You’re the Son of a Bitch We’ve Been Looking For

Today is a day of history. Being such, it’s good to go back to history for some lessons.

In 1865, after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, the Union Army dispatched riders to carry the news to stop fighting.

The story is told that on hearing the news a Union soldier shouted back to one rider: “So you’re the son of a bitch we’ve been looking for these 4 years”.

Today I find myself feeling some of that, though it’s been nearly ten years.

One cannot help but feel like the news of Osama bin Laden’s death should bring some sense of closure. Regardless of how you feel about killing him, his being dead is the closest thing to a clear moment of victory in this thing that is called a “war”.

I wrote nearly five years ago about how this “war” wasn’t a neat war with a clear ending. I borrowed from a Babylon 5 two-part episode title and called it a “War Without End” (itself an echo of the Roman Catholic Credo that declares after the second coming of Jesus Christ, his kingdom “will have no end”).

And here we are, today and the thing that can most closely be called an end has happened.

Now what?

It is like so much I’ve been going through in my own life. It feels like this means that everything has changed and nothing has changed.

Perhaps if this end had come in 2002 it would feel like an end, a victory.

But as it is, it feels less like a victory and more like a formality. It lacks the clear demarcation of a powerful closing. Instead it feels like we’ve made formal what’s already been reality for a while. It’s feels less like a clean break and a new start and more like signing the divorce papers after living apart fifteen years.

I find myself coming back to the ending of T.S. Eliot’sThe Hollow Men“. I think I feel the power of its sentiment most keenly now. Before they were words. But now, I feel what it means.

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

It’s taken nearly ten years to get where we are now. It’s going to take more than one person being killed to get back from that.