Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Osama bin Laden and Unrealistic Hopes

These last few days, I have been on a trip to attend a U.S. Army Chaplains training conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.  I have been in hotels, airports, and restaurants in my military uniform, sometimes with other Army Chaplains, but often on my own.  For these several days, I have had an experience happen over and over.

Everyone wants to ask me what I think about the recent death of Osama bin Laden.

At breakfast, at lunch, at dinner.  In the grocery store picking up a forgotten essential, in the lobby of the hotel, on the plane flying here.  People, men and women, come up to me, and ask me some variation on the following question…

“So, what does a military man think about the fact that bin Laden is dead?”

The answer I’ve been giving is that it really does not change anything… or if it does change anything, it only means that we are at a greater risk of a terrorist attack now than we were last Sunday afternoon.  Osama bin Laden was a financier and a theoretician for Al Qaeda, but he was not the operational commander.  The terrorist network now has many operational commanders, in the many different Al Qaeda affiliate organizations around the world.  He was not directly involved in operational planning as far as anyone can tell, and likely was just trying to remain covert and alive.  While it may have a long-term effect on Al Qaeda, we cannot know what that long term effect may be… and in the short term I think it has made increased attempts of terrorist attacks on U.S. interests more likely, not less.

When I say something like this to someone in the grocery store or the hotel lobby, they just seem to look at me, uncomprehending.  It is as if they were looking for me to validate the feelings they seem to be having that this is some great victory, that it signals the end of the global war we are currently in, or that it means we are all now “safe” in some way we were not before.  When I do not validate their feelings, it seems to deflate them.  Sometimes they walk away with a dejected look, sometimes they seem to get very uncomfortable, and sometimes they just cannot connect with what I am saying.

One guy took to arguing with me about it…

Hope can be a dangerous thing when it is unrealistic.  As a military chaplain, often my job is to bring hope into places and spaces where hope is lacking.  Yet if that hope is not realistic, it can cause even greater damage than if it was not there in the first place.

Have you ever had a time in your life when, amidst a time of failure, loss, or challenge you came upon some reason to feel hope, only to have those hopes dashed by the final reality of that failure, loss, or challenge?  Unrealistic hopes get past our guards in ways few other things do.  I know that some of my greatest heartaches in my love-life come from times, amidst arguments and disagreements, I thought for a short time that we were working things out… that things “were getting better”… only to find out that it was not to be.

This is my worry for our nation right now… that the death of Osama bin Laden is leading to some unrealistic hopes.  Hopes that this means the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention the other places we have troops) are about to end.  Hopes that this means the end of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups being a threat to our safety.  Hopes that this means that all of our troops can now come home, and this new military pattern of cyclical deployments can end.  Hopes that this means we can finally attach meaning to all of the sacrifices, the deaths and the costs of these last ten years, and write the history books.  Hopes that this means so many different things… many of which I have heard expressed in these conversations these past few days.

I worry what it will mean when those hopes that are alive in so many right now prove to be unrealistic… when it becomes clear that the death of one man, no matter who that man was, will not change the world that we now live in so quickly.

For few things are more dangerous that unrealistic hopes.

Yours in faith,

Rev. David

6 Thoughts on “Osama bin Laden and Unrealistic Hopes

  1. David, The line “the death of one man, no matter who that man was, will not change the world that we now live in” jumped out at me as perhaps ironic coming on the heels of Holy Week and the Easter season. I totally agree with your statement in terms of Osama bin Laden. I guess I wondered for a moment if the death of one man had ever changed the world we live in.

  2. Very good post David.

    In fact one of the most realistic and revealing takes on the recent killing of Osama bin Laden that I have read so far, and that includes numerous news reports from respected print media. . .

    Your concluding statement to the effect that “few things are more dangerous that unrealistic hopes” echoes the following quote from a decades old Unitarian Universalist tract –

    Freedom of belief is not a licence for religious anarchy or irresponsibility. It is not a franchise for *wishful thinking*. It is an opportunity for careful, hard, honest thought. Every person should develop his or her own capacity for personal judgment so that she or he may, in the words of the apostle Paul, “Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good.”

    I find it quite regrettable that so many Unitarian*Universalists so often disregard these cautionary words of Rev. Charles Eddis, minister emeritus of the Unitarian Church of Montreal.

    I would be interested in hearing your opinion regarding the fact that Osama bin Laden was killed, rather than taken alive for interrogation and prosecution, especially in light of the recent change in the official story to the effect that Osama bin Laden was not armed when the Navy Seals found him on the third floor and even suggestions to the effect that he was taken into custody and executed later.

    Those suggestions were reportedly made on Al Arabiya television –

    Al Arabiya television went further, suggesting the architect of the 9/11 attacks was first taken prisoner and then shot.

    “A security source in the Pakistani security quoted the daughter of Osama bin Laden that the leader of al Qaeda was not killed inside his house, but had been arrested and was killed later,” the Arabic television station said.

    Source – http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110504/pl_nm/us_obama_statement

    What do you think of this report?

  3. Marsha,

    I would actually argue that the Easter example of Christ bolsters my argument. The hope for a spiritual resurrection is different than the very real world practical transformation that I sense as hoped for among people today.

    The death and spiritual resurrection of Christ did change the world… But probably not till Nicea in 325…

    Not the next morning… or even three mornings later…

    Yours in faith,

    Rev. David

  4. Hello Robin,

    Ok, I’ll take the last first. I know little about the reports that say that bin Laden was killed somewhere later. When I was a very low level special operations soldier back in the 90’s, I was often amazed at how many different reports were generated when special ops missions made it into the media. The necessary covert nature of such work often feeds the conspiracy gene in the human DNA. I don’t know for certain that’s what is happening here, I just know that I’ve seen the trend at work before.

    It is amazing some of the stories around the killing of Pablo Escobar, and how little they relate to the reality.

    I like the quote from Charles Eddis… I’ve spoken with Charles on a few occasions, as I was researching the history of the Civil Rights movement in Evanston, IL. He is a kind, wise, and prophetic soul.

    As far as whether bin Laden should have been taken alive… I know of only one successful capture and then effective presentation of a terrorist/guerrilla leader that lead to the degradation of the terrorist/guerrilla organization they led… and that example would not be a good one for the US to follow. That example is what Fujimori did with Guzman in Peru. It was effective to make the terrorist leader seem completely crazy (using whatever techniques necessary) and then put him on national television… and it is not something the US could or should do.

    That being said, I think our nation needed the trial. I think we needed the opportunity to take the shock and grief around 911 out and process it. I think we needed to reduce al Qaeda from a psudo-nation-state to a criminal enterprise. I think we have propped them up with borrowed legitimacy for too long.

    It would have been hard, and painful to do it… yet in the end I think we would have been a healthier nation for it. As it is, we are in a moment of false hopes and unknowing celebration, as if our “team” won the Stanley Cup… when in reality you almost never win a war.

    War is almost never about winning or losing… it is about cleaning up the mess. You don’t think of the guys in the garbage truck as “winning” each morning as they make their rounds… You just think you don’t want to sit next to them when they go for lunch.

    Yours in faith,

    Rev. David

  5. Margot Haynes on Thursday May 5, 2011 at 10:51 +0000 said:

    Rev. Pyle–Thank you for your realism. I have found factual and spiritual support in Juan Cole’s “Informed Comment” blog , as well as yours,

    and also a piece in the online UU Heartland Newsletter (reprinted from epicparenting.com) by Sara Brown about “The real monster in the closet: On talking to kids about Bin Laden’s death.”

    Cultivating vengefulness and self-righteous violence in our children would be wrongful at any time, but a lot of public behavior right now seems to head in that direction. In contrast, I am looking forward to reading the new biography of Stanley Anne Dunham, Barack Obama’s mother, who was able to teach him how to deal with racism of other children in Indonesia without violence and vengefulness.

    Anyway, just wanted to share a couple of good resources and thank you for your realistic comments in this blog. Margot

  6. Pingback: Bin Laden, educational alternatives, and other UU blogging « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

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