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Twenty-Something in the bin Laden Era 3 May 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Random.
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Four years from now, I will have lived more than half my life in the post-9/11 era, and, according to the relevant averages, when I die, I will have spent at least four fifths of my time on earth having known the fear of terrorism in America. On Twitter, Facebook feeds and televised interviews on the street, I have seen celebration–jubilation–at the news of Osama bin Laden’s assassination.

As if his death matters.

Soon, my generation will barely remember what life was like before the war on terror began. We’ve lived with that war for as long as we’ve been aware of current affairs. We’ve watched two real wars unfold, littering two countries—countries that most American can’t even place on a map—with the dead and dying. Perhaps we succeeded in Iraq. Perhaps we will still succeed in Afghanistan. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think that bin Laden and the attacks on 9/11 didn’t goad us into it. We have repaid the loss of 3,000 lives with destruction orders of magnitude greater. How to even approach this “Arab Spring” as a twenty-something Iraq?

Yet we look at these wars, and we ask, “Have they made us safer?” That we even pose that question is a testament to bin Laden’s success. Our parents feared a nuclear holocaust, but what could they do? Terrorism, though, offered a face of a sort, a dangerous unpredictability and a threat we could conceive. Far from the dread of vaporization, terrorism threatened to invade our lives, to touch us if we made the wrong decision, if we, say, visited the wrong outdoor cafe one morning. If we picked the wrong flight. In our fear, we  accepted any number of inconveniences, intrusions and outright violations. We accepted (then forgot) illegal wiretapping; we tied drug use to terrorism; we today undergo the embarrassment of a full-body search each time we fly. Are we any in any way safer for all that?

No. Because now we text and drive.

Bin Laden injected a fear into our lives, not so much filling a void as creating a wholly new avenue. And if my generation believe his death marks the end of an era, then we must be sorely mistaken. This remains the bin Laden era. We will die in the bin Laden era. We have seen no roll back in US security, no slackening of our efforts in Afghanistan, in short, no sign that anything at all has changed. Our purpose in killing bin Laden was, evidently, retribution, and life in America remains the same.

But perhaps if we believe otherwise we can effect a different and more rational future. If bin Laden’s death marks the end of something, maybe we can elect to make it end of irrational fear. Maybe I can once again meet my family at the gate when they come to visit. Maybe I can, as my friend Michael put it, at least bring my own shampoo with me when I fly. I would welcome that future, even if (especially if) we no longer see full body scanners protecting us at the airport. Can we really accept an America with more liberty and more danger?

I submit that we can. We have lived a decade in fear of perceived but minuscule threats, committed more than a trillion dollars to foreign wars, while ignoring the death an suffering right under our noses. I am not afraid of bin Laden and his terrorist ilk, but of a society that continually bleats “security” yet demonstrates an indifference to the plight of tens of millions of fellow citizens who cannot afford health insurance. We have allowed one man to create a new America. He is dead. We can become a new America again.

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