Bin Laden is Dead: The Speech Obama Could Have Given

Obama’s speech last night about the assassination of bin Laden offered, on the whole, much to be appreciated.  Certainly, it avoided the excessive martyrology and jingoistic Americanism that has characterized other Presidential speeches.  And certainly, it was far better than many of the lamentably vengeful and nationalistic sentiments that it seems to have called forth from so many citizens.  But, if I may be so bold, what would Jesus say?  What might Obama’s speech have looked like if he’d really had courage and conviction?  I can’t really claim to know the right answer to that.  But here, at any rate, is what I might have wished for: 

My fellow Americans, after ten years and a million lives lost, I can announce to you today the death of Osama bin Laden, the man our country has long pursued as its arch-enemy.  It is not my purpose here to rejoice in this death or any death, but rather to recall with sadness all the deaths on that September day and on the bloody trail we have since pursued.  For all the harm he has done us, we did not, for our part, wish death on bin Laden; even our enemies deserve our sympathy.  Vengeance should not be sweet; the path of vengeance is the road to perdition.  Today, our forces closed in on bin Laden with the intention of capturing him and bringing him to due justice*; unfortunately, he was killed in the resulting firefight, as were members of his family around us.  

Nonetheless, we will not fail to thank God for bringing to an end the life of this man who was an enemy to both God and man, whose death, perhaps, can help make the world a more peaceful place.  Justice is not sweet, but it is better than injustice.  Today, we renew our commitment to pursue peace, to pledge to the world that we desire neither power nor vengeance, but freedom and peace.  We hope that the death of bin Laden will mark, in many ways, the end of this long and bloody path we have trodden for the past ten years, that his followers will see the vanity and tragedy of wickedness, and may be reconciled to us, and we to them. 

I exhort you, my fellow Americans, to renounce hate this day, rather than indulging in it, to thank God for his justice, and pray for his peace.  Rather than getting caught up in the triumph of this day, I ask you to express your patriotism in a more practical way, to remember today the plight of your fellow citizens who suffer this day–the tens of thousands whose lives have been shattered by tornadoes this past week, and the tens of thousands whose lives are about to be shattered by floods in the coming weeks–and the tens of millions who suffer each day in loneliness and poverty.  Let us seek to show the world by our actions that life is stronger than death, that love is stronger than hate, that light is stronger than darkness.  


*Unfortunately, I doubt whether this was true.  It should’ve been true, but perhaps was not.

14 thoughts on “Bin Laden is Dead: The Speech Obama Could Have Given

  1. Tony

    Brad, thanks for clarifying. I think I was mostly perplexed by the seemingly flippant attitude of the post.@Bryon: I think this is a tricky issue. While it seems clear that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, God does only do that which pleases him. So you might think that God takes pleasure in the justice that befalls the wicked. This is why I celebrate today, because justice was served.


  2. Tony

    I meant to post this from the Vatican, which sums up nicely the points you make: "In front of the death of man, a Christian never rejoices but rather reflects on the grave responsibility of each one in front of God and men, and hopes and commits himself so that every moment not be an occasion for hatred to grow but for peace."


  3. Brad Littlejohn

    Glad that helped, Tony. The initial tone was overly flippant and/or sarcastic, and was prompted by my disgust at many of the responses I'd seen online. But I thought the issue deserved a more careful discussion, which you see here.And there's quite the discussion still going on back over on Facebook. Looks like we're going to have quite the discussion about retributive justice and all that jazz.****And glad you appreciated it, Byron; as you might have guessed, few people in my circles are very ready to agree that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and that we shouldn't.)


  4. Matheson

    I appreciate this alternative narrative – more Christian, for sure. But to simply speak about how to narrate these events ignores the question of the legitimacy of the events themselves. I'm not talking about the operation this week to capture and kill OBL so much as I am the two full scale wars that were also waged under the rubric of "doing everything necessary to bring this man to justice". You quite rightly refer to the "long and bloody path we have trodden for the past ten years", but surely a Christian response would therefore also reflect on whether the US has not also incurred guilt in the "relentless" pursuit of OBL – for the over 60,000 civilians killed in Iraq (which everyone now knows had no connection to OBL after all, despite what we were told), over 11,000 civilians killed in Afghanistan. Surely the irony of the first line is too much to bear: "after ten years and a million lives lost, I can announce to you today the death of Osama bin Laden". Is this not a reason for intense shame, even as we thank God that OBL's violence is at an end?As such, even to have given this speech would have risked reinforcing the American ideology embedded in Obama's speech that the US has the right to do whatever the hell it likes in pursuit of its own interests: "But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it's the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."


  5. Matheson – Amen.Tony – God does only do that which pleases him. Perhaps we need to have a longer conversation about our respective understandings of divine sovereignty and providence. I do not equate all that happens with the will of God, nor all that happens with God's pleasure. If God delighted in the Holocaust, he is the devil.Was justice served? If so, it was a very rough and approximate form, perhaps some would say the best that could be hoped for, but we must admit it was far short of full-blown justice. This was an extra-judicial killing, an assassination carried out in defiance of international law and national sovereignty.


  6. Brad Littlejohn

    You're absolutely right to emphasize those points, Matheson–I didn't want to try to say everything, but to briefly make a couple of key points in response to what seemed like inappropriately jubilant responses. I didn't want to be too unrealistic–already, I was scripting a speech one could never expect from an American president, but I didn't want to push it too far–nor to pick more fights than necessary with some that I was seeking to persuade. But you are absolutely right. Aside from the justice of this individual action, now is an appropriate to reflect, in shame, upon all of the actions that led up to it. (Oddly, I note, you go with numbers of civilian deaths more than tenfold lower than what I said–are you using official US gov't figures or something?)I have incorporated your angle on the issue in a follow-up discussion I posted on Facebook earlier today, and will be reposting here in just a bit.Re Byron–yes, I might want to take issue with Tony on that too…however, I'll certainly leave that to you, as hashing out the nature of divine sovereignty is a whole 'nother can of worms that I don't want to figure out right now! 🙂


  7. Matheson

    Thanks Brad. I suppose the question would be: if we only ever look for arguments that stay within the bounds of the prevailing American ideology, do we not fail to challenge the moral illusions that prevent a true encounter with oneself, and hence make true repentance impossible? And if so, haven't we implicitly renounced even the pretense of Christian discipleship? Staying within the bounds of what it is 'acceptable' to say is what moral illusions require of us in order to thrive. Your point about meeting those you are seeking to persuade through arguments they can hear is perfectly fair. But I think we do reach a limit sometimes where the 'permitted' range of argumentation is precisely a defense against hearing what needs to be said because of the deeply unsettling moral challenge it poses. (Who in America wants to think of themselves as complicit in senseless murder on a mass scale in multiple countries? No way, and that's perfectly understandable.)By the way, as you say, the numbers I used are conservative but they are, by the same token, incontrovertible. They are based on the Iraq Body Count project and conservative estimates from meida, government and UN in Afghanistan (see Wikipedia article on War on Terror for sources).


  8. Brad Littlejohn

    Matheson,I am reminded of N.T. Wright's frequent complaint, that whenever he writes something he is criticized not only for everything he says, but for everything he didn't say–some people seem to think that you are culpable for not saying everything that is important and relevant to the subject. On this blog and elsewhere, I have rarely been hesitant to acknowledge that America is "complicit in senseless murder on a mass scale in multiple countries"; I do not think it was necessary to make that particular point here, when I was attempting to draw attention to a somewhat distinct and narrower point. That does not mean that I "only ever look for arguments that stay within the bounds of the prevailing American ideology."Also, I think it is worth reflecting, as I have only begun to do recently, on the role that citizenship may have in such a discussion. It does seem to me that perhaps, as a foreigner, you are perfectly legitimate in making statements and condemnations that I ought, as an American, to be more circumspect about. Not that we should be blissfully unaware of our own country's faults, but that, with full wide-eyed awareness, we have a responsibility to be, where possible, somewhat more guarded in the way we discuss them in public, just as one, while fully aware of one's family's faults, ought to be quite hesitant to discuss them in public. I should, in short, attempt to be more surgical in my criticism, lest I appear (however unjustly) to merely be another raving conspiracy theorist motivated by ingratitude and hatred for the government.


  9. patrick

    Bin Laden suffered from a liver disease and needed regular dialysus treatment. There is now way that he could have lasted that long. Moreover, the many contradictions in the official accounts about Bin Laden make this all suspect. David Ray Griffin, the foremost scholar on 9/11, wrote a book years ago concluding Bin Laden was dead. It`s interesting how even the FBI admits there is no hard evidence connecting him with the 9/11 attacks.


  10. patrick

    It`s also the pinacle of hyporacry for Obama to say all this considering that he has covered up any invistigation of 9/11 that we might have had subsequent to the removal of the Bush regime.


  11. patrick

    The Bush cabinet wrote a paper arguing for full spectrum dominance over land, air, and space. Obama has now expanded that to include the internet and telecommunications with his pushing for an internet kill switch as well as legislation that would allow for special chips to be embedded in cellphones to carry government propaganda. When this group calling themselves The Project for the New American Century wanted to seize power and go to war with Iraq, they wrote that they could only do it if there was a new terrorist attack on the United States. 9 months later they got what they wanted. There are many high level scholars and intellectuals, military figures around the world and politicians, even former prime ministers and Presidents, who have questioned the official version of the 9/11 attacks but they are marganalized in the press. The journalists who try to talk about this in official forums are quickly fired or worse.


  12. Brad Littlejohn

    Yes, I agree, Patrick. It's all very suspicious. But you really can't blame the mainstream media for marginalising 9/11 Truthers when their advocates do things like popping up on long-ago blog posts with a barrage of four comments at once that aren't really relevant to the point of the post. Makes them look kinda unbalanced, you know.


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