THOUSANDS OF young people took to the streets to cheer the death of Osama bin Laden on Sunday night and yesterday. They were expressing pride in their country, but also the lifting of a burden that weighed more heavily on their generation than on Americans of other ages.
Celebrating the end of a man’s life with chants more suitable for a sporting event can feel unseemly — more like the angry passions aroused in bin Laden’s followers than his victims. But it was no accident that the revelry was especially great in New York, Washington, and Boston — the cities most directly affected by the 9/11 attacks. And the outpouring can only be understood in the context of what bin Laden represented to today’s young adults.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, they were getting ready for school, or already sitting in classrooms, when the unthinkable occurred. Their country was attacked with a cunning and cold-blooded viciousness that was difficult even for adults to comprehend. But for children the questions had a special poignancy: Would their neighborhoods be attacked? Would their parents be killed? Would they live their lives in a country shadowed by fear?
For everyone, remembering where they were when the World Trade Center towers tumbled is a searing memory. The world seemed to stop. Horrific images played on television screens, again and again.
What followed was equally traumatic. A terrifying series of anthrax attacks. Tightening of security at airports, where the most insidious threats were made visible in ever-changing precautions: Shoes removed, liquids confiscated, pat-downs reaching into uncomfortable places.
There was also 10 years of war, during which the children of 9/11 grew into the soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan or Iraq. Close to 6,000 US service members died, and tens of thousands were injured. The cost was visible to almost every high-school class that graduated after 2001.
Bin Laden’s death was, for many, the first event to diminish the sense of horror that arrived in their childhood and followed them ever since. Will it ever go away completely? If revelry is a sign of purging, an almost physical shedding of weight, then let them revel.