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Was It Worth It?

Entry 1293, on 2011-05-03 at 20:19:30 (Rating 4, News)

Twitter really showed its value in the latest big news event: the death of Osama bin Laden. The incidents were tweeted as they happened, many people first learned about the news through Twitter, and there has been a lot of commentary (OK sure, most of it was completely useless) since the news broke. At its peak Twitter delivered 4000 tweets per second on the subject. Of course, like many internet information sources the problem is to find the useful signal amongst the noise.

One of my favourite tweets on the death of bin Laden was this: "So it took you 10 years, 2 wars, 919,967 deaths, 1,188,263,000,000 US dollars and finally Osama is dead! was it really worth it America?" Good question.

As I said yesterday, from a practical perspective it clearly wasn't worth it. Many people think terrorism will increase as a result of bin Laden's death. Ironically almost every political figure has said the opposite but I think most are too scared to say anything contrary to the official American line of propaganda. But the public obviously can see through this because according to a Herald poll when asked "is the world a safer place now bin Laden is dead?" 77% (including me) said no and only 23% said yes.

Obviously it has been a great psychological boost for the US. A power which seems to be slowly losing its prime position in the world has received a short-lived reason to celebrate. Again as I said yesterday, I think these celebrations are in extremely bad taste but what else has America still got?

So the answer to the question seems to be that it wasn't worth it, although the question is unfair because no one has said that the sole purpose of the "war on terror" was to eliminate bin Laden. But whether it is worth it considering the other current outcomes is also highly doubtful, plus there's the old question of whether the end can justify the means even if the end is itself worthwhile.

The rhetoric is certainly intense from many groups in society. Who sent his naive foot soldiers out to sacrifice themselves while he stayed safe? Who lived in luxury while the people doing his work had to make do with basic living conditions? Who was motivated by religious and political dogma all of which is highly dubious? Who used secrecy to preserve his own life at great expense to others? Who sacrificed women and children for his own political ambitions?

The answer most people would give is Osama bin Laden but, when you think about it, all of those criticisms could easily apply to the leader of America as well, especially to George Bush. On the other hand many people would point out that the conflict began after the 9/11 attacks and America was simply retaliating against an aggressor. So it's hard to be too sympathetic to whatever losses al Qaeda have suffered, including the loss of their leader.

Over one trillion dollars is a lot of money. When I think about how that could have been used for scientific and technological progress instead of war I find it difficult to join the celebrations that many Americans have enjoyed. It's yet another example of the great lie many modern governments tell us: that they can't afford (put whatever worthwhile program you want here). It's not true. They can afford to pay for science, or health, or welfare, or education, or many other worthwhile things. They just have to put a higher priority on these things than they do on war, or rescuing private financial institutions, or whatever other wasteful activities they are engaged in.

A trillion dollars to achieve very little, to probably make the world less safe, to kill almost a million (mostly innocent) people. Was it worth it? How could it be?


Comment 1 (2887) by OJB on 2011-05-04 at 09:15:17:

Despite my misgivings above I do think it's good this happened while a Democrat was in power. I don't think I could have coped if it had happened while Bush was still in charge!

For example, I saw this recently: "Obama recently offered a formal apology to the nation: Sorry it took so long to get you my birth certificate; I was too busy killing Osama bin-Laden."


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