The view from in front of the White House
By Clayton M. McCleskey / Contributing Writer
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1:30 AM on Mon., May. 2, 2011 | Permalink
I've just returned from the White House, and I'm trying to make sense of the massive street party that has broken out on Pennsylvania Avenue. Don't get me wrong, Osama bin Laden's death is definitely a moment worth celebrating. But the mood began to feel more like a soccer riot. I went ready for a moving patriotic moment, but left feeling like many in the crowd had totally missed the point.
On the one hand, people were singing the national anthem. Some in the crowd were more somber. I noticed several with tears in their eyes. But I also spotted several bottles of booze making the rounds as people took big swigs of vodka and waved American flags. Folks were lighting cigars and holding signs declaring "Ding, dong! Osama's dead!" and "America, F%!& yeah!" I saw couples making out. Since when is the death of a terrorist a turn on?
A guy from San Antonio wrapped himself in the Texas flag and led cheers of "USA! USA!"
I hadn't seen a crowd this big gathered outside the White House since election night 2008. On that night, I didn't mind the crazies in the crowd because it was by nature supposed to be just a big party. Tonight, however, I was uncomfortable with mood. The crowd seemed dominated by those hoping to grab the attention of news cameras (such as the guy in a Spider Man outfit made out of the American flag), while others looked on, trying to figure it all out.
A few minutes ago I talked to ABC News in Australia to share my observations on the Osama news. Having seen footage of the crowds in Washington, the journalist calling from Sydney was a bit surprised when I told him that there were at least a few in the crowd who weren't carrying on like soccer hooligans. Sure, there was definitely a frat party element to the evening, but some were there simply to witness history.
"I wanted to be part of such a historic moment," said Nathaniel Glover, a student at American University who raced to the White House as soon as he heard the news. He said killing bin Laden was "retribution" for all the families who lost loved ones on 9/11. Glover then added he didn't think Osama's death would necessarily cause much change, saying, "This is more of a symbolic thing, it's a morale thing."
He is right. I fear that this will lead many Americans to think we have now defeated al-Qaeda or that terrorism is no longer an issue. The media isn't helping -- I heard several cable news anchors speculating that this could "change everything." One went so far as to say bin Laden's death could mark the shift from a decade of terrorism in the Middle East to "a decade of democracy." That might be a bit of a stretch. Just recently Foreign Affairs ran an interesting piece about al-Qaeda's growing strength, independent of bin Laden.
That said, we should take a moment to celebrate, but with the proper frame of reference.
"The scene you see is jubilant, and rightfully so," observed Martin Scales of Flower Mound, who I found strolling in front of the White House wearing the Texas flag as a cape. "But it has taken a lot of lives, a lot of effort for us to get to this point. A lot of Texans have paid the ultimate sacrifice ... we can't forget that."
USA! USA! USA!
I am not sure if climbing a lamp post is the best way to mark the occasion ...
1. Is it right or wrong to celebrate the death of bin Laden? (or anyone)
2. Do you believe that is death is significant as it relates to the current "situations" in the Middle East, the "war on terror", in terms of national security, or in terms of anything, really.