By Matthew Rothschild on May 02, 2011

I always rejoice at the death of a mass murderer, and Osama bin Laden was definitely a mass murderer. He killed 3,000 people here on 9/11, and he killed more than 300 in August 1998 in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

So I understand the sense of relief or closure or even triumph that many Americans feel today.

But it's worth grappling with precisely what it is that bin Laden did, and why it is that Americans are chanting "USA, USA" today.

What bin Laden did was to use violence as a ready tool to advance his purposes.

What bin Laden did was to wantonly sacrifice the lives of innocent people in service of those purposes.

In this regard, bin Laden is no different a mass murderer than William McKinley was in the Philippines.

In this regard, bin Laden is no different a mass murderer than Harry Truman was when he dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In this regard, bin Laden is no different a mass murderer than Ronald Reagan was when he funded and trained the contras against Nicaragua or backed the Salvadoran military against the rebels there.

In this regard, bin Laden is no different a mass murderer than Lyndon Johnson was in Vietnam.

In this regard, bin Laden is no different a mass murderer than George W. Bush was in Iraq.

Oh, there is one big difference: bin Laden killed far fewer innocent people than any of those U.S. Presidents.

So, when you examine the righteous triumphalism than many Americans are feeling today, it comes down to this: We're not against using violence as a ready tool to serve our purposes; we're not against wantonly sacrificing innocent lives; we're not even against mass murder.

We're only against it when violence is used against us.

We're only against it when ours are the innocent lives being sacrificed.

We're only against it when we're not the ones committing the mass murder but are the victims of the mass murder.

This understanding puts a creepy edge on the rah-rahs of today.

Until we renounce violence as a convenient tool, until we stop sacrificing innocent lives, until we no longer excuse the mass murder that our own government commits, we're not in much of a position to celebrate.

And spare me Obama's talk of "justice" being done. That's exactly the same phrase Bush used after U.S. forces gunned down Saddam Hussein's sadistic sons, Uday and Qusay.

It's not "justice," as we've come to revere it in this country: a system that upholds due process and habeas corpus and assumes the innocence of the accused and allows for trial by jury.

No, what Obama and Bush were talking about was rough justice or frontier justice.

The word "justice" should not adorn an assassination.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Obama's Musical Chairs: Continuity in a Bad Way."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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