Nearly a decade ago on fireworks night at a Hagerstown Suns game, a jubilant crowd celebrated each exploding rocket as a victory over the evildoers who had destroyed the Twin Towers. Old Glory flew high and proud that night, one day after we had initiated bombing in the Middle East.
The echoes of those cheers subsided over the coming days, months and years, as it became apparent that Osama bin Laden, the architect of 9/11, would be no easy catch. Military victories and military setbacks continued apace, but regardless of the daily action, there was one piece of news that all Americans longed for. News that never came.
Except that late Sunday night, it did. Finally. Osama bin Laden, who had been living in a palatial compound within mocking distance of a Pakistani military outpost, was dead, shot head-on by U.S. Navy SEALs.
Poignant, spontaneous scenes erupted across the nation, no more so than at Ground Zero and in Times Square, where firefighters gazed up in triumph and tears at the news in lights of our ultimate victory.
After 10 long years, one of the greatest scores that this country has ever known was finally settled.
We do not revel in death. Yet we would be less than human not to express satisfaction that bin Laden lived just long enough to see his attackers standing before him. Long enough to feel his heart pound, just as his victims’ hearts had pounded a decade before. Long enough to know that this is the price for taking the lives of 3,000 innocents — that it might be sooner or it might be later, but if you strike us, America will one day come calling.
Our joy today is valid and it is well-earned. We celebrate our commanders in chief, George W. Bush and Barack Obama for staying true to the chase. We celebrate those in Intelligence and those SEALs — whose names may never be known — for bravery that we might never be able to imagine. We celebrate all who have served and particularly all who have given their lives for this end.
It is unlikely to be the ultimate end, of course; evil will walk with us as long as the earth spins, and some will use bin Laden’s death as justification for unjustifiable mayhem.
So perhaps it is best not to see this as an end, but as a beginning. Bin Laden stole from us much more than human life. He distorted our soul, eroded our confidence and caused us to act in ways unbecoming to a nation of our greatness. You could hear the whispers. Is this the beginning of the end?
No. It is the beginning of America the Beautiful finding her stride once again. Today we know that we are still great; we have seen it in the cheering faces across the land. We still have what it takes, and we can capture this moment in a bottle and build upon it going forward.
We still have our differences, but bin Laden was unable to splinter us the way he had planned. He was not able to inject his brand of hatred into our people. Today, we are all one — Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers, Libertarians, Greens, blacks, whites, foreign and domestic. Tomorrow, we will resume our debates, but today we hold hands.
We hold hands because the majority of Americans never surrendered to fear and never surrendered to pessimism. We understood that there would be dark days, yet we never lost the hope and the conviction that better times will be ours.
History will record that Osama bin Laden achieved the opposite of his intentions. In seeking to tear us apart, he will have made us stronger, unified our resolve and worked us up into the fighting shape we need to attack future challenges.
Today, come what may, we are encouraged about the future, proud of our brothers and sisters overseas and happy to shout once again in full throat, God bless America.