In a jumble, What I went through last night—which I imagine was a typical experience of watching at home and following online—many of which were expressed in a flood of tweets: Relief, elation, concern about the future, urge to make dark jokes, rush of memories of 9/11, glee, concern about myself for being so bloodthirsty, telling myself that it doesn't count when the person killed was such a horrible piece of shit, a resurgence of grief about 9/11, more dark jokes, annoyance at people scolding those making jokes on Twitter for not seeing that humor has its place even in serious times, feeling bad for John King's obvious predicament of having to be pulled away from having a night on the town in order to report on this, schadenfreude watching wingnuts scramble to find a way to rationalize this so they can find anyone to credit but Obama (even though he clearly ordered it), amazement watching people pour into public spaces on TV to celebrate, mild concern that this could be a problem, realizing no one is actually going to care, trying to imagine what it must be like to be the guy who pulled the trigger, grief that this world can be so dark, irritation at being scolded by well-meaning folks for being glad, and finally some serious thoughts about what all this means.
Not for the future. It was easy to predict what would happen after 9/11—right down to those of us who feared pretty immediately Bush would use it as an excuse to invade some random, unrelated country that would probably be Iraq—because there's a template for reactions to massive crimes. Or more to the point, there are two templates to choose from and there was an inevitability to the Republican-controlled government picking the wrong one. But I'll get back to that. The difference between now and then is that the situation is infinitely more complex. Anyone claiming they can predict the future is full of shit. There are too many variables that weren't in place after 9/11. Just as importantly, it's genuinely hard to react to justice. Once the person who did this horrible thing has paid the price, victims—in this case, the American people, whose anger over 9/11 is clearly still raw—often find themselves standing around thinking, "Now what?"
There will be many answers to that question. Republicans have predictably gone straight to claiming that the war on terror must go on. Obama, however, has been wisely if quietly winding it down, except for the clusterfuck situation at Gitmo. Liberals like myself are suggesting this can be used as an opportunity to reassess our presence in Afghanistan and move to actually getting the hell out. The ugly fact of the matter is that one major reason the Obama administration hasn't been able to fulfill promises about bringing the war on terror—and the war on our civil liberties and the war on our system of justice that came with it—to an end is that Democrats don't have enough (perceived) political capital on this issue. There's a strong possibility that changed overnight. But whether or not that means anything is not for us to know. It depends on the savvy with which that capital is deployed, the limits of the wingnut imagination, and all sorts factors that are variable as all fuck. Anyone who claims to see the future on this is just fronting.
But what this does sharpen up is the past. The details are still coming in, but what we do know—what the President outlined—is that it was a strategic action conducted after careful study. Only four people were killed besides Bin Laden in the firefight. This is a good time to point out that while wingnuts screamed and bellyached that liberals who opposed going to war were cowards and pacifists who don't want to do anything to stop Bin Laden, realistically most of us said that this was a situation better dealt with by having these kind of targeted raids that didn't involve many civilians. And we were right. We didn't need to go to war in Iraq, and we probably didn't need to go to war in Afghanistan.
The two possible reactions to 9/11 were to exploit the situation to start conducting a bunch of fruitless wars that would only instigate more hatred towards the U.S. as we racked up civilian casualties, and to limit our response to police actions to nab important terrorist leaders while supporting democratic movements throughout the Middle East. Liberals have always supported the latter (except for a few featherheads who really did suggest a do-nothing strategy, but they were always a teeny tiny minority), and we were right. We told you so. We were right. And I'm not going to let pointless scolding about "civility" stop me from saying so. We were right. Our preferred strategy got Bin Laden. Our preferred strategy is what is causing change in the Middle East. We're not getting what we want by conquering nations, but by recognizing the autonomous desires and abilities of people all around the world. We were right.
My hope is going forward, this knowledge that we were right all along will matter in future decision-making. Perhaps our leaders will be bolder when choosing to do the right thing. Maybe they will still be cowed by the howling mob of wingnuts who prefer to maximize violence, no matter what the consequences. We can't know that right now. But we can think about the fact that we were right and use that knowledge to move forward.