I am glad Osama is dead. I am not exuberant as I expected I would be. But I am glad.
Ten years ago on September 11, I was at a company meeting on Long Island. The next day I was supposed to launch a book at the Journal, right across from the World Trade Towers. We watched the second plane hit on the TV in the bar. We tried to be professional and continue our meeting, but one of our team had an apartment within blocks of ground zero, and halfway through our next session she broke down into hysterics and starting shouting about her cat, which was locked in her apartment. We canceled the meeting and walked on the beach quietly for the rest of the day.
The next day, I called Avis, and they said to get the rental car back when we could wherever we could, so John and I drove back to Chicago. I did a double take as we crossed the bridge when I turned to look at Manhattan and where the Towers had always been was empty save a plume of smoke.
When I got home, I turned on the TV. Seven hours later my wife got home and found me sitting on the sofa in the same place watching the TV, sobbing uncontrollably. She turned off the TV and led me upstairs to bed, where I stayed for two days. I suppose it is the only time in my life I have ever felt real depression.
I think I know why the event hit me so hard. At the end of the day, America is a land of immigrants. We are here because we had nowhere else to go. The countries we came from didn’t want us, and were happy to see us go. Some of my forebears came on debtor prison ships from England, literally transported in chains away from their families and home country. I am an American, despite all my liberal affectations of worldly sophistication. I am an American, and when I saw those planes hit that building I felt the same rush of fear and hatred my ancestors felt a thousand years ago when someone yelled “Norse” and blond savages streamed into my village with swords and clubs.
Six months later, I went to New York to make a sales call on a client at Philip Morris. She chain smoked with shaking hands, and somehow we started talking about 9-11. Not somehow, that was all anyone in New York talked about for that next year. Anyway, she had a lovely story of giving her shoes away to a woman who needed them and walking to the ferry and hitching a ride home in a car full of strangers brought together by this event. She started crying and soon I was crying again too. I walked over and turned out the office light and we sat in the almost dark for an hour, while she told the rest of her story and talked about people she knew who’d been killed. I left her in the dark room.
We closed our office in downtown NY because of the smell. I couldn’t get it out of my head that I was breathing burned bodies.
On the El this morning no one was high fiving or celebrating. Many of the people there were just children when it all happened, and probably don’t feel what I feel.
What I feel is not really happiness, but more like satisfaction, albeit of a grim sort. I understand that we are a nation of laws, and nations of laws do not carry out extra-judicial assasinations in other countries. What we did was murder, pure and simple, and that I have as much blood on my hands as those who stormed the compound. And I am OK with it. Because he killed my people. If I could have, I would have strangled him with my own hands. He is dead, and my day is better for it.