Yesterday AMVETS National Commander Jerry Hotop and I sat down to formulate AMVETS' reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs in the Pakistani suburb of Abbottabad.
Needless to say, there was such overwhelming emotion behind our discussion. I served a year in Iraq in support of the Global War on Terror, and Cmdr. Hotop is a veteran and a Blue Star Father whose son, Dean Hotop, also served in Iraq.
Thankfully, we were able to keep our thoughts fairly concise, as you can read here, but to me, this doesn't even scratch the surface on what this means for our nation.
Over the last day we've seen hundreds of analysts and pundits discuss how this most certainly is not the end of Al Qaeda or transnational terrorism as the network's weapon of choice. However, I feel this is a major symbolic victory for our nation that strikes at the heart of Al Qaeda's ideology.
September 11, 2001 has in many ways come to define my life and the lives of those closest to me--whether it was pulling emergency guard duty in the days after 9/11, deploying to Iraq for a year, working here in Washington, or losing friends and watching lives change forever. Though I never questioned whether or not our military was succeeding in the War on Terror, I had lingering doubts about whether we could translate our incremental success on the battlefield to success in the public eye, which seemed to be growing increasingly weary of the open-ended commitment. By hunting down Osama Bin Laden and putting a bullet through his skull, we've conveyed that ever-important message of success.
It was always a sore spot for me that we failed to catch Bin Laden. To me, he was going to be the one who got away, only emboldening our enemies. All the "key lieutenants" or "masterminds" that we've caught or killed over the years never seemed to resonate with the American public, and ongoing operations and successes in Afghanistan seemed to be continually buried in the headlines.
I was honestly concerned that we would soon learn that Bin Laden died back in 2007 of natural causes, surrounded by loved ones and criminal cronies. To know now that he died at the end of an American rifle, facing those he victimized, makes me feel as though justice has been served.
With that said, I feel it's time to release the photos. I'm confident that Bin Laden's corpse is already feeding the fishes at the bottom of the Arabian Sea, but one can already see conspiracy theories floating around the internet about whether it was really Bin Laden, or whether this was some kind of publicity stunt. I know this is garbage, but much like we saw with the death of Saddam Hussein, his sons, Mussaub Al-Zarkawi, and others, our enemies need to see proof to believe it's true.
To me, this proof cuts off the head of our enemy and strikes deeply at the morale of those who have sworn allegiance to Bin Laden. Over the last few months we've seen Al Qaeda significantly weakened ideologically by the nonviolent secular revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and the ongoing secular uprisings across the Arab world. The death of Bin Laden proves once-and-for-all that the end game for Al Qaeda is not the empty promise of a path to overthrowing nebulous tyranny, but rather brutal, violent, and meaningless death.
I am extremely proud to be an American today. I feel as though my sacrifices and the sacrifices of those closest to me who served in the military have been validated. Our decade of hard work has yielded the results our nation needed.
When Americans started to gather at the White House and Ground Zero, it was easy to see that the crowds were largely young and mostly college students. What surprised me, though, was how many had American flags readily available; and I was particularly moved when the crowd belted out the Star Spangled Banner and other patriotic staples. These young Americans are much more patriotic than I ever gave them credit for and I think it's a testament to our nation's pride and unity--despite what we may have seen and read in the news in recent months.
Though I know this does not bring an abrupt end to our operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Horn of Africa, and elsewhere, I believe that this is the most significant victory for the United States since the demise of Adolf Hitler. This was justice. This brings closure to the families who lost their loved ones on 9/11 and the families who lost loved ones subsequently on the battlefield.
As President Barack Obama said in his address to the nation, this demonstrates that we, as Americans, can accomplish anything. To me, that means we can vanquish our enemies in preservation of the ideals that we cherish. Though we must still be vigilant, I'm personally looking forward to a post-Bin Laden world--a 5/2 World--where our nation no longer lives in fear and uncertainty, but once again prospers off of the ingenuity, pride and unwavering dedication of our citizens.
(Image: U.S. Marine Corps veterans Mike Demo, center, and Bill Cortese, right, drove 30 minutes to New York's Ground Zero, May 2, 2011, to mark the news of Osama bin Laden's death. Two of Cortese's cousins were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall Clinton. Video: Official White House video of President Obama's address to the nation on the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.)