It should never be said that life in the United States is without excitement. Since before our founding fathers even had a written outline for what we could be and where we might grow, this little conglomerate we now call America was rife with turmoil. Challenge. Opinion. Growing pains. We are so emotional, so invested in our survival…. We feel so deeply and with such passion that we often have a hard time understanding cultures that don’t seem to wear their hearts on their sleeves in the way we can relate. Consider a stereotype of the Swiss, the English, the Korean, the practical whole of Eastern Europe and Russia. Not to say these cultures don’t feel their emotions deeply. I’m talking about stereotypes here. There are cultures that may seem to outsiders as preternaturally peaceful or stoic. Just as others may seem consistently romantic or jolly or hot-headed. Of course, anyone who knows anyone from Switzerland or Moscow knows casting them as always peaceful or stoic is just as ridiculous as saying someone from Bourgogne, France, is always in the mood for love; or an Inuk resident from Nunavut is always smiling and jolly; or a young man from Cuenca, Ecuador, is forever spoiling for a fight. But, every culture utilizes pre-conceived notions–for good or ill–and applies them to their interactions at home and abroad. For good or ill.
Being American, which often means being self-absorbed, I wonder about our stereotype. Especially in these last couple decades when technology and the internet has shrunk our borders and dissolved so much of our national privacy. The World Wide Web has put the dissemination of information into overdrive. The snowball originally rolled by Gutenberg’s printing press, and nudged along by Morse’s telegraph and then by Tesla’s radio signals and Farnsworth’s television is now a massive spinning electronic avalanche of fact, fiction, yellow journalism, rumor and innuendo. By and large, nations no longer seine for fish or pan for gold to survive. Every citizen of the planet, however, must diligently filter through the information they receive and determine what to believe, whom to trust and what to discard as partial truth, blatant lie or flat-out political manipulation. This IS a matter of survival.
So…all these things that have happened to America the Beautiful and all her sister nations in the last decades…all the good and bad alike…faster than ever before spread around our greenish-blue marble for all to see. All the laundry aired in an instant, powered by the click of a button…the tap of an ENTER key. Information now spreads faster than wildfire. Faster than a heartbeat. How else is it possible that an IT consultant in Pakistan could inadvertently reveal to hundreds, then thousands, a military mission so top-secret that some in the highest levels of the pertinent governments didn’t receive official notification of it for almost an hour? The ball was zapping through Twitter like lightning before President Obama had even sighed a breath of relief that the soldiers on the ground were safe.
With all that instant information comes instant reaction. Instant reaction means instant judgement and speculation. In this circumstance, for some that meant to go to the streets in celebration. It meant jubilant cheers that vengeance had been delivered. Justice was done. The bad guy got what was coming to him, and America is back on top! USA! USA! USA! Which truly has been making me cringe. Please…let’s not celebrate death. Let’s congratulate one another that our soldiers are safe and functioned as a well-oiled machine. That the mission was executed about 95% as planned, and that no civilians outside the compound were injured. Back in the first horrible months after Sept. 11, 2001, appliques started turning up on cars…Dennis the Menace taking a leak on the word “Towel Heads,” or on symbols of Islam. I felt the same thing then. We were hurt. We were acting out. We were showing our ass. Which may have helped some people feel better, in a way, but it was not productive. And now is the time to be productive.
For others, the reaction to Monday night’s news was judgement and speculation. Was it really him? “No! There’s proof he died of liver failure eight years ago!” “No, he died of heart disease in that cave back in 2007.” “No, he’s not really dead at all! He’s in witness protection!” “He was unarmed!” “He made a run for the door!” “Why did the SEAL shoot him if he was unarmed?” “What does it matter, the Bad Guy is dead!”
Which of course leads to the next Big Debate…. To show the photo or not show the photo. My gut reaction is to say no. Please do not air the photo. Although bin Laden may have been Public Enemy #1, he still has family that were not involved in his nefarious activities. He has sons and grandchildren and other extended family that were not in any way members of Al Queda. I can imagine those people are feeling grief and loss for this person who brought them truly complicated emotions and life events. Grief and loss for a human whose life could have ended differently. And those who followed him…their reaction could be even more guttural. How do Americans feel about international networks airing the executions of our soldiers? Or the desecration of their bodies? I’ll remind you. We’re outraged. We get f*****g pissed. Because its not right. It’s not decent. It only incites rage and prejudice. I know our soldiers are ready for more fight, but that doesn’t mean we need to guarantee more of them could die in one. Don’t air the photo.
There are some that would argue two points here. #1) That the image could help provide closure to the survivors and their families. Not being one of those folks, I can’t judge that. But they seem all too aware that his death doesn’t bring back their loved one. #2) It will prove that it was really him, and cease speculation and ease the American psyche. Well, forgive me but I don’t think our self-image can really be healed by this after all the damage we’ve done to ourselves in recent history. It will take more than this to balance all the grandstanding and name calling and fame-seeking-at-all-costs…. All the political antics tearing at the tenuous fabric of our government at a time when we need to be more unified in our compassion and patience and foresight than ever before. What’s next? Celebrity hounds who demand to see the photo AND a death certificate? Perhaps an exhumation of the body from the Arabian Sea for personal inspection? Sometimes we have to trust the people we hired are telling us the truth. If they are not, you can bet the truth will come out. Now, faster than ever. Truth doesn’t stay hidden in an electronic age, it just gets harder to discern from the hype. Example: Everyone who says the release of President Obama’s long-form birth certificate is a sham, I’ll just ask you, are you kidding? Do you really think the President of the United States would rely on a fake form created in Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to prove his birth on American soil? Could you concede, just for a minute, that the guys on the internet are maybe just a little less than credible when they’re sharing their information with a man who’s in possible contention for the 2012 presidential race? The same methods they use to “prove” it’s fake can also be used to create a fake document and then use it as the alleged original fake. I know we all want to place blame for our life disappointments and hardships, but witch hunts are not the answer.
I’m sorry. I digress.
I have never been off this continent. I haven’t traveled overseas or below the equator. I’m not sure exactly what other cultures in other nations think about our antics online or off. I do worry that we often let our emotional exuberance get ahead of us. Whether its our joy or our anger or our (shudder) condescension, I wonder if wearing our hearts on our sleeves exposes us to disdain and in fact adds to some of our international challenges. Maybe not. Maybe our fellow men and women across the borders and over the waters appreciate the American stereotype…brash, full of freedom, opinionated. Or maybe they just see us as always showin’ our asses. Always dancing at the news of an enemy’s death. My thoughts are that our national cry for retribution doesn’t justify a lack of decorum. It does require us to be more diligent with our efforts to communicate. With each other, with people new to our country, with people we meet when we visit their countries. Because surely that’s another part of our stereotype. The communicating and talking and expounding on and on about all the things that get our vast emotions broiling. As I’ve just done, ad nauseum.
For the record, I don’t think justice was served. For that to happen, bin Laden would have needed to feel an hour of terror in a cramped, shaking stairwell before being crushed to death. Or they could have flown a plane into the side of his building. Or perhaps he could have had his legs blown by off by an IED on an Afghan roadside. I think justice means equal. Certainly, everyone impacted in any way by the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole or the embassies in 1998, or every horrible thing before or since that Al Queda operatives have engineered has their own ideas of justice. Showing our asses, as you know, means we get to have big, ass-shaking opinions. We’ll probably disagree on them, of course. Someone will go online and demand proof that someone else really said or meant one thing or the other. We’ll argue and we’ll wallow in our freedom of speech and things will get exciting. Things will get emotional. Over here in America, that’s just how we roll.