The Common Good

One Year Later: Bin Laden and the Cycle of Violence

A year ago today, I read a Tweet that President Barack Obama was interrupting primetime TV to address the nation regarding terrorism. My heart dropped. All I could think about was that terrifying feeling 10 years earlier while watching 9-11 coverage. It only took about half an hour of speculation on 24-hour news stations, Twitter, Facebook, etc., before reports came out that Obama would be announcing the death of public enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden. 

Carolina K. Smith, M.D. /
Seattle Times and other U.S. newspapers report the death of Osama bin Laden. Carolina K. Smith, M.D. /

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My first reaction was relief. The second, I confess, was one of pride—shared by the nation at the time and many still. But at some point in the aftermath, I read a friend’s post that convicted me and brought me back to reality. 

“Annoyed by the lack of Christian response to the killing of an known unsaved soul who will spend eternity in torment.”

Whether you accept the concept of hell or an inclusive v. Calvinist idea of salvation, they were wise words at a time many were salivating over the details of a man’s death. And after a year of reflection, the sentiment is found elsewhere in a nation looking for alternative options to violence, death and years of war. 

“People have confused justice and redemptive violence,” said Matt Southworth, legislative associate on foreign policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Southworth served in the U.S. Army as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. But after his tour of duty, he became an anti-war activist. He cites the disconnect between the theory of democratizing nations with the actual process of enforcing it abroad as being a catalyst for his shift to nonviolence activism.

When Obama announced bin Laden’s death a year ago—calling it “the most significant achievement to date” in the war on al-Qaeda—Southworth said he didn't really know how to feel.

“It’s kind of ironic to bring someone to a similar fate that they are responsible for bringing other people to and have that be the thing that you feel achieves something," he said.

And has it achieved anything?

In the year since bin Laden’s death, nearly 400 U.S. soldiers have died. Thousands suffer from debilitating injuries, and thousands of others suffer with mental injuries from post-traumatic stress disorder to traumatic brain injury. 

Southworth says after 10 years of war, maybe it’s time for a new approach.

“If we want to prevent violence against people … maybe the way to do that isn’t in laying down bombs in Afghanistan. Maybe it’s building schools. Maybe it’s ending global hunger,” he said. 

According to the United Nations, it would cost $30 billion yearly to end world hunger. The United States spends more than $100 billion per year on the war in Afghanistan. 

The takeaway is clear, according to Southworth.

“With the money that we spend arming, fighting and killing, we could cure a lot of the underlying problems that are causing unrest in the world.”

Sandi Villarreal is the Associate Web Editor at Sojourners. Follow her on Twitter @Sandi.

Photo: Seattle Times and other U.S. newspapers report the death of Osama bin Laden. Carolina K. Smith, M.D. /

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