Saturday, May 7, 2011

Necessary, But Ugly

It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grow too fond of it. Gen. Robert E. Lee

A few days ago, John Stewart said just about everything that needed to be said about President Obama's decision not to release the photos taken of Osama Bin Laden's death:

He does a good job of explaining why no one with a functioning mind would think:
  • That the sight of the photos would somehow make Americans queasy
  • That release of these photos would somehow inflame the Muslim world
  • That watching CSI:Miami is a good way to spend an hour of one's life
We haven't been the home team in a major war in a long time. That perspective is something that the residents of France, Cambodia, and Iraq, among others, could provide, which is that the effects of war are often horrific, and they can last for a long, long time after the war is over. Thanks to several generations of not having to deal with that reality, we have developed a highly sanitized idea of what war is. I suspect it's one of the reasons we're too fond of it.

People in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are aware of the realities. As Stewart mentions, sometimes all they have to do to acquaint themselves with it is look out their windows.

The death of Osama Bin Laden, at least if it occurred in an effort to try to capture him, was a necessary thing, but it was also an ugly one. I don't feel the need to celebrate it. I respect and appreciate the courage and skill of the people who carried out that mission, but after ten years OBL's death seems almost anticlimactic. His movement will almost certainly survive him for a long time. And, as Ian Welsh points out eloquently, he has already won. We are the fearful and paranoid population of shut-ins he would have wanted us to be if he knew what would kill the American way of life most reliably.

The only thing the Obama Administration's refusal to release those photos shows is their disrespect for both the intelligence of people who live in the Muslim world, as well as that of its own citizens. That release is, like the act they chronicle, a necessary, but ugly thing.

Afterword: That quote of Robert E. Lee's, one of my favorites of the Civil War, is especially poignant, as he uttered it after the Battle of Fredericksburg. It was, as the Wikipedia article notes, a lopsided victory for Lee's army. Yet, almost 2,000 soldiers were killed that day, and considerably more carried wounds that would affect them for the rest of their lives.

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