Not the culture you wish you had.
I was running errands this morning, and heard Glenn Beck on the radio playing "Glenn-downer" about the spontaneous celebrations last night at the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. He asked, "who are these college students?"
The United States Naval Academy has at least one answer to that.
But let us not kid ourselves, Glenn Beck isn't the only one asking about the appropriateness of celebrating a killing after what we saw last night. There are plenty who went out to cheer, and there are plenty who say today that the cheering was inappropriate.
Me? I find it hard to do either.
On the one hand, I would love to think this is a spontaneous outpouring of joy and thanks to our men and women in uniform - a preview of the ticker-tape parade, if you will. I think that is a lot of it, yes. Our veterans and those serving overseas have accomplished a great deal in those combat zones, often without the strategic or tactical support necessary for a war effort of this magnitude. They deserve a great deal of thanks and recognition for that, and they deserve to have their ears ringing with the cheers of their countrymen when they return home.
I wish I could just stop thinking about it there and leave it at that.
But I cannot. I read the words of those people chiding the exuberant behavior. I think about where our culture has gone and how this kind of reaction should be expected after all the rah-rah over the last 10 years. This past decade has seen our popular culture devolve into controversies over American flag lapel pins, ribbon stickers on cars, the competition between sporting events to see who can unfurl the biggest American flag at mid-field with the loudest and closest flyover. If you didn't participate in the "USA" chant, or wear red on Fridays, or display appropriate mourning over everything September 11th, your patriotism was in question. One of the greatest condemnations in the past 10 years has been the idea that someone might be "apologizing" for America by looking at the world from different points of view.
Those folks cheering, you have to try and see it through their eyes.
For the young folks at least - those college kids Glenn Beck was talking about - they were between 8 and 15 on September 11th. This is the world and the culture they've grown up in. This is the behavior our culture has asked them to display. Before last night, anyone criticizing - or even questioning - behavior like that was considered un-American.
Think about the last decade and you'll see why spontaneous celebration comes from on the heels of good news. Between September 11th; Madrid, London, and Bali; the war in Afganistan continues; the war in Iraq continues; Hurricane Katrina and the Flood - and the rebuilding that continues; earthquakes and/or tsunamis in Indonesia, Haiti, and Japan; the Great Recession, the rising gasoline prices, the economic stagnation and insecurity that comes along with it; the BP Oil Gusher in the Gulf of Mexico; and our poisoned popular and political culture, where has the good news come from for the last 10 years?
And now, the face most associated with evil over the last decade was brought down. How can you expect people not to cheer? When talking about excessive celebration, there is an oft-heard suggestion to "act like you've been there before." For a lot of folks, they haven't been here before. For others, it has been a long, long time.
On the other hand, I remember the decade before the last and I grew up in the decade before that. As much damage as bin Laden has done to our nation and our world, as much damage has been done in our nation's imperfect pursuit of him and the clash of civilizations that he intentionally attempted to construct (and that so many in our own nation followed him into with froth at the mouths), I find it hard to celebrate with cheering.
We really have lost so very much, in so very many ways, as a nation and as a world, over the last 10 years. I know things in the past weren't as good as my memory thinks they were, and I know things in the present aren't as bad as they seem, but I can't help to think about where the world would be if this one madman hadn't had the wherewithal or means to disrupt and damage so much of what it felt we were working on.
And that does not make me feel like cheering.