To Release or Not to Release – The Question Has Been Answered

by R. Hurst on May 4, 2011

in Politics

Sarah Palin told president Obama to stop “pussy-footing” around and release the photo proving the death of Osama bin Laden. She said: “Show photo as warning to others seeking America’s destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama;it’s part of the mission.” She makes the bizarre assumption that photographs of a deceased bin Laden would somehow scare off suicidal terrorists. I can imagine a man with a bomb vest on about to blow himself up worrying that the US might shoot him in the face. If these people were easily made afraid they would not be fighting the worlds most powerful and advanced military with 20 year old AKs.

Of course we should not take what Sarah Palin says seriously – nobody should. She is slowly but surely marginalizing herself and will one day have to rely on that commercial salmon fishery for extra money because she will have lost all credibility (credibility she has already lost with 60 some odd percent of Americans).

But her viceral reaction stands in stark contrast to the clear thinking exhibited by President Obama:

After a lengthy internal debate, Obama decided not to release the pictures because he said it is his responsibility to ensure they are not “floating around” as an incitement for violence or as a propaganda tool for terrorists.

“That’s not who we are,” Obama said in the interview, set to air Sunday. “We don’t trot out trophies.”

Asked for his reaction to the pictures, which the White House has described as “gruesome,” Obama responded: “It was him.”

The president said that bin Laden deserved the justice he received at the hands of the U.S. Navy SEALs — he was shot in the head — “but we don’t need to spike the football.”

After reading a number of perspectives on the subject I feel compelled to take a side. Despite the fact that I have been rather ambivilant about the matter. I want to see the photos out of sheer curiosity but wouldn’t be that upset if the photos were never released.

The issue is not exactly a partisan one. (Despite the reality that the likes of Sarah Palin will automatically take the opposite side of any decison the President makes.) The decision to release the photos is, in many ways, a human question. Do we need closure or do we need dignity? Do we need to warn our enemies or hedge against inflaming their passions? By releasing the photos are we “spik[ing] the football” or finishing “the mission”?

Despite my morbid curiosities – I believe the President is correct in his decision not to release the photo and I am very grateful he has made this decision. We should consider ourselves lucky to have a leader who doesn’t make important decisions on the fly without careful consideration. He knows what is true – he has seen the proof (and watched the video) – and knows that the world won’t be hearing from Osama bin Laden ever again. (Although there is rumor that a previously made video will be released in the near future.) This decision speaks to who America is.

The President’s demeanor manifests a strong belief in those exceptional elements of the American experiment that many of his critics say he does not possess. It is ironic because the hard choices that the President has made all suggest a strong belief in a very specific type of American exceptionalism that his critics are not capable of understanding. Meanwhile these same critics traipse about in their American flag Speedo brandishing a firearm in one hand and a deep fried corn dog in the other trampling under their feet the fundamental principles and values that make America great. These corndog wielding patriots believe that we should make the path to American citizenship difficult and reduce the number of immigrants. They believe that the government should be able to torture and round people up into secret prisons. They believe that our might is in our military and that any reduction in military spending is the byproduct of not loving America enough. They believe in tax breaks for the rich and elimination of social programs for the poor. They are obnoxious and loud and ride around on their 4×4’s with the American flag in tow celebrating the death of an enemy. They spike the football.

Unfortunately these people – while their love of America is sincere – fail to see the true greatness of the American system and way of life. They seek symbols of exceptionalism while failing to acknowledge that which makes us exceptional. It is the quiet dignity that accompanies treating your enemies with the dignity they do not afford you that makes us exceptional. It is in welcoming new peoples and new cultures into the American family and saying – “yes, you have a place here too”. It is the enforcement of our own law and living in accordance with our own principle even when it is difficult that makes America great. We are silent heroes. We liberate France and then let DeGaulle lead the parade. True patriots don’t need recognition. True patriots don’t expect or ask for attention.

Consider the example of Salvatore Giunta the most recent living Medal of Honor award recipient:

In summing up his life prior to joining the Army in 2003, Salvatore said, “The first 18 years of my life were in Iowa. I’m an Iowan.” With characteristic humility, he added, “Every single person who has touched my life has made me who I am today…The only responsibility I claim for myself is if I screw up.”

He describes his selfless actions thus:

Since being thrust into the national limelight on Sept. 10, 2010, Staff Sgt. Giunta has continuously reacted with characteristic modesty and humility. “This was a situation we were put into,” Staff Sgt. Giunta observed. “By no means did I do anything that everyone else wouldn’t have done.”
“It’s all kind of blurry,” he stated a few days after the Medal of Honor announcement, “There wasn’t a whole lot of thinking I needed to do. Looking at it like a picture, I’m just another brushstroke in the picture.”
“I didn’t run up to do anything heroic. Everybody’s been shot at, and I might as well run forward,” Staff Sgt. Giunta said he thought at the time.

There is power in his quiet dignity. There is no chest pounding. He does not celebrate in the people he killed. He humbly dismisses his life saving actions as “normal” and avoids the temptation to yield to vanity. He knows what he did and has confidence in his accomplishments – enough confidence that he does not need to spike the football.

Thank you Mr. President for following Staff Sgt. Giunta’s example.

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