Was he armed?
There has been a great deal of discussion this week about whether or not Osama Bin Laden was armed when US Navy Seal Team 6 aprehended and killed him. This article from NPR summarizes the transcripts of what was said officially on the subject as the story unfolded: On Whether Bin Laden Was Armed.
I find this whole obsession amusing in a morbid sense. Americans have all grown up with and internalized the western movie code that you don't shoot an unarmed man. The ethical gunslinger would sometimes even give a gun to the bad guy so he could kill him in good conscience. The idea behind this is that good people only kill when there is no other choice. And so, even though the American public seems elated and broadly supportive of the operation of Seal Team 6 and its outcome, we still need to know if the bad guy drew first.
While most of America will not lose a moment's sleep over the demise of Bin Laden, the idea that he didn't pull out his six shooter and die in a "fair" fight is clearly of interest to us. The fact that early statements from officials implied that he did speaks to the sensitivity of Americans on the subject.
My personal feeling about this is that it is not related to the wild west, nor to American fairy tale sensibilities. This was a cold, calculated, thoroughly planned and painstakingly executed operation by the only global super power. It had nothing to do with US Marshal Matt Dillon's moral character. Nothing ever done by a super power has anything to do with our John Wayne national self image. All that is window dressing for mass consumption. That OBL would die a violent death at the hands of the state was almost inevitable. And he very likely expected it. He certainly set himself up for it.
What is really at stake here is the energy and direction of the age we live in at a global scale. and that brings us to my second point.
Does it really matter?
The other big question on the minds of everyone these days is what impact this development will have on global terrorism as an organizing principle. Will this demoralize al Qaida or steel their resolve? Will it bring new converts to the movement or will it frighten them off. Terrorism is already losing its lustre. Yes, it's still out there, and still going on, but the Arab and Muslim worlds have moved on. They have discovered a more effective model for change.
As evidence, I submit to you Tunisia, and Egypt, and all the middle eastern nations in which the populations are standing up and openly and collectively challenging the oppressors that have governed them brutally for so long. Terrorism is for people who fear reprisals if they protest openly. What is happening now is not cloaked in fear and subversion, but rather, has gone beyond that, to revolution at any cost. It is open and direct.
Terrorism thrives when the powers that be are so strong that they cannot be opposed openly. When the hunger for freedom overcomes fear and stands up at any cost, irresistible forces are humbled and terrorism ceases to be useful or relevant. The world is moving into a new phase of openness. And so, the death of Osama Bin Laden, while inevitable and emotionally satisfying to many Americans, is too late to be significant as more than a marker of an era already in decline, and so is irrelevant in the shifting of planetary forces currently under way.
Footnote: This article showed up online hours after I posted.