Snapshots From a Watershed Weekend

Suzanne Fields
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Posted: May 06, 2011 12:00 AM
What a weekend. A wedding and a funeral. Love and war. A duchess anointed, a terrorist assassinated. It's the stuff of epics: Of arms and the lady, we sing. Of Navy SEALs and British nuptials, firefights and flower girls, warriors brave and kisses sealed. Rejoicing now takes place after nine years of courtship, 10 years of searching. Celebration follows rejuvenation.

Killing Osama bin Laden is enough to make Superman take back the American citizenship he renounced. This was the week we deserved. It was demoralizing to have the terrorist of 9/11 escape for so long. Now we learn that he lived the luxurious life in hiding, not in a cave with spiders and grubs, scribbling drawings on the walls for future archeologists to decipher. Instead, he enjoyed the comfort of a million-dollar mansion. Of course, it wasn't high tech -- and what did Osama and his house party do all do day if they weren't wired?

Fortunately, our intelligence services were indeed wired, with sound and surveillance cameras and staffed with clever men and women who could find clues in the messages brought by couriers, working behind 18-foot walls topped by razor wire. What a triumph.

Today, Osama bin Laden reads like a comic book villain that Superman would have made short work of in the old days when patriotism was a crucial element of the popular culture. One Superman comic-book cover from 1942 depicted him holding Hitler and Tojo aloft, one in each hand, shaking them like rats in the jaws of cats.

Superman was created by two Jews, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as a force for good, mocking Hitler's conceit that Nazi Germany would produce a race of supermen. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, hated Superman comics and stomped about in rage at the character's embodiment of American values.

But Superman today says, "Truth, Justice and the America Way -- It's Not Enough Anymore." The original Superman would have approved of slipping the archvillain into the sea to feed the fishes. Who knows what the imposter of the Man of Steel thinks.

Of course, life is not a comic book, though sometimes it seems that way. Before Osama was dispatched to the nether regions, the focus of our politics was aimed at clowns and jokers. Now we can get down to serious business.

The president rose to the occasion in his speech in the East Room, acknowledging that he had pursued the search that George W. set in motion. And now we learn from Leon Panetta, the outgoing director of the CIA, that some of the information that led to the discovery of Osama's hideout was obtained through "enhanced interrogation techniques." He acknowledged, when pressed by NBC's Brian Williams, that such techniques included "waterboarding."

The president, eager in the past to apologize to the world for American mistakes, was eloquent in noting that killing Osama bin Laden was being "true to the values that make us who we are." The old, authentic Superman would have liked that, too. Payback doesn't bring back the dead, but it offers a little solace to those who lost loved ones. Revenge was sweeter for our not needing anyone else's help on this one.

It was 66 years ago, on May 1, that the world learned that another archvillain was dead. Hitler killed himself in his bunker as the allies made a bonfire of Berlin above him. The postwar euphoria was short-lived when the Iron Curtain clanged shut on East Europe and Joseph Stalin became the archvillain.

But just as the end of the Cold War was not the end of history -- a trendy conceit at the time -- the end of Osama bin Laden is not the end of al-Qaida. Other evil men survive. "America can do whatever we set our mind to," the president said. It's the setting of the mind that's the problem.

We watch the Arab Spring for evidence of the flowering of democracy to replace hateful Islamist ideology, but even if al-Qaida is "rendered irrelevant," as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates suggests, hatred of America survives in the Middle East. The West's war is not against Islam, as the president and George W. Bush before him emphasized, but against Islamist determination to destroy us.

The royal wedding was a happy distraction, a fairy tale of a prince and a princess who set off to live happily ever after. The week's events seem taken from an old-fashioned script with a moral about order returning to the universe. But these stories are mere snapshots of history, and the future will unfold in ways we cannot anticipate. Who ever would have guessed that Superman would reject American values?