My business colleagues and I had just landed at El Paso International Airport, rented a car and were eating at a local McDonald's when we saw the announcement of Osama bin Laden's death on a television in the restaurant tuned to CNN.
After a grueling day of security checkpoints, connecting flights and luggage-fetching, the news seemed distant and unreal, even surreal. It was a lot to process, maybe too much. We watched as President Obama grimly delivered the news to the nation from the East Room of the White House.
Our fellow patrons at McDonald's were not as transfixed by the news. Nobody looked up from their hamburgers long enough to watch the president speak. We left to check in at our hotel before Obama had finished.
Once we were settled in and had turned on our TVs, we found wall-to-wall coverage from the news networks, the inevitable instant analysis of what all this meant for America and its future.
I watched the coverage of crowds celebrating bin Laden's death at Ground Zero and the White House. The people being interviewed were jubilant, excited and full of glee. The coverage reminded me of when local stations do live broadcasts from sports bars after big victories by the Colts or Pacers.
There was the same "We won! I love it!" mentality in the words of those interviewed. Just as when the Colts win, the news anchors on TV seemed to be urging me to join them in the jubilation. "It's a great day for America," people kept saying over and over.
I sat there taking it all in. I felt numb to the news, in part because I'd been traveling for the past 12 hours but also because there seemed to be no other way to react. In the nearly 10 years since 9/11, the news has been full of people dying in the alleged war on terror. Teenaged American soldiers have given their lives in combat by the thousands. Innocent families have been wiped out, first in the United States on 9/11 and then in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and nearly everywhere else in the world — all in the name of preventing mass murder by terrorists.
I was offended by the treatment of bin Laden's death, likening it to a football game. It wasn't the president's fault. He, as always, delivered his words with the appropriate degree of somberness and with eloquence.
But in a decade-long war in which thousands have died, bin Laden's death is just one more. Obviously his death is among the most well earned and deserved among them. If not for his plotting, the World Trade Centers would still be standing and countless people would have been spared suffering and grief.
And yes, the U.S. Navy Seals did an admirable job in locating and eliminating bin Laden. And President Obama did do what George W. Bush had tried and failed to do for seven years. And the removal of bin Laden could indeed mean the beginning of the end of this long and bloody war on terror.
The crowds celebrating victory in the streets on May 1 and the news media that spurred them on, though, failed to ask who really has won up to this point. According to the 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda spent no more than $400,000 planning the attacks on America — we've spent trillions in the recovery and retaliation.
If bin Laden's goal was to disrupt the American way of life, he was successful. Air travel has been permanently changed. The cost of security has been high both in dollars and in liberty. The last administration manipulated Americans' justified anger over 9/11 to start two wars that continue a decade later. While our initial response brought out the best in America, the persecution of Muslims and discrimination against anyone with a Middle Eastern surname has brought out the worst.
In death, bin Laden is as much a hero or martyr to his followers as he was in life. While the Bush and Obama administrations have in large part captured or killed many of the terrorist leaders, more have come forth to replace them.
If bin Laden's demise means the beginning of the end of this war, then we can be grateful. But as the president counseled this week, it would be very unwise for us to continue to spike the ball and dance in the end zone over this alleged victory. There could still be much more bloodshed before this war is over.