It’s very odd how a news item about a death halfway around the world can brighten your day. The news lifts something dark, heavy and strangely personal from our shoulders. In a moment like this you recognize with fresh clarity how the shadow of 9/11 has bent our culture across the past decade – The Bin Laden Decade.
I watched the first of the World Trade Center’s towers collapse while standing barefoot in my living room. More than a thousand miles away, at no risk of personal harm, I experienced a scene like the end of the world.
Anyone witnessing that event could feel the darkness coming, and come it did. The ’80’s and ’90’s had brought victory after victory for peace, liberty, and the American way. It felt like the steady progress from better times to even better ones was a sort of birthright. The world was correcting itself and the century ahead looked so promising it was almost dull. That grand decade ended in a flash of murderous vandalism, a desperate, doomed gesture from the world’s bitterest losers. Bastards.
Better times would have to wait. The Bin Laden Era gave us the global revenge of the retrograde. Rationalism was drowned out by shouting and bombs, thought smothered by lunatic terrors. No fear too unreasonable to animate a crowd. No crackpot scenario too ludicrous to be believed. No good idea strong enough to sweep away the hysteria and unite us.
It has well and truly sucked.
The Bin Laden Decade is a time worth forgetting, except for the painful lessons it has (hopefully) taught. Perhaps a once-young nation now has a bit more maturity under its belt. Maybe we can now be seasoned and mature without surrendering to cynicism. Emerging from this time, we should recognize that the values we cherish are slowly but steadily advancing all over the world, with or without an army to impose them. This is a fine moment to embrace those values more ardently here at home.
All of us owe a hearty thanks to the thousands of men and women in uniform and in the intelligence services whose years of dedicated effort led to justice being done on our behalf. And we owe a unique debt of gratitude to the men who climbed out of a crashed helicopter in the darkness not knowing how or whether they would return home and did what had to be done. There are no words to describe that kind of courage and commitment.
History has no corners. The effort to impose a narrative on events is always somewhat artificial. But these moments offer symbolic opportunities to mark our culture for the better or worse. Now we get to decide what will follow The Bin Laden Decade. We have a fresh opportunity, as keen as the one we fumbled in the weeks after 9/11, to decide who we are and choose a new direction for our time. Maybe the cloud of weakness and vulnerability that has darkened our vision will lift, like the feeling when you walk out of a dark movie theater after a matinee to face the late afternoon sun. Our natural American optimism has been with us all along like a neglected toy. It’s time to pick it up and again play.
God Bless America.
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