We who come from the Greek, Roman, Christian and Jewish traditions understand we have the God-given right to defend ourselves, and if one of us murders another thenÂ the murderer’s own life is the price he must pay. Vengeance is the means by which this price is extracted from a murderer. The Law of any nation or state consists of a mutual self defense pact between all the free people who join in the state. So the state becomes the executor of the Law, and rather than allowing for vengeance by family and friends the state takes care of all that. But there is still the Natural Law with the right of self-defense underlying the acts of the state.
In the old days, public executions were the way this need for vengeance was satisfied. The captures and executions of infamous pirates were cheered, as were their deaths in combat. It’s the way it always has been. It isn’t just tradition, but wired into the human soul to want vengeance. We want and need vengeance on those bandits and pirates and small organizations who make war against us and create chaos in our ordered communities. We want and need vengeance against those nations that employ pirates and brigands as catspaws to harass enemies on the seas, roads and in other lands.
And so it is with Osama bin Laden. He was a pirate chieftan, hiding in his windowless mansion in Pakistan, supported by the spy service of a semi-enemyÂ country that pretends to be our ally against the same pirates and brigands it recruits and deploys against us. Bin Laden had declared war against the United States of America and its allies. In the belief system of the left, he had challenged the only god that mattered, the Leviathan State. In the belief system of the rest of us, he had made it a religious war, a Jihad against all English-speaking Christians. He killed thousands upon thousands, and entangled our nation in wars abroad. These are mortal crimes. There is only one punishment. He had to die. We don’t hang at dawn in public anymore. Instead, we kill with guns or bombs and publish the photos. It’s the same effect. It’s ugly, yes, but does not reveal any special wickedness in us. It shows that we are people much like our ancestors and need vengeance. There are still Natural Laws that need to be followed. Murder is punished by death. And the closing of the circle is celebrated.
Let me repeat. It is not the death of the murderer that is celebrated when justice is done but the closing of the circle. It is the resolution of the chaos that was created by the initial murder that makes us cheer.
We have too long attempted to overcome these hardwired impulses in our selves to no avail. Vengeance is not only natural, it is part of a right. And we have the right to cheer when it is taken.
Unlike those on the streets of Judea and Samaria on 9/11/01, I did not cheer for the deaths of innocents. I cheered for the resolution that came with the death of a murderer. If some people can’t see the difference that isn’t a problem with me. That’s a problem with them.