Good people rejoice when evil monsters are cut down, and by the tens of thousands good Americans from one end of the country to the other came pouring into the streets last night to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden. From the White House to Ground Zero, from the Boston Common to Miami's Little Havana, the scenes of jubilation were spontaneous, heartfelt, and overflowing with American pride.
"We love death," bin Laden once told an interviewer. "The US loves life. That is the big difference between us."
He was right. But some deaths even an American can love, and the death of the al-Qaeda mastermind who murdered so many innocent victims is one of them. For the bloodbath of 9/11, for the hundreds slaughtered in the Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings, for those who died in the unprovoked attack on the USS Cole -- for all the violent and malignant savageries he committed against men, women, and children who had done nothing to deserve them, bin Laden's day of reckoning was long overdue. But it came at last. Now the archterrorist is in hell, and Americans are rightly overjoyed. "The son of a bitch is dead. Ding dong," exults the New York Post in an editorial. Not the most refined formulation, perhaps, but it certainly captures the nation's satisfaction.
Political life in this country so often plays out as a struggle between those who champion freedom and those who fight for equality. But at moments like this we are reminded that a virtue greater than either of them is justice. In his remarks to the nation last night, President Obama emphasized that the killing of bin Laden meant that the "pursuit of justice" had been rewarded -- that "justice has been done." Knowingly or not, he was echoing the words his predecessor addressed to a joint session of Congress just nine days after the 9/11 attacks. "Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies," George W. Bush said on that occasion, "justice will be done." Ten years later, it finally was.