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Delayed reaction

Americans should reflect upon the meaning of Osama bin Laden's death

OSAMA BIN Laden is dead, killed along with several of his associates by a Navy SEAL team inside his Pakistani hideaway. His killing removes an undoubtedly evil man who, if he had become increasingly irrelevant in recent years, nevertheless remained a potent symbol of opposition to the United States. We should be glad that he is gone and thankful to his killers who risked their lives for this success.

And yet, the American response to the news of bin Laden's death has been one of unseemly celebration and the worst kind of jingoistic hubris. The crude chanting of "U-S-A!" at sports games ; the visible excitement of television news anchors, making a mockery of their objectivity; the festival atmosphere of crowds rejoicing in the streets, evidently shared by Condoleezza Rice, who declared the news to be "absolutely thrilling" - these are symptoms of a callousness and an overconfidence that are morally troubling and practically damaging. Watching a CNN reporter compare Bin Laden's death to the killing of Hitler or Mussolini, one was staggered by the swaggering, nationalistic bravado that could produce such an equation. On the other hand, for unflappable capitalistic self-importance, it would be difficult to match Warren Buffett's off-hand comment: "I don't think this is a big market factor."

The aforementioned responses are, in some ways, understandable. In recent years, the American mood has been depressed, soured and lacking in high points. With little respite from economic slump, viciously futile political competition and seemingly interminable military adventuring abroad, one might reasonably leap at the chance for an outburst of national pride. For a nation constantly troubled by murmurings of its own decline, there could be few things so cathartic as the crushing of an old enemy in a resolute and righteous display of power.

Let the point not be slighted that Osama bin Laden was just such an enemy, who deserved his fate. The massive bloodshed he had inspired - both of Americans and many others - was an appalling record of senseless hatred. It is difficult to justify execution under any circumstances, but surely Bin Laden would have merited the death penalty had he been captured alive. Despite this, it makes the blood run cold to think of the public fever that would have surrounded Bin Laden's trial in the United States. One only can imagine something like a medieval mob - on a national scale - cheering on the executioner while some hapless traitor was hung, drawn and quartered before their eyes.

Indeed, has this imagined picture been so far from the case? The near-universal American elation at his death

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