Bin Laden death: Can the US find closure over 9/11?

Mark Mardell looks over the Ground Zero site Cranes are at work at Ground Zero

New York

It was a sombre ceremony in a slightly eerie place. I have peered into the construction site several times but never been inside before. Surrounded by soaring skyscrapers, Ground Zero is a hole, a wound, a gap. Of course it is only so by our knowledge of the death and destruction that happened on this now silent site. Standing just feet away from President Barack Obama as he laid a wreath with an air of grim triumph, I reflected that it is a place that almost overloads you with the sense of loss.

Soon after the president left, the cranes were at work again, carrying on the work that will eventually turn the site of the attack into a memorial. Possibly the long delays in achieving this aim are for mundane reasons but there is almost a sense that America doesn't want a serene and static memorial, but a churning, changing reminder that even the physical devastation isn't yet in the past.

I am not sure how much that will change with the death of Osama Bin Laden. The president wants closure, and hopes his visit will achieve a measure of it. A couple of people I spoke to told me closure could never be real. A firefighter from Boston who spent more than eight months searching through the rubble said every day he thought of what had happened. Not surprisingly, a man who lost his wife said it was not like getting over a relationship that had ended, the hurt would never go away, closure could never be real.

That must be so for those who mourn. But how true is it for America? The first attack on the American mainland since the nation was formed threw into stark relief some existing traits of the nation and created new ones.

President Barack Obama (left) carries a wreath in New York Mr Obama may be trying to write a different story for his war-weary country's future

A sense that the idea of the US was under constant assault and that the country faces more than physical danger. A sense of vulnerability and insecurity that was new and traumatic. A need to celebrate the abstract concept of America. A belief in the curative properties of the might of military and a patriotism so intense that it burns.

The attack on America led directly to one war that is still going on, Afghanistan, and so to a debate about the limits of what the US can and should do. The new fear of attack and worry about terrible weapons in the hands of terrible people led to the Iraq War. Some still defend it, more see it as a wrong turn. President Obama was elected, at least in part, by those who wanted to see America's image in the world change from blundering bully to positive partner. It arguably made America focus on one threat in one part of the world rather than others that matter more.

The killing of Bin Laden perhaps brings a chapter to a close, as Mr Obama tries to write a different history for his country's future. America is weary of war and has revelled in this violent victory, the extra-judicial execution of an accused mass murderer. As I write I am looking out over the two square holes, where the Twin Towers once stood. It makes me shiver. But perhaps after this death, the policy and mind-set of the world's only super power will no longer be driven by this one dreadful atrocity and the fear of its repetition.

Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor


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  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Like it or not, war is by definition "extra-judicial." Where was the judiciary at Agincourt, Austerlitz, the Somme, or Stalingrad?
    The exceptional case -- the sparing of Napoleon's life because of his immense popularity amongst some followers -- proves the rule.
    By the time Hitler emerged as the genocidal maniac with global ambitions, no one seriously thought of anything except killing him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    The last paragraph is something I think we can all agree on. Let's work towards a time where we don't have to do things like this anymore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    This is text book controlled public deception by the numbers.

    Lets move the story on quickly now to the myth of an imminently planned attack, side stepping the lingering inquisitiveness on the veracity of this whole story.

    Remember this post but more importantly remember how easily you have all be taken in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    The costs of the war on terror (massive loss of life/suffering in Iraq, Afghanistan; loss of civil liberties; reputational damage to the US, the UK; the use of torture; etc.) are horrifying. Managing terrorism is critical, but should be afforded appropriate weighting in the formation of overall national policy. A more reasonable, less bellicose long-term approaches should be adopted going forward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The sight of Americans celebrating the death of a man (yes, an evil one) is no less sickening than Arabs celebrating in the streets over 9/11, or the Sun's "Gotcha" headline over the death of more than 320 Argentinian sailors in 1982. Until we can grow to be above inane triumphalism we are - as a race - doomed to go on repeating our mistakes. Obama's tone yesterday was an acknowledgement of this.



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