COMMENTARY: Violence never represents greatness

By Brian J. Trautman

My reaction to news of the successful targeted assassination of al-Qaida founder and most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was unlike many Americans’. Celebrating killing and death felt wrong, and to witness my fellow citizens cheering jubilantly and chanting nationalist slogans with joy and pride was disheartening.

 Instead of reveling in more militarism and murder, our energies should be devoted to bringing home the roughly 150,000 American soldiers still deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq and in harm's way every minute of every day.


National unity shouldn’t be born of and driven by acts of aggression; it should be shaped and inspired by individual and collective compassion and an altruistic desire to advocate for and alleviate the suffering of the tens of millions of civilians around the world, especially the children, who live in conflict zones and engage in a daily struggle to avoid the inhumanity and indiscriminate brutality of oppression and war. The jubilation that has been exhibited by our country’s mainstream media, politicians and public in the wake of bin Laden’s slaying is clear and disturbing evidence of a revenge-minded culture, one that unfortunately continues to resort to failed retributive measures to solve problems.


In doing so our society ignores the underlying causes of violence, such as poverty, thus inhibiting just and sustainable solutions from being considered and implemented. In his remarks to the nation Sunday night, May 1, President Obama said, “today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country.” By what measure, Mr. President, does violence and killing serve to make any nation great? These actions represent not ‘greatness’ but shallowness and desperation. When will our leaders learn that the answer to violence is not more violence? When will they learn that the would-be bin Laden's of the world are best neutralized through mechanisms that promote democracy, freedom and human rights, i.e., international law enforcement, humanitarian aid and assistance, universal primary education (particularly for women and girls), social services, and nonviolence training.


When will state-sponsored reprisals and war no longer appeal to our leaders as morally right or as viable means by which to achieve justice and restore and maintain order and harmony? When will the aggressive and vengeful thinking and behavior end? Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and more than a trillion dollars spent in pursuit of bin Laden and his relatively small contingent of followers under the guise of the so-called "war on terror."


Will it end now? Alas, I doubt it very much. I don’t mourn the demise of Osama bin Laden; I’m relieved he can no longer hurt people and engender mass suffering. I am, however, troubled by the message that celebrating bloodshed sends our young people and future generations; I am saddened by the missed opportunity that this incident offered our nation to engage in a serious and long overdue dialogue about the many costs of violence and the ethical and strategic utility of restorative and transitional justice and nonviolent intervention as methods to prevent future violence and atrocities, including terrorism.


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Brian J. Trautman is a U.S. Army Veteran and Peace Educator/Activist. This commentary was distributed 

by PeaceVoice, a program of the Oregon Peace Institute, Portland, OR.