On September 11, 2001, I was in Columbus, OH. I had moved there a week before to start graduate school. I knew no one yet and was planning to spend that weekend in Virginia with friends. I was getting a late start that morning and had sat down to check my email when a friend IMd me to tell me the news. I didn’t go to Virginia. I stayed and watched as history and horror unfolded as one. I watched by myself, in a strange city, as alone as I had ever felt in my life.
The next morning I woke up with the horror still fresh and the first words to cross my mind were “Osama bin Laden”. September 12, 2001 was my 28th birthday. In the midst of all the other fear and confusion, I was pettily angry that Osama bin Laden had ruined my birthday weekend. Though I left that day for Virginia and spent the days with my friends, it was different. The football game we had planned to go to was cancelled. Another friend who was supposed to join us was trapped in New Jersey, staring across the river at the smoking wound in Manhattan. And America has lost her innocence.
Osama bin Laden is now dead. I will not mourn him.
Last night, as the rumors of his death preceded the President’s confirmation of the facts, I was struck by an overwhelming wave of grief for two men I lost to the war on terrorism: a CIA agent killed in a live-fire training incident in Afghanistan in 2003 and a DEA agent killed in a raid in Afghanistan in 2009. This does not bring them back. Nothing brings them back.
I will never forget the steely look on Presidents Obama’s face as he told the nation about administering the order to attack the compound where bin Laden was suspected of hiding. This was the face of a man who had knowingly ordered an execution. He looked changed to me in the moment. Changed, certainly, from the man I had watched laughing at the White House Correspondents Association dinner the night before. He had laughed only hours before authorizing the raid, fully knowing that it was imminent, or at least likely. He laughed before making history. He laughed before the consequences became clear.
The consequences are sill unclear.
Osama bin Laden is dead and so are countless others who died in the wake of his murderous obsession. To all the families that mourn, the families of the military, the intelligence community, the diplomatic corps, and the thousands of innocents who died in the 9/11 attacks, the families of everyone who has died in the conflicts overseas, foreign and American, those families all mourn. Nothing will change that. But maybe this will mark the turning point. Maybe this will slow the trajectory of the war on terrorism. Maybe now the barefoot boy in jammies beside me will never have to fear terrorism. Maybe this will be the beginning of the end.
Thank you to all who serve for bringing about this day.