Monday, May 2, 2011

Searching for VJ Day

On my way to work this morning, I passed the World Trade Center site. There were lots of camera crews, lots of commuters and lots of cops. Everybody seemed to be taking pictures, but there was no obvious focal point to the scene--no waving flag, no inspiring orator, no sailor giving a nurse a passionate kiss as in Times Square at the end of World War II. I was glad that Osama bin Laden met his just end, but I couldn't shake the feeling that this was not a clear-cut ending, the way VJ Day was for World War II. I rode to work anticipating revenge attacks and an interminable war in Afghanistan. Then Peter, in one of our many conversations conducted by cell phone as I stride through Newark, gave me a new way of looking at the situation.

With bin Laden dead, the US can begin redefining its fight against Al Qaeda and its allies. That means enduring vigilance, but hopefully a giant step away from the wars like Iraq and Afghanistan that have done so much to tarnish our democracy and stain our reputation in the Muslim world.

John Kerry got it right in 2004: the United States' war against Al Qaeda and its allies should be conducted with the long-term goal of reducing it to something like our national fight against organized crime: something we do with complete seriousness, but not something that eternally defines us and our nation.

Kerry knows something about war, unlike George Bush and Dick Cheney, but that didn't stop the GOP from ridiculing him as an ineffectual, defeatist Democrat. Hardly.

For some time, we've needed a win in the fight against Al Qaeda that would restore our sense of strength, reduce our fears, and give us the confidence to wage this struggle in ways that are consistent with our best selves.

When US forces killed Osama bin Laden, they gave us a just and useful victory. Let the president make the most of it, even if it isn't the equivalent of VJ Day.

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