Culture

Walter Kirn On The Killing Of Bin Laden

All week I’ve grappled with writing something weighty and thoughtful about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, but could just never bring myself to do it because, frankly, I didn’t think that I had anything to add to the conversation. Other people much smarter than me had written things I’d found myself nodding in agreement with as I read their words — and I try my best to avoid pontificating when other people are out there doing it well for me — so I stuck to linking and excepting some of what they wrote here.

But then this morning I read something that novelist Walter Kirn — the author of “Up In The Air” and numerous other titles — had posted to his blog (which lovingly features a giant picture of his much-younger girlfriend on the top of the landing page), and I thought, “Well hot damn…he just expressed things that I’ve been feeling that I didn’t even know I was feeling.” And that’s why Walter Kirn is one hell of a f*cking writer.

He writes:

It had to end somewhere, History’s Greatest Manhunt, but the fact that it climaxed in dull suburbistan next to a training base for the hunters’ allies proved less startling than the discovery that the hunt was still going on at all. Like the Monday morning shock of 9/11, the Sunday evening shock of Bin Laden’s death caught America flossing, concluding a tragedy that we’d stopped thinking about with a catharsis that we’d stopped hoping for. It was a moment of spooky historical symmetry, especially as it played out on TV. Down a long hallway that symbolized the past strode a grim-faced first-term president whose skin color, which we still notice despite ourselves, made him look like a figure from the future. Just as we had when Bush spoke way back when, we knew by the time Obama opened his mouth just about everything he had to say, which only heightened our need to hear him say it.

What followed was a patriotic head rush, the first thrilling chill of tribal unity that we’d enjoyed in a decade that felt like three. For an instant, I was ashamed of this euphoria — after all, a human being had died, and my taxes had paid for the bullets that blew his face off — but then I relaxed and let myself regress, perversely pleased that geek-era America hadn’t entirely lost the John Wayne ugly streak that separates us from the Belgians. Like the pug-nosed New York City firefighters whose machismo I’d borrowed ten years earlier, the Navy Seals aroused a part of me that I’d kept hidden but never out of reach, much like the hunting knife stashed under my car seat. It appeared that Obama shared my instincts. As he uttered the pitiless words ‘at my direction’ in reference to the lethal raid, his educated features hardened slightly.

Harvard Law Review, First Blood.

There are times when one’s solemn duty as an American is to watch cable news for days on end and track a big story from its early stages as a government-sponsored morality play toward its mature form as a media-driven incoherent muddle. In the earliest version of Black Hawk Up: The Payback, a cowardly Osama with a gun ducked behind an unarmed woman when Team Testosterone tagged him with its red laser dots. How our guys shot around her and brought him down was left unexplained to protect our high-tech secrets. Later on, in a transitional version, the woman declined in prominence, leaving a slow-draw Osama to face the music of a so-called ‘double tap.’ And then, inevitably, he had no gun, though he did make a move consistent with trying to fetch one. Same difference. Our heros shot him in the eye, as the photos of his corpse would prove. If only they weren’t too gruesome to release. At which point, out of nowhere, a dog entered the story.

Sometimes, as a person who writes, you read something so good that you just want to give up, because you know you’ll never be that good. This is one of those times for me. Holy sh*t is that guy good. Go read the whole thing, will ya!

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