“Daddy, why was that man killed?”
That was Monday morning. I was spending the few minutes before leaving for work to watch the news on Osama Bin Laden. Hannah, my 8 year old, was in the living room with me.
Unfortunately, my children know about death. We have buried their grandfather, aunts, uncles, and friends in their short lives. Death is a subject I have been able to talk to them about head on. I don’t have to fumble through awkward “Sometimes people don’t wake up…” conversations. So I told her.
“Well, he was killed because he was a bad man. He was a part of killing lots of people. Do you remember us talking about when the airplanes crashed in to the buildings in New York?”
“Well he was involved with that so we sent our Army to where he was to get him. To kill him.”
(I know it was a Navy SEAL team that conducted the mission but explaining a Navy SEAL strike team to my 8 year old daughter seemed like it might take more than the 3 minutes I had before I left for work so it was the army)
“But why Daddy? Why didn’t he get arrested and go to jail?”
“Because, sometimes, what you do is so bad that jail isn’t a good enough punishment which means you have to die.”
“I hope I’m never that bad Daddy.” I almost had to laugh at the fear in her voice.
“I’m sure you will never be that bad Hannah. This was a special case. This doesn’t happen a whole lot but this guy deserved it for all the bad things he has done.”
“Oh.” Hannah’s reaction to the news was a mix of ambivalence and understanding. Not that I expected anything less from my daughter. She was born after September 11th. Her age and her life focus kept her from caring about anything but her immediate surroundings (how lucky for her).
Then my 5 year old chimed in, “Did we get a bad guy Daddy?”
“We sure did.”
“That’s good right?” Emma was waiting to take her cue from me.
“Yes Emma. It is very good.”
And that is how my kids reacted to the situation. Just a simple, “good”. The night before the reaction was a bit different. I joined in on Twitter with, looking back on it now, bad (if not tasteless) jokes and remarks about the bravery and dedication for all of our military. I read through quotes from the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. about not celebrating the death of anyone all while I watched the streets of New York and Washington erupt in a joy usually reserved for New Year’s Eve. I listened to Citizen’s Bank Ballpark chant “U.S.A.” during the Phillies game. I made sure to update my Facebook profile and read through everyone’s reaction to the news. And at the time, it all seemed deserved.
After listening to my kids’ non-reaction to the news, I started to think about how I reacted and how others were reacting to his death. Were we portraying the same euphoric attitudes towards someone’s death as the people do half a world away (and who we criticize for being barbaric or less than human for doing so)? Was climbing lamp posts and singing bad renditions of the Star Spangled Banner the right way to express our feelings towards all of it?
The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize, it is not for me to pass judgment on anyone for their expressions about any of this. Who am I to tell anyone who lived through or were apart of Sept. 11th, 2001 how to respond to the death of the man who organized that day?
So let the party go on in the streets. Sing songs. Chant U.S.A. Climb the lamp posts. Shout for joy into Geraldo’s microphone when he interviews you on the street. Quote Biblical passages and recite inspirational words from influential figures. Say a prayer. Make a joke on Twitter. I don’t begrudge anyone to celebrate however they feel is appropriate because the choice, thankfully in this country, is all ours.
But as a father, I have to ask myself, what lesson can I teach my kids about all of this? I have to ask myself, “How would I want my kids to react to someone being killed, even for a person as heinous as Osama Bin Laden?” (regardless of how I might have behaved on the Internet or how excited I was over his death).
So Monday morning, as my kids were asking about the man who had been killed, I made sure my answers expressed a little more enthusiasm than a simple “good” but with a little less of climbing up a lamp post.