Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.
– Friedrich Nietsche, Beyond Good and Evil
In 2001 my family lived on an American military base on a godforsaken little island in the middle of the Pacific ocean. The joys of government service, n’est pas?
My day began at 4:30am when I and two other kids attended an early morning meeting for teenagers. Only one of us had a driver’s license so we carpooled together to this meeting, back again to catch a bus at 6:30. The island was tiny but the roads were so bad that it took over an hour to get just 30 miles to our school. I got out of school at 2:30pm, then had soccer practice until 5pm, and then back onto the bus for a ride that zigzagged back home and took longer than the initial ride to school did. I stumbled through the doors sometime between 7 and 8pm, did homework, and fell into bed. I was a shockingly well behaved teenager, but in retrospect that might have been because I was consistently exhausted.
September 11, 2001 didn’t start out too differently. That morning I climbed yawning into the car and the three of us drove off to our meeting. As we passed through the gates we noticed far more men in camouflage than usual, but chalked it up to some sort of training exercise and weren’t too alarmed when the heavy bars slid shut behind us.
But when we got to our destination, the youth leader was standing outside her car. Shivering. On a tropical island. The three of us braced for bad news, but even we weren’t prepared to be told that the United States had apparently been attacked.
Remember, we lived on a base and our parents were employed in the military or government of various countries. A million thoughts ran through my head: Are we at war? Will my family be separated? Will they send me and my siblings away? Is it even safe to travel? We have dozens of planes and ships stationed here – are we a target? And then, finally, how will I get home?
It turns out that the base had utterly shut down, we could get off, but they weren’t letting anyone back on. But we had a secret weapon, my Dad’s considerable rank. We called him and he escorted us on base, and when we were stopped at the gates and denied entry, my usually mild mannered father snapped, “This is my daughter and she is coming in.”
That was when the fear really hit me.
10 years later that fear has actually largely dissipated. The world is the way it is. The nature of my father’s profession meant that we were frequent travelers and though the fear of terrorists never stopped me from getting on a plane, it would a lie to say that it never intruded on my travel thoughts and plans. I grew up in government and military circles which has meant that for the past ten years much of the people I knew were at war or at least directly affected by it, and not in ways confined to CNN or BBC news blips.
And now, 10 years later, the man who largely masterminded that day is dead.
It’s odd, especially since our hatred and fear of him has cooled somewhat. Mine has anyway. We’ve had other things to think about. Recessions, booms, elections, family, going to university, getting married, finding a job, etc. My life moved on while he hid in a mountain somewhere, hiding from half of the world and shunned even by some of his former allies who found that supporting him came at too frightening a cost (“Yes, of course we’re still pals, Osama, but the tanks are really mucking up the neighborhood so we’ll have to see less of each other…”). 10 years later an uprising of people, largely my age, overthrew tyrannical governments in his area of the world, or are still struggling to do so. They are the post 9/11 generation too.
Part of me thinks he should have had a trial and be made to face his victims. Part of me thinks that you can’t make a man who believes with all his soul that his vendetta of violence and blood is good realize that it is evil, no matter how many witnesses you call. Part of me thinks an assassination is a cowards way out, and part of me is fiercely glad he wasn’t treated like a leader or military commander but as the rogue operative he was. And part of me wonders if a man like him actually dies – he’s at the bottom of the sea, but his network is thriving and hate and ignorance are still winning in many parts of the world.
Frankly, happy in many ways as I am (and isn’t that an odd thing, to be happy because one man in six billion is dead!), it’s odd to live in a world without him. He epitomized treachery and evil, now he is gone. But not really. He is dead, his ideology is not.