Celebrating Death

I realize that this is likely to offend some Americans, and maybe other people as well, but it’s been running around my head for some time. My intention isn’t really to offend, no matter what you might think, but I think the topic could use some airing.

What I’m talking about is the parallel between two groups of people celebrating a death or deaths.

There were well-publicized celebrations in some parts of the world after 9/11. People danced in the streets, happy about the fact that America (and individual Americans, one supposes) were killed in this way. These celebrations were (quite rightly) denounced in the Western press as being barbaric, savage, unconscionable, and so on. And, as I said, rightly so. The idea of having public celebrations about any event as tragic as 9/11 certainly should strike any modern ethically aware human being as deeply wrong.

Given all the anger, bile, and condescension demonstrated by the press in particular and the media at large, not to mention individuals, it still didn’t seem to strike anyone as strange when Americans were shown celebrating in the streets at the news of Osama Bin Laden’s assassination. Somehow, that wasn’t shocking at all.

It also didn’t stop Aaron Sorkin from centering an episode of The Newsroom this past season on the same event. Now, I thought the first season of the show was great, and Jeff Daniels in particular was surprisingly effective. But, at the same time, the tone of this episode struck me as being in extremely poor taste.

The fact that this hasn’t come up more often leads me to believe that maybe I’m one of the few people who thinks so.

Now, I don’t deny that there are differences. The 9/11 victims were civilians, and Bin Laden was a terrorist/freedom fighter who in some sense had opted into the “war”. Many many people versus one guy. Massive collateral damage versus none (maybe; little, in any case).

However, the bottom line is: do you want to be the kind of person who celebrates death, in the street, like it’s your team winning a football game? Never mind that I personally would tend to steer clear of celebrations in the street for whatever reason; if something was going to get me out there, it certainly wouldn’t be to whoop and cheer about somebody’s – anybody’s – death.