Guest Blog: Chris Jacobine
On the night of May 1st, 2011, I witnessed thousands take to the streets in State College, Pennsylvania, to celebrate the death of one of the most iconic, evil figures in modern history. The death of Osama Bin Laden served as a statement to the enemies of the “free world” that the United States and her allies had reach enough to extract a man who had evaded capture for nearly ten years and who, for a brief period of time, brought the colossal empire of America to a rigid halt. The end of Osama’s reign can be characterized by the gleeful demonstrations that took place across the United States on receiving word of his downfall, as a symbol of the prevailing nature of the so called “forces of good”. However, the United States as a country has failed to gain from this ordeal. Osama’s death has served only to absolve a decade of vindictive emotions and express that no foul play will remain unpunished as long as the enemies of “freedom” draw breath.
I would like to preface this piece by highlighting that the thoughts presented in this essay are entirely subjective, and written from the point of view of an American citizen whose opinions may differ greatly from my peers. The function of this piece is not to evoke an emotional response, but rather to express an alternate opinion that I feel has been omitted from the spotlight. Feel free to disagree with any of my points; in fact, I encourage you to.
From a historical perspective, there will always be a measure of bias concerning the retelling of any course of events. The documented perspective of nearly every critical event in history is that of the victor, and for that reason, opinions concerning historical figures tend to lack diversity. The most prominent example is Adolf Hitler, who is one of the most referenced historical figures of negative connotation in modern culture. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that Hitler’s forces had been victorious in their conquests of Europe, and that the subsequent peace left the entire continent under German rule. The historical data retained and distributed to the average citizen concerning the war, in this circumstance, would contain a very pro-Nazi bias. And if the programs implemented in Germany, such as Hitler’s Youths, and the functional nature of fascism had spread to Germany’s colonies and experienced the same successes that they brought to Germany, perhaps the distrust of Hitler and the Nazi regime would wither over time. Generations of students would read textbooks that commend the Third Reich on its accomplishments and offer no alternate viewpoint. Certainly this idea is disconcerting for those who recognize the implications of Hitler’s aspirations, yet parallels can be drawn between this scenario and the American empire as it stands today.
Many, if not most, Americans believe that we are part of the most prolific and successful nation that the world has ever seen, whose power and status is unquestioned around the globe. This notion is unfounded. Certainly the American economy is the most productive and powerful in world history, and our military has a near perfect record, but no country in the world has a weaker semblance of culture. Our lives are built around modern engines and materialism, with the belief that success in our lifetimes can only be achieved if we live the American Dream that has become the object of our desires. By embellishing in modern luxuries, the structure of life has become a progression that feeds on our greed and latent desires, only pausing briefly to boast our own worth to induce jealousy in others. Pride plugs our senses and limits any chance that we have of learning things from other people and cultures.
It is for this reason, in conjunction with the sheer might of America as a country, that I feel justified in saying that the bias that the American culture asserts, both inwardly and as a perspective toward the rest of the world, is comparably alarming as the idea of a victorious Nazi regime in World War II. The ideals that we take to be factual are simply our own cultural axioms, which are no truer from a universal sense than any other culture’s beliefs. The people of Germany believed that their cause was just when they went to war in 1939, as did the Americans when we bombed Baghdad`. Too often, we mistake consensus for fact, and are unrelenting in our defense of these beliefs. And although culture as a concept is built from this notion of agreement within a community, the idea that our beliefs are absolutely true has bred widespread contempt toward the United States
Asserting that any one culture’s way of life is ideal is an insult to the global community. One of the fundamental principles of life is that the experiences of a human during their lifetime cannot be defined by any distinguishable quality. Although we would believe that a wealthy individual who lives a long and prosperous life in a Western country has led a more fulfilled life than an orphan child in a third world nation, the two are interchangeable. Our backgrounds, family history and social status are all arbitrary in nature, and the opportunities given to different people are based on chance. There is no failure in the orphan’s life, as there is no success in that of the wealthy man. As the Italian proverb goes, “When the game is over, the king and the pawn go into the same box.” The actions that we take while we are alive are our own to choose, and by attempting to quantify whose life is more fulfilled or who lived a happier life, we lose our ability to empathize.
The extent of the knowledge that the majority of people around the globe have concerning current events is limited to the information and opinions presented by the media. This is an inadequacy that is overlooked by many, as we prefer to think that we have been given ample information and that our opinions are both insightful and knowledgeable. But just because a concept is the preferable option doesn’t make it true. Complacency breeds complacency and for our country to progress, we need to accept our limitations and embrace modesty so that we may think critically about our environment and build our own, individual opinions about a variety of global issues.
This notion is relevant in the discussion of the September 11th attacks. As with every dispute, there are multiple points of view, though the alternate viewpoint in this circumstance is often overlooked. We assume that there can be no logical reason for such destruction, and for that reason, it is presumed that the attackers are irrational in thought. However, to enact a plan so extreme, an excessive amount of logical thought must have been given to the issue. So the question becomes, what did we do to evoke such emotions? How have our actions influenced the world to the extent that institutions of people loathe us enough to inflict such pain? And ultimately, are we partially to blame for the September 11th attacks?
And so, as I watched thousands of people celebrate the death of a man none of them have ever met, I refused to partake on principle. I do not think the death of Osama Bin Laden is a cause for celebration, but rather disappointment. This decade-long culmination of efforts only succeeded in ending one man’s life. We have not learned anything from this ordeal, nor did we attempt to. Our resolve now is as strong as it was ten years ago, and our inflated ego blinds us from distinguishing between fact and opinion, instead relying on the adage that ignorance is bliss.
The victims of terrorism have not been done justice by the murder of Osama Bin Laden. If we ignore tragedy as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, then every victim of the September 11th attacks died in vain.