Where Victory Lies

It isn't in bin Laden's death. It's in all the ways he failed to change us

  • Illustration by Gerard DuBois for TIME

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    A decade of hard choices ends in a flash of justice. How to mark V-OBL day? A surrender, a capture, is easy compared with a killing. It's unnerving to celebrate death, even one so long-awaited. But this was a man who had tenderly calculated just how many infidel American children he hoped to slaughter and how many more he would orphan. And so, unambivalent and amazed, the kids reached for their flags — the kids whose childhoods bin Laden had twisted, kids whose parents woke them up in the middle of the night to hear the President's speech, kids who painted stars and stripes on their cheeks as they danced off to school in the morning, kids who are more global, more diverse, more tolerant, more curious and more hopeful than ever before. Maybe they were celebrating his death, but maybe it was more the realization that he had long since been defeated.

    He'd been defeated by the resilience of societies he derided as soft and corrupt; we were tough enough to take the battle to him, committed enough to turn the 9/11 anniversary into a day of service, crass enough to market Osama piñatas, confident enough to turn off the all-terror-all-the-time news feed and go back to dancing with the stars. We didn't seal our borders; immigration actually rose. We still fly, and with e-tickets no less. We're a more vigilant society but just as rambunctious. We argue with each other, join the Marine Corps and the Peace Corps. And across the world, all through the Middle East, we watch the kids bin Laden hoped would be his foot soldiers choose peaceful change instead. Our kids learned early about evil. But they grew up learning how it is fought.

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