These words and ideas spread and were spread, of course, because they sounded so good and so right. It brought to mind a decidedly different fiction, an old episode of The Simpsons, "Lisa the Iconoclast." Lisa learns that Jebediah Springfield, the venerated founder of Lisa's hometown, was really a murderous pirate. She ends up keeping the bombshell secret to herself, concluding that Springfield's myth brought out the best in people, which was sufficient for keeping it alive.
This sounds nice--so good and so right--but as the cases of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman have shown us, looking away from inconvenient truths involves actively duping people, including grieving families, and often in service of less than noble causes (namely, ass-covering). We re-learned this lesson just a few weeks ago, when it was revealed Greg "Three Cups of Tea" Mortenson's Pakistani school-building philanthropy was really a poorly-implemented cover for his own enrichment. If we care not just about feeling good about ourselves but about the state of things in the real world, then knowing the truth and grappling with its implications is imperative.
Osama bin Laden is dead and no longer a threat. That much we can celebrate. But what if he didn't go down in a firefight? What if he was in fact captured, in our protective custody, and then executed in front of his daughter? What kind of legal precedent does this set?
There is another, fact-based, fiction I've pondered regarding this matter, Steven Spielberg's Munich. Its broader concern with the War on Terror was evident when it came out in 2005, and to my mind the questions it asks are even more pertinent now that bin Laden is gone. Now that we've taken out the 9/11 mastermind, where do we go? How far down the chain of command are we going to be knocking off Al Qaeda leadership, including an American citizen?
I argued before that revenge and justice are one in the same, and that avenging 9/11 was justified and defensible. I still believe that. However, an eye for an eye system of justice only works when both sides are willing to, eventually, call it even. As the endless grind of the Israel-Palestine issue shows, however, reprisal can all to easily take on a life of its own. And so I fixate on Munich's closing, warning, words:
There's no peace at the end of this, no matter what you believe.
The real Munich avenger never said that, never had such doubts. But it sounds so good to imagine he did.