In declining to reduce photos of Osama bin Ladens corpse, President Barack Obama told the nation, Thats not who we are.
We dont trot this stuff out as trophies, he said. We dont need to spike the football.
And we dont need to unnecessarily inflame those who still consider the United States to be their enemy.
That, at least, is true; we have no right to engage in behavior that endangers U.S. troops and U.S. citizens. Its also true that almost all of us are deeply offended, even enraged, when enemies gloat over photos of fallen Americans. Imagine a foreign leader holding up a photo of an assassinated U.S. general or president. Adding insult to mortal injury is not civil behavior.
Was the flag-waving that began Sunday night a form of spiking the football? Maybe, although the jubilant impulse was probably irresistible, because the injury bin Laden inflicted on 9/11 was both grievous and insulting.
The president is right to withhold the photos. Those who want to believe bin Laden is not dead would not have been swayed by them, just as they have not been swayed by the alleged confirmation from al Qaeda, which so far appears to be a logical statement of the organizations need to rally the faithful and threaten the West. Jihadists will continue to follow bin Ladens path. That is wholly predictable.
Equally predictably, people who dont trust the president for a variety of reasons will continue to doubt that bin Laden is dead. For many, the need to believe the worst about elected leader not of their personal choosing will trump their desire to trust in a national triumph.
That, indeed, may be who we are: a people deeply, bitterly divided. Politically, economically, by race, by gender and seemingly by every other difference that can be identified, every us apparently needs an opposing them.
After 9/11, Americans were united for a brief while by shock, fear and outrage by Osama bin Laden, as it were. Have we developed a national identity as people who need someone to hate? How have so many people come to be defined by who their enemies are?
Obamas appeal to the better angels of our natures deserves serious consideration. People who spike the ball is the very least of who we are not. We are better than that.
We value justice. We value truth. We value peace. We value opportunity. That is who we are, or at least should aspire to be.