In the storm of reactions to the death of Osama bin Laden, Megan McArdle flags some fabricated wisdom.
“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr
A quick google search turns up lots of tweets, all of them from today. Searching Martin Luther King Jr. quote pages for the word “enemy” does not turn up this quote, only things that probably wouldn’t go over nearly so well, like “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.” I’m pretty sure that this quote, too, is fake.
She attributes spread of the “quotation” to unease among many observers that Americans have seized this moment, a long-postponed victory over a global villain, to take leave of our own moral bearings.
It is hard not to think that some of the impulse to celebrate “justice being done” may also contain a certain pleasure in revenge — not just “closure” but “getting even.” The world is not safer with Osama bin Laden’s violent demise (threat levels are going up, not down), so no cause for celebration there; evil has not been finally removed from the Earth, so no reason for jubilation on that count. The War on Terror goes on, so there is no closure in that regard. The truth is that “celebrating justice” when one person is killed — as happens regularly in the gang wars of American cities — only incites further desire for revenge, which, from “the other side’s” viewpoint, is usually called “justice.”
I think there’s a difference between celebrating the death of a categorically evil force and morbidly savoring the many crude details: that bin Laden “saw it coming,” that the bullet smashed through his cornea, that maybe we’ll get to grin over photos of a bruised, bloodied corpse. Anyone who could savor a death — any death — so thoroughly, I don’t want to share a moral plane with in condemning murder and murderers.
All of that said, I have no idea what Kai Wright is on about:
We have a $14 trillion deficit. A massive giveaway to defense contractors lurks inside that number—a transfer of public funds that has been justified, in ways both explicit and implicit, by the evil visage of Osama Bin Laden. And now, Washington is as likely as not to make up the loss by taking apart the safety net that once created something like economic justice in America. But the president would like us to agree that we are great because we can kill. “May God bless the United States of America,” Obama declared last night, a sentiment echoed by so many today. Indeed. But the familiar refrain feels to me more like an urgent plea for forgiveness than the triumphant war cry that it is.
So there you have it: We have no business celebrating the death of a mass murderer as a basically just event, because our economic system is corrupt. It’s a sloppy and obnoxious argument — all 1960s sentiment, but with none of the inspiration or focus. It’s the moral pose of a Very Serious Liberal. It’s a pose that aimlessly strains both the poseur and anyone who entertains him.