chris graham a new day dawning
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Chris Graham: A new day dawning

The first feeling: dread. That’s what went through me as I was getting ready to go to bed early Sunday night before hearing that the president had a major announcement to make at 10:30 p.m., literally minutes away from when I heard the bulletin.

Funny how we’ve been conditioned to the bad news anymore, isn’t it? Maybe somebody was threatening us with nuclear blackmail. That was actually the first thought that went through my head. God forbid we find ourselves in another war.

A major announcement late on a Sunday night – it couldn’t be good.

Then one of the cable-news talking heads put something out there that I hadn’t considered: What if it had to do with Osama Bin Laden?

Turns out, of course, that it did – Bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 Americans and changed our way of life forever, had been killed in a raid on a compound in Pakistan in which he had apparently been hiding for several years.

Among the next thoughts through my mind – should I feel guilty about being happy at the news of his death? I posted a message to Facebook to this effect, wondering aloud how pictures of Americans celebrating the news in Washington and New York would look in the Muslim world, in the context of how I remember feeling at the images of mass celebrations in parts of the Muslim world at the news of the 9/11 attacks.

Then it hit me – OK, yeah, there are twinges of guilt at being happy at someone else’s demise, but hey, this isn’t just any someone else. Bin Laden put in motion a terrorist action that he hoped would foment worldwide war that would result in a global Muslim fundamentalist caliphate. That he fundamentally misread how the U.S. would respond – he thought we would retreat as we pulled out of Beirut following the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks there in 1983 – and that he fundamentally misread the reaction of the Muslim world – he assumed the world’s 1 billion Muslims would unite as one with the terrorist attacks as a key flashpoint – is of little consequence.

The first layer of impact was directly on the 3,000 people who were killed and their families and friends. As President Obama said in his speech to the nation last night, “(T)he worst images (from 9/11) are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.”

The second layer – our military sector, including the families and friends of those serving their country in the post-9/11 era. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in deaths and injuries to tens of thousands, and the emotional strain on those who had to serve multiple tours and emerged unscathed in terms of physical injuries will be with us for generations.

The third layer – the rest of us. The strain of paying for multitrillion-dollar wars no doubt had an impact on our economy, which finally tanked in 2007. We’ve given up a good bit in terms of our civil liberties. We’ve seen our political system become almost hopelessly divided at times with shots being fired across the bow from the right and the left.

We were a people desperately waiting for some sliver of good news to heap on this pile of bad and worse news that had marked the past 10 years. Two wars not going well. An economy in recession now in a jobless recovery.

I was an elementary-school student in the Jimmy Carter years, but from what I remember, and have been able to gather about the time in retrospect, I think we were about as low as a nation as we’d been since the end of the Carter era, with Iranians holding our U.S. embassy workers hostage, the Soviet Union thumbing its nose at us in Afghanistan, our economy in malaise and the rest.

So here it is – the guy who engineered it all has finally been dealt his justice. He won’t continue living in relative luxury in a mansion in Pakistan as families in America who were his 9/11 victims wake up and go about their days without their fathers and mothers and sons and daughters. He won’t taunt us on the upcoming 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks or the walkup to the November 2012 presidential election with another YouTube video.

It’s hard to think that the world is that much better a place today than it was yesterday with Bin Laden gone. Al Qaeda was not a one-man organization, and had increased its decentralization and unit-by-unit autonomy in the aftermath of 9/11, so it’s not as if the threat from political terrorism inspired by Bin Laden is forever gone. Nor does his death bring back the men, women and children who lost their lives on 9/11, and those lost in the wars since 9/11.

We can’t turn back the clock to Sept. 10, 2001, basically.

What we can do is come to terms with who we are as a people, as Americans. As much as we disagree on things like how to deal with economic calamities or run our health-care delivery system or abortion or gun rights or civil rights for gays, lesbians, minorities, immigrants, there’s so much more that we agree on – the freedom to pursue whatever religious beliefs we hold dear, the freedom to choose for ourselves how we want to go about providing for ourselves and our families, even the very freedom to disagree with each other on anything and everything under the sun.

One other thing – working together, we can do the impossible.

Maybe next time we get one of those breaking-news bulletins, I won’t assume the worst.

More columns at TheWorldAccordingToChrisGraham.com

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