It has been nearly a week since the FBI's most wanted terrorist was found and killed. Along with the drunk college students pouring out of DC area bars following President Obama's address that night, most of the country seemed to be celebrating the news. And why not celebrate? After ten years, billions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of lives, we located the man who became the face of terrorism worldwide. A man who coordinated the most devastating attack on American soil in history. A man who took the lives of three thousand innocent men and women in one morning. We got him. Good job America. Justice has been served. Time to party.
Except that attitude didn't sit right with me. The phrase that came to mind was Pyrrhic victory. But looking beyond all the political, financial and personal baggage accrued over the last ten years, essentially we were celebrating the death of a human being. It felt wrong, no matter what atrocities he committed. It is easy to compare this week's pictures of cheering Americans to the pictures of cheering crowds in the Middle East following 9-11. Justice is such a convoluted concept. Who has the right to claim life in exchange for another? There is no changing the past. We should be better than that. We should substitute reconciliation for vengeance. That is the only path toward peace in this world.
A day later I posted a status update to Facebook:
After thinking over replies from friends in very different situations, I saw some validity in the search for justice. It is easy for me to downplay it because I am so far removed. For those who have seen the war first hand or lost loved ones, it must be infinitely more difficult. Ideally, we would be able to completely forgive those who trespass against us, but when we have been deeply wronged or hurt, the desire for justice is nearly insatiable.
I received a couple of emails yesterday which reminded me of a deep wound, one which I have all but learned to ignore. One which has shaped the last ten years of my life and my view of God. One which leaves me gasping for air at times. One which I still dream about. Without resolution, there remain residues of helplessness and frustration.
I want justice. It is an immature, irrational desire, but recognizing it doesn't suppress it. Even if reconciliation were a viable option, I don't know if I could follow through. I know that forgiveness is an open door to the cage of bitterness, but I do not want to forgive. I want to be avenged. I'd rather watch the source of my pain go down in flames than bring healing. It is all kinds of wrong, but the desire for justice is stronger and simpler than the desire for reconciliation.
I imagine it is similar to what America is experiencing. After a decade of fear, fighting, and ridiculous airport security, we have destroyed the perceived source of our troubles. Unfortunately, close and personal pain does not see reason, it seeks relief. It is our weakness that bids us to seek justice, but I would be a fool to think myself above it. Sometimes we as a country and we as individuals are unable to be any better. It is up to the best of us to resist those urges. Lead us with strong hands.