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More Dogs on Main

A couple of days after the announcement that bin Laden had been killed, one of the cable-news channels had a little poll. The question was simple: Do you feel safer now that bin Laden is dead, yes or no? The answer, at least for me, has proven a good deal more complicated.

I saw the president’s announcement on TV just as I went to bed Sunday night. There was a real satisfaction in the news. The bastard was finally dead.

The elation was brief. I had in mind old-style wars, where the death of the leader would be the death of the war itself. Hitler killed himself and Germany surrendered. Japan surrendered in a formal ceremony on battleship. George Bush had warned us that this conflict would not end that way. We aren’t fighting a state. We’re fighting against a twisted worldview, a malignant idea mutated from the dark ages. Maybe killing bin Laden will cause the collapse of the support structure for that idea, because even amorphous enemies need some kind of infrastructure. Maybe the information taken from his hiding-in-plain-sight home will let us stomp out a few more of the key people. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

But what is missing is the images of joyous U.S. servicemen packing up their duffle bags and heading home by the thousands. Victory should look like that. But apparently killing bin Laden doesn’t get us home. So I’m disappointed.

Do I feel safer, the poll asked. I guess my answer is that, once we got through the Olympics without incident, I have never felt unsafe. Frankly, I think Goldman-Sachs poses a greater threat to my well-being than Islamist terrorists. The big banks did far more damage to my security than bin Laden. Can we send the Seal Team to Wall Street?

Of course, that’s coming from somebody who lives far from the attacks of 9/11. I didn’t know anybody killed there. My only connection is as a fellow human and American. I don’t mean to downplay the horror of the attacks. The memory of watching them on TV that morning is still very much with me. But here in the mountains of a state that most Americans couldn’t find on a map, I never really felt threatened. Awful as it was, this was not Soviet tanks rolling down the streets, not even in New York. We don’t have car bombs in the grocery-store parking lots; it was not widespread.

Just coincidentally, I was involved in a recycling project that was based out of the county search & rescue warehouse in Kamas. The place is crammed full of expensive hardware, mostly bought with Homeland Security money, preparing us for the terror attack that won’t happen here. But if the Lusitania sinks in Rockport Reservoir, we have the necessary deep-water rescue equipment in the Summit County Navy. Do I feel safer because of that warehouse full of hardware? It’s not where I would have spent the money. Billions have been spent preparing for extremely remote risks. Fear has become big business.

Since the news broke, the discussion has been about everything except declaring victory and coming home. I don’t want to see the photos of bin Laden’s brain oozing out of his skull. I don’t need the YouTube version of the raid, or details like whether he slept in briefs or boxers. He’s dead. Our adventures in that part of the world were supposed to be all about killing bin Laden. Better late than never: mission accomplished. Despite the detours into nation building, dictator removal, franchise operations in Somalia, Libya, Pakistan and elsewhere, we got it done. He’s dead. With the information we got in the process, maybe we can hit a half dozen others. The revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere look like a rejection of the bin Laden philosophy.

I’m glad he’s dead. I’m grateful for the men who are willing to risk their lives to kill vermin like that. The excitement of the news quickly passed as it became clear that the wars will continue without a defined purpose and apparently without end. Killing bin Laden was supposed to make it stop.

We have put the terrible burden of this war on a tiny minority of Americans who willingly joined the military. Their families haven’t had a good night’s sleep in 10 years. The rest of us are not even inconvenienced by it. The wars barely register as a political issue. We’re more concerned about Obama’s birth certificate and the price of gasoline.

I was in Salt Lake Monday morning. It was a lovely spring day and I walked all through the downtown area. If there was jubilation in the streets, I sure didn’t see it. It should be over, but it’s not.

Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column for nearly 25 years.


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