(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—The smoke has cleared, the accusations are flying and Obama’s poll numbers are coming back down to Earth. Clearly the effect of the President’s successful killing of Osama bin Laden have worn off and the nation can go back to being concerned about more relevant issues like the economy, which rapper is visiting the White House and whether or not Donald Trump is running as a candidate or is simply a running joke. However, there has also been a bit of reflection especially on the American left, about what Osama bin Laden’s death really means to America and more importantly how to look at the massive celebrations that occurred throughout the nation. I’ll go on record as saying they were perfectly understandable and we need to give those kids a break.
Several political observers including the famous documentarian Michael Moore have commented on the fact that as amazing as it was to know that Osama bin Laden was finally killed, the manner in which many Americans celebrated in D.C. and New York was unseemly. The scene of thousands of young men and women, waving flags, climbing polls, screaming U.S.A.-U.S.A. and popping bottles of champagne at the death of one man was reminiscent of the same celebrations in the Middle East that we often decry here in the states. Even some celebrities on Twitter found this behavior tacky with Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, and Terrell Owens both noting how odd it was that a supposedly Christian nation would so openly cheer an assassination. Terms like “frat party” celebration and “ghoulish” are often associated with the young men and women seen celebrating. However I think many of these critics are missing the point about those celebrations and the young people who participated in them.
What some of us may forget is that while the terror attacks of 9-11 affected everyone in this country, the effects of that day and the subsequent decade affected us differently depending on what generation you hail from. For Baby Boomers (1945-1965) the 9-11 attacks were the beginning of the end of the roaring 1990s. The U.S. economy began to tank soon after the attacks and the last 10 years have meant financial struggle, and a horrible realization that America is not safe. For Generation Xers like myself (1965-1985) 9-11 was the latest and most spectacular in a lifetime that has been defined by plane highjackings in the ’80s, domestic terrorists and militiamen in the ’90s and now a never ending war on terror in the new millennium. But what about Millennials (1985-2005) those kids who were born into the financial boom of the ’90s with the Internet and hip-hop and globalization all at their fingertips? Half of their young lives have been defined by Osama bin Laden and their celebration was a relief and some of the first good news they’ve ever had. No wonder they were out there cheering.
Consider if you are in your early 20’s the defining moments of your public perception in America from your pre-teen years were Columbine in 1999, America’s very integrity being questioned during the 2000 presidential election and then the worst terror attacks in American history on Sept. 11, 2001. The last 10 years, and half of your life has been engulfed in a war that had a shadowy villain that no one seemed able to find. Rest assured, Gen Y has spilled the most blood in Afghanistan and Iraq as Bush cut Pell grants in 2004 forcing thousands of young men and women to join the Army for any chance to pay for a college education. We have a generation of young men and women under 25, shot, killed and maimed in a war started to catch one man: Osama bin Laden. To hear that the man responsible for dominating their perception of America had finally met his maker was the biggest relief their age group has ever had. Yes it may have been a bit tacky; yes maybe solemnity would’ve looked better on television but in the real world of a kid who had tears in their 10-year-old eyes as they saw buildings explode on television a decade ago, this was a needed release.
The Boomers got to see the Vietnam War end. Generation X got to see the Berlin wall come down and with it the Soviet Union. Even though the War on Terror isn’t over, the death of Osama bin Laden is a generational victory for today’s kids, and just this once we should sit back and let them enjoy it.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)