The demise of bin Laden does little to undo the countless mistakes we’ve made in his name.
By Dante Zappala
reposted from The Philadelphia Inquirer
Amid the requisite flag-waving, chanting, and nationalistic fervor over the death of Osama bin Laden, I will not be rejoicing myself. There will be no vindication for me as I remember the sacrifice of my brother, a soldier killed in Iraq in 2004.
If the largely symbolic event of bin Laden’s death brings closure for the countless people affected by the tragedy of 9/11, I wish them peace. But his death does not offer any to me. It cannot undo the legacy of the reckless endeavors undertaken in the aftermath of that tragedy.
What may be convenient to forget in these moments of righteous chest-beating is that, shortly after the devastation perpetuated by this criminal, we accepted an ideology of permanent war. We waved not the Stars and Stripes, but the flag of revenge.
The so-called war on terror took us to Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 or bin Laden. Preemptive warfare was introduced to the lexicon of American foreign policy. We happily absorbed a series of fabrications that told us our own security depended on bombing and invading this country. In the process, we abandoned ideals that are essential to our tradition and spirit.
My brother was killed chasing a ghost, scouring the desert for weapons of mass destruction. But the true ghost we chase – the bin Laden that is still hidden to us – is our sense of security. In that regard, the legacy of bin Laden will be that he successfully baited us into endless conflict in the Middle East, putting us on a road to military, economic, and moral bankruptcy.
Will bin Laden’s death make us finally feel safe? This country spends more money on its defense than all the other nations on Earth combined, and yet we cannot say with any conviction that the wars in the Middle East have done anything to increase our security. The consensus, in fact, is that they have done the opposite.
The Iraq war is winding down without having met any clear military or political objectives. Waste, fraud, and mismanagement will define the conflict, as will what promises to be an indefinite military presence there. In Afghanistan, our forces have tripled, and though the definition of victory is ever-changing, we still cannot achieve it. And now we are engaged overtly or covertly in operations across North Africa.
Meanwhile, there are more than 1.5 million veterans of these wars, many of whom served multiple deployments. Traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder scar this class of heroes. More and more, the veterans of the global war on terror are in homeless shelters, prisons, or dead by their own hands. The toll will span generations.
Who has benefited from this sacrifice? I certainly have not. And I feel certain that most Americans have not.
Will the death of bin Laden resolve our need for permanent war? The likely answer is no.
Bad guys, both real and exaggerated, will continue to exist. We will remain fearful, and we will squander treasure and opportunity on the premise that we are perpetually threatened.
The only way to truly kill Osama bin Laden is to reevaluate what we have done in his name. We must take a long, hard look at why we continue to spend $10 billion a month and to accept, albeit with sorrow, the loss of life in Afghanistan. We must question why we so readily drop bombs in Libya while some of our own city streets resemble a war zone.
If we can face these hard truths, we can bury our ghosts along with this monster. Then, and only then, will we be vindicated.
Dante Zappala is the brother of the late Sgt. Sherwood Baker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.