Thursday, May 05, 2011

Bin Laden as Howard Hughes

Most events, even the seemingly momentous events, fall into the soup without moving the pot. They dissolve and may change the flavor ever so slightly. The difference can hardly be noticed. Occasionally, something happens that rocks the kitchen and knocks the old soup pot off of the burner.

Then we clean up the mess and put a new pot on the stove; history’s soup-making process starts all over. Disasters can literally cause such an upheaval. Most cultural earthquakes are metaphorical.

President John F. Kennedy’s assassination shook us to the bone and we clearly weren’t the same afterward. Eleven years later, President Richard Nixon’s resignation had a sweeping effect on the American culture. Almost instantly, it put hippies and their preoccupation with social causes out of style.

Nearly 10 years after 9/11, it’s amazing how much that day's mayhem and heroism changed America. And, my guess is the death of Osama bin Laden is also going to have a far reaching effect, here and abroad.

That doesn’t mean I’m saying bin Laden’s violent death in Pakistan means an end to terrorism, or any particular group of terrorists. What I am saying is that it will give us all pause. We will now reflect on the last 10 years and see those years as a unit, something to itself -- an era.

How and where bin Laden died is going to continue to speak to the future in a special way for some years to come. He didn’t die in a cave, fighting with his comrades by his side. He had been living like crazy old Howard Hughes, holed up in a hotel in Las Vegas.

That’s not a story that should have a positive effect on al Qaeda’s recruiting for a while. Like, who wants to wear a bomber's suicide vest to avenge Howard Hughes' death? This factor may do more to scatter and defang that particular gang of fanatical thugs than could a thousand drone missiles.

To many, bin Laden's evasion of the manhunt was symbolic of American foolishness, in spite of its wealth and power. Dead, with his actual lifestyle on the lam having been displayed for all to see, he will be viewed through a different prism. Now the gray-bearded weird guy looks more like an eccentric rich man who murdered thousands for his own amusement.

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