NEW YORK – When Hyojin Jenny Hwang wrote on Facebook that she was saddened by the sight of young Americans like herself jubilantly cheering Osama bin Laden’s death, the angry response was swift, even from friends.
“One friend told me she felt judged for feeling happy,” said the 30-year-old mother from New Jersey. “And another one simply unfriended me on Facebook.”
As the hours passed, though, and the initial giddiness settled a bit, Hwang, who says she feels strongly that a death should not be celebrated, received messages of support from people similarly unnerved by the scenes of euphoria. Those scenes have included chants of “USA! USA!” at the White House gates and ground zero; signs such as “Obama 1, Osama 0”; or T-shirts now available online, saying “GOT HIM!” and illustrated by a stick figure of a dead bin Laden.
It’s one thing to be satisfied that the world’s most wanted terrorist has been killed by a U.S. Navy SEAL unit in Pakistan. But where does satisfaction end and gloating begin? It’s a question being posed online by ordinary Americans, religious figures, various commentators and several 9/11 widows. And it’s bound to be on President Barack Obama’s mind as he treads that fine line in a visit today to ground zero.
Could Obama’s visit in itself be interpreted as gloating? The president, who decided Wednesday not to release gruesome death photos of bin Laden so as not to “spike the football,” seems well aware of the dangers. He planned a somber and quiet New York visit – no speech, the White House said, just laying a wreath at the World Trade Center site and meeting privately with families and first responders.
It was impossible to tell whether those Americans feeling uneasy with Sunday’s scenes of celebration were in the majority or minority; the few polls conducted since the news broke haven’t asked the question. But for some who lost family members on Sept. 11, the jubilant scenes were disturbing.
Kristen Breitweiser said they brought back images of bin Laden supporters celebrating in the streets on that infamous day in 2001.
“Forgive me, but I don’t want to watch uncorked champagne spill onto hallowed ground where thousands were murdered in cold blood,” she wrote Monday on the Huffington Post. “And it breaks my heart to witness young Americans cheer any death – even the death of a horrible, evil, murderous person – like it is some raucous tailgate party on a college campus. Why are we not somber?”
Online, some Americans said they saw absolutely nothing wrong with Sunday’s outpouring.
“If you cannot cheer about the demise of a truly wicked man who took so much from us, what do you celebrate?” asked Edward Hannigan, 45, of Chico Hills, Calif., editor of an online music magazine, on Facebook. In another post, he added: “I’m damn happy he’s dead. And on top of that, I hope it hurt. A lot.”
Some serious concerns came from religious leaders.
The Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote that bin Laden’s death was justified as an act of war but not as an act of justice. He said death should never be celebrated.
“Such celebration points to the danger of revenge as a powerful human emotion,” he wrote on his website.
The Vatican said Christians could never rejoice about the death of any human being. But spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi noted that bin Laden was responsible for having caused the deaths of countless innocents and for having used religion to spread “division and hatred among people.”