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Davis, California

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Column: Heroes and villains

I am absolutely thrilled to finally write this column. As I imagine anyone who isn’t living in a cave in Afghanistan knows – actually, I bet those guys know too – Osama bin Laden is dead.

 In what would no doubt make for a fantastic movie scene, Navy SEALs landed a helicopter inside the walls of a compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. They spent about 40 minutes inside the compound, killing several adult males and one woman who was used as a shield by the enemy.

Amazingly, the helicopter had a mechanical failure, and from the beginning the team did not know if they had a way out. They executed their mission anyway, and another chopper was able to evacuate them, with bin Laden’s body in tow.

American intelligence officials had been following leads developed over several years, until the compound was located in August of 2010.

President Obama deserves some credit here. While sending in an elite unit risked the loss of American life, it offered the chance of minimizing civilian casualties and being certain bin Laden was dead. Ultimately, Obama decided on that course of action over using missiles or bombs.

As a student of history, I know full well the benefits of knowing for certain that something happened. Had there been any doubt, the world would have forever wondered about that pile of charred rubble and whether America really got her man.

Some conservative partisans will likely try to deny Obama any praise whatsoever for his handling of the operation. As always, be wary of ideologues on the left or the right. This is not an issue of party politics but instead a victory for every one of us.

Besides, even more than Obama, our Armed Forces deserve recognition for recruiting, training and fielding the best military in the world. Likewise, our intelligence organizations merit praise for orchestrating such a monumental victory. Just like with Obama, give credit where credit is due.

As we recognize our heroes in this microcosm of world affairs, we must also identify the villains. The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, for example, expressed outrage over the death of an “Arab holy warrior.”

“We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood,” said Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip.

It is patently ridiculous for anyone to claim that the architect of 3,000 American civilian deaths should be regarded as a good person. The equivalent would be the United States government declaring Lt. William Calley, the commanding officer at the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, a hero of our own.

It is not uncommon to criticize statements made by radical Islamic terrorist organizations. But from time to time we must be reminded of who our friends and enemies are.

 A few more random thoughts on the story:

 The mechanical failure of the helicopter is not the first time – nor will it be the last – that we hear of equipment issues for our troops. Old equipment, vehicles and aircraft must be replaced, while new developments and improvements in technology are pursued. It is important to cut out the usual waste and inefficiencies in military spending, but cutting beyond that would make the situations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere worse than they already are.

The fact that bin Laden was buried at sea shows the greatness of the United States. Islamic law requires a person to be buried within 24 hours. No country would accept his remains. But even though bin Laden was America’s worst enemy of the 21st century and he killed people in the name of his religion, Islamic rituals were respected.

There are evil people in the world like bin Laden, and we cannot afford moral relativism in how we treat them. Just as with Hitler and Mussolini, Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, mercy for the merciless will get us nowhere.

It is crucial that we not lump in too many people as pure evil, but if we find ourselves unable to recognize the truly evil like bin Laden, we will find ourselves blind to the truly good as well. Good is not good without evil.

“Justice has been done,” President Obama told the world Sunday night. He is correct. But we also should be careful lest we think that the job is now done, and the threat from radical Islamic terrorists – and terrorists of any kind – is over. Then we would be neither heroes nor villains, but simply fools.

ROB OLSON remains reluctant to discuss foreign policy, but if anyone would like to disagree and say bin Laden was not evil he can be reached at rwolson@ucdavis.edu.

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