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The end of an era

May 10th, 2011

Just like that infamous day almost a decade ago now, I will always remember where I was and what I was doing when I learned that Osama bin Laden had been killed. As I was watching hockey highlights, my roommate yelled to me, “We got bin Laden! People’s Facebook statuses are going crazy right now!”

I ran into the room, turned on the news, and watched NBC’s coverage of the announcement that, and I saw that, yes indeed, we had finally taken care of bin Laden. Now the pretty unanimous feeling about the event was (and still is) a euphoric one, with college campuses erupting with choruses of “God Bless America,” and politicians releasing statements about the great work of the U.S. Special Forces and the leadership of President Obama.

But for me, I didn’t immediately feel the need to burst into sudden rejoicing like the rest of the country over the death of the mastermind of  9/11, who had killed almost 3,000 Americans on our own soil. To tell you the truth, I felt an almost somber feeling.

I think I felt like this because I did not understand what it meant right away. The man we killed over the weekend was not the same man he was almost 10 years ago, the one behind the attacks on 9/11. I’m not saying he somehow was void of his responsibility for them anymore, but rather that his significance had certainly been lowered. Bin Laden may have been the figure head, the face of al-Qaeda, but he was not calling the shots of the terrorist network at the time of his death, nor had he been for nearly a year.

He was nothing more than a symbol when he was killed in his max-security compound in Pakistan. Terrorism did not suffer a heavy blow, it was nothing more than a moral victory for a nation that was wronged by him. But what is important, why this may be the biggest news story of the year, and perhaps even since 9/11 or the Iraq War, is that his death marks the end of an era.

It seems like yesterday that Mr. Kerwin, my social studies teacher in grammar school, broke the news to our sixth grade class that our country had been attacked. It was the beginning of the age of modern terrorism, the new terrifying global reality. Osama bin Laden had taken over the “most evil man in the world” title. Terms like “jihad” and “militant Islam” were thrown into everyday vocabulary, often misunderstood and causing much harm. It was an entirely foreign and frightening experience for Americans.

What bin Laden’s death doesn’t signify is the avenging of those he killed. In fact I’m sure he felt that if he was killed, he would have felt even more glorified, more infamous, which is exactly what he would have wanted. Americans avenged the death of those 3,000 people themselves by soldiering on after 9/11, and not giving in to the fear that he tried to instill in us. That was our revenge.

What his death does signify is the end of the post-9/11 era. Terrorism is not new and foreign to us anymore. Just like the Red Scare faded into the past, the initial frightening blow of what bin Laden had accomplished is now done. That chapter of American history has been closed. May God bless America not for killing one evil man, but for what she has endured for the past ten years, and that she shows the same bravery and resiliency in whatever the future holds.