What Are We Teaching Our Kids With Our Reactions to Osama bin Laden’s Death?

I know there’s already been a lot written in response to Osama bin Laden’s death on May 1, but something about it all left me feeling discombobulated since I first read the news (on Twitter). After listening to President Obama’s speech and seeing the celebrations and reactions on Twitter and Facebook that ensued, I felt even more ill at ease and I’m hoping to finally articulate my thoughts.

Justice, not Vengeance

I understand feeling a sense of relief that bin Laden is no longer able to kill innocent people. I understand a need for quiet reflection. I understand feeling a sense of justice. What I don’t understand is crowds of people chanting “USA! USA!” like they are at some kind of sporting event, encouraging your children to wave signs celebrating someone’s death or all of the Tweets and Facebook statuses from people with vengeance coursing through their veins. It disturbed me. What are we teaching our children?

Yes, bin Laden did atrocious things in his life, but by cheering and celebrating his death, are we not stooping to a new low? I admit I did not personally know anyone killed in the 9-11 attacks, so it’s entirely possible that my somber reaction to the news is different than those personally affected. Still, it just doesn’t feel right.

David Sirota of Salon.com has this to say:

This is bin Laden’s lamentable victory: He has changed America’s psyche from one that saw violence as a regrettable-if-sometimes-necessary act into one that finds orgasmic euphoria in news of bloodshed. In other words, he’s helped drag us down into his sick nihilism by making us like too many other bellicose societies in history — the ones that aggressively cheer on killing, as long as it is the Bad Guy that is being killed.

…our reaction to the news … should be the kind often exhibited by victims’ families at a perpetrator’s lethal injection — a reaction typically marked by both muted relief but also by sadness over the fact that the perpetrators’ innocent victims are gone forever, the fact that the perpetrator’s death cannot change the past, and the fact that our world continues to produce such monstrous perpetrators in the first place.

When we lose the sadness part — when all we do is happily scream “USA! USA! USA!” at news of yet more killing in a now unending back-and-forth war — it’s a sign we may be inadvertently letting the monsters win.

Talking to Kids About Osama bin Laden

What are we teaching our children when we celebrate the death of another human being? Here are a few different thoughts on how to talk to (or not talk to) your children about Osama bin Laden.

  • Annie at PhD in Parenting chose not to talk to her kids about it: Kids and Osama bin Laden
    “Talking to my kids about history is important. Teaching them about diversity and injustices and privilege is important. But purposely opening this particular can of worms and then scaring them by not being able to answer their questions is not something I want to do right now.”
  • Melissa Ford at Stirrup Queens chose to talk to her twins about bin Laden before they heard about it from someone else: Talking to Kids about Osama bin Laden
  • Jenny Lind Schmitt at Psychology Today talked to her kids about it too, hung up an American flag in the house and talked about honoring all of the people that died on 9/11 and since as a result of bin Laden: Osama bin Laden’s Death: What It Means to Kids
  • From Dane Laverty at Times and Seasons: Barack Obama, Osama bin Laden, and the Kids Eat Corn Pops
    “My hope, however, is that it [bin Laden's death] will serve as a reminder to us that we can be grateful to have the luxury of dealing with the kinds of inconveniences we face here in America, to remind us that early morning seminary and burned cookies are blessings, because they mean that we’re not facing ideological repression and physical starvation.”
  • From Danielle Sullivan at Babble: Kids Cheer In NYC Over Osama Bin Laden’s Death
    “Isn’t celebrating a death the very opposite of what we should do as parents and Americans? I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t feel satisfied or even proud that our country stood up for those who were senselessly killed, but we shouldn’t make it a party, don our kids in hate-filled t-shirts and light fireworks (as they did in my neighborhood).”

As for my kids, I haven’t seen any reason to talk to them about bin Laden at this point. As far as I know, they’ve never heard of him and at ages 4 and 6, I don’t feel like there’s anything they need to know right now. We’ll save that history lesson for when they are older.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

There’s a quote that’s been circulating wildly after bin Laden’s death that was misattributed to Martin Luther King Jr., but is now correctly being credited to Jessica Dovey.

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. – Jessica Dovey

That spoke to me, as it did to so many other people who reposted it on the ‘net causing it to go viral. And it’s so much more eloquent than anything I could come up with myself.

Martin Luther King Jr. has also said several things that really speak to this week’s events. I’ll just share this one.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction….
The chain reaction of evil –
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars –
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation.

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Strength To Love, 1963

I wish I had some tidy little paragraph to wrap this all up, but I don’t. I only hope and pray that the darkness of our world begins to subside little by little and the love and light shine through. Peace.

Photo credits: Flickr, Josh Pesavento and L.C.Nøttaasen

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23 thoughts on “What Are We Teaching Our Kids With Our Reactions to Osama bin Laden’s Death?

  1. Well put. I’ve had some friends on FB say the same thing.

    I, personally, haven’t said anything to my 8 year old about it. When we got home that night she saw the President talking, and asked who it was who died. I just said a “just some guy” but didn’t go beyond. And thankfully, she didn’t see any of the celebrations on tv.

    I do have to also apply what you said to my everyday life. I think of my current spouse, who had an affair, moved into the same apartment complex as I live in with his pregnant girlfriend and has acted in hateful ways towards me. At the moment, I despise that man. However, he’s the father of my son. And, if he were to die, I would not rejoice (no matter how much I pretend like I would). Would I rejoice if the other woman died? No, not even her. Now, what if it were a man who took one of my kids’ lives? I don’t think rejoicing is the place.I would mourn the loss of all. I remember there was a famous guy (I forget who at the moment) who’s death in jail was aired on tv a long time ago. They didn’t show his execution, but showed those outside of the prison. I remember feeling sad for the guy. Death is sad, no matter what. And of course, this is just my opinion, I see things differently than some.

    In another side note-I wonder how many of those people we saw on tv rejoicing were just young and foolish. I wonder if they were there to be able to say they were there.

    Anyway, also thanks for the MLK Jr quote. Gives me lots to think about in my everyday actions. :)

  2. My kids won’t learn about it for sometime either, being 4 and 6 too. I haven’t watched any of the public reaction to the news, and of course the idea of chanting and jubilation is gross to me. I once read a quote about how our media and movies, so focused on death and murder and violence, in which us watching for entertainment make us no better than the Romans who cheered when the lions ate the Christians. This cheering has that same feeling to me, if we are cheering the death of anyone, we are no better than those who watched the gladiators fight to the bloody death and got thrills out of it. Ick.

    :)
    Jen

  3. I appreciate your thoughtful post on this. I feel the same way. I do not have young kids anymore so that is a moot point for me. I cringed when I saw the crowds celebrating this….

  4. I feel the same way. I have been unable to watch news because this makes me so upset. How did we get to the point that we celebrate death, even if it was an evil man. The problem with war is both sides think the other one is wrong and we have always faulted the other side for how they celebrate killing people.

  5. My son turned two on Monday so talking to him about it obviously isn’t an issue. My youngest nieces are 6 (almost 7) and 8 1/2 so I’ll be forwarding this post to my sister.

    I feel only a mild sense of relief coupled with concern for what measure of retaliation against us this may bring. I can only think that the people celebrating in the streets must have been among those who were appalled by such celebrations in the Middle East after 9/11 and wonder that they can’t see their hypocrisy.

  6. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I’m right on the same page with you!

    I’ve heard so many people say things like: “We need to just get in there and take these people out!” since 9/11. It is disturbing to me on so many levels. Has this attack turned us into people who have no more regard for human life, unless it is someone we regard as good or useful to the world? And why do people think that assassinating a few people here or there will solve the world’s terrorism? Don’t they realize that the assassinations might cause MORE violence? Don’t they realize that there are probably ten more people waiting to take the assassinated leader’s place? I wish we could focus our energies at creating peaceful international relationships, instead. I wish peace (not protection) was our Number 1 priority.

  7. Very good post. This is definitely brings up a lot of conflicting feelings and emotions.

    For me, the difference is the people celebrating in the streets after 9/11 were celebrating the attacks and death of *innocent* people- women and children included. The people who are celebrating the death of Bin Laden, I see are celebrating the end of a mass murderer-a terrorist. I’m not saying it is “right” to celebrate in the streets over any death, but I can see why some feel a need to demonstrate this way. Bin Laden was not an innocent man- like the 3,000+ he murdered on 9/11 alone.

    I don’t feel personally a need to talk to my children about it at this point in their lives, or have a Super Bowl type party over his death, but I am happy he is gone. I am sad over Bin Laden’s death to the extent it is sad the events he caused, and that one person afflicted that much evil over his fellow human beings. It is sad to see a human going to that far to kill innocent people.

    Is it “right” to feel happy when a serial rapist or murderer is killed in prison? Or to feel happy and relieved when a parent who beats their baby to death is given the death penalty? Is it “wrong” for the families of these victims to express their feelings in this manner-even if some see it as celebrating? I don’t think anyone can say for sure, and I think it varies from person to person. Sometimes justice does call for death, and people are happy and relieved over the death. “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” Martin Luther King

  8. I lost a friend at the Pentagon on 9/11. So yes, I’m glad that bin Laden is dead. However, I have not discussed it with my kids. I will, if they ask, but have no plans to bring it to their attention. I’m also glad that the White House decided not to release the photo today. I don’t need to see it, and I don’t want to risk my kids seeing it.

    In my city, gang violence and drug related murder are pretty common place, and I have friends who will say, “Good, one less gang banger,” when someone is killed. It has always made me sad, because of the loss of potential. Every drug dealer, every gang leader, every person who murders easily, was once someone’s baby, an innocent child with unlimited potential. So what happens? What does it take to turn an innocent baby into a killer?

    However, I also believe that some people are born evil. Like bin Laden. And the world is a better place without him.

    I don’t know how much SAFER we are though, I’ve been looking at photos on MSN and all the anti-US demonstrations and prayer vigils being held make me deeply uneasy.

  9. Heather – there were other people killed in that raid including a woman who probably didn’t have a choice about being there. I realize that her death isn’t what those people are explicitly celebrating but still…

  10. I may have missed an opportunity to talk to my kids about Bin Laden. We as a family do not watch much tv. Therefore they have not seen much coverage of it. Our talk with the 10 year old was summed up with “he is the bad guy who caused 9/11, the army found him and killed him.” No particulars were discussed. Now I am wondering if I need to discuss this in more detail with them or this is a case of tell them only what they want/need to know at this stage of development.

  11. I agree. Being relieved and celebrating are two very different things and messages.

    I think talking murder, and good vs bad is hard enought with children without the scale and media hype and celebrations. How confusing.

  12. Pingback: “Talking to Kids About Osama bin Laden” and related posts | Hot Quick News

  13. Well said! I’m seeing this sentiment more widely now, and I think it’s the way MOST Americans feel. Unfortunately, it was the ones celebrating that filled the news coverage in the hours after the announcement.

  14. I second Mandi’s observation. I’ve been seeing many more people peddling love over hatred. It’s refreshing.

    Not to be spammy, but we happen to have a similar post over at the Jake and Ella blog about how to tell your children about the news! Check it out after the jump: http://jakeandella.com/blog/?p=575

  15. Yes! I had posted (and corrected) the MLK quotes- which sparked an interesting set of comments. At first I was dismayed even further by those who called me self-righteous… and then I realized that the positive comments and likes outnumbered those saying they understood the celebration.

    There’s a saying that “feelings aren’t right or wrong, but it’s what we do with them.” So if people want to *feel* happy that “a bad guy” has died- fine. But to *celebrate*? Well, that makes me feel sad…

    thanks for posting

  16. Thanks for expressing this sentiment. We were also disturbed by some of the reaction to this news. Unfortunately, that kind of human behavior (“euphoria in news of bloodshed” as Sirota put it) has been around long before the likes of bin Laden. It’s up to parents to teach children to value all human life.

  17. I felt the same way when this news was released. The world is a better place without him in it but his death does not rid our world of terrorism. So my reaction was discomfort at all of the rejoicing and then a sense of dread about what type of retaliation will occur.

  18. we need to be more safe and be more aware about the possible revenge plotted on our surroundings. a celebration of a death of a murderer is not the right thing to do. we need to teach the younger generation about what happened few years ago, and let them understand the meaning of faith and unity.

  19. I know I’m late to the party, I just saw this post thought. I’m a conservative, and a navy wife. My husband was on a ship in New York Harbor the day the towers fell and left that day without any notice for a war that we never expected. I lost friends in the towers that day.

    And I am sickened and saddened at the reactions of my fellow countrymen over the reaction of the death of Bin Laden. The time of his death should have been a time of deep reflection on our national character. After all he was only a portion of the people who hate us. Entire false religions have been built up around hating our nation, and we should examine why.

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