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Celebrating Death

A general is well advised
To achieve nothing more than his orders:
Not to take advantage of his victory.
Nor to glory, boast or pride himself;
To do what is dictated by necessity,
Not by choice.

For even the strongest force will weaken with time,
And then its violence will return, and kill it.

—Lao Tzu (circa 6th century B.C.)

Not long after the surreal images of planes flying into New York City skyscrapers, there were celebrations in other countries in response to this unfathomable tragedy.  Let us consider this behavioral evidence carefully.  Recently, there were jubilant celebrations in reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden. Let us consider this too.

In choosing to live and kill like a terrorist, it seems as though one also chooses to die like a terrorist. This was Bin Laden’s fate. Although he could not have foreseen the exact details, he chose his meeting with Navy Seals a long time ago. Thus, the ending to his life was just so.

And now we have a chance to reflect on what this means, how we react, and how we progress from here.  There is much to consider, as taking a life always has consequences.  For now, let us consider our own reactions. This is but another chapter in a continuing, sad, violent saga.  911 victims are still gone. The man that set this tragedy in motion has met his self chosen fate.   Relief.  A sense of justice. Catharsis. These are understandable human reactions.

Can this be something to celebrate? Should it be something to celebrate?  What can this tell us about ourselves?  What is the “proper” reaction?  Remaining in a state of uncertainty, I bow my head and move on…

Dr Knoll is associate professor of psychiatry at the SUNY Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, NY, where he is director of forensic psychiatry, and director of the forensic psychiatry fellowship at Central New York Psychiatric Center. He is also the editor in chief of Psychiatric Times. His brother, a Major in the United States Army, served 2 tours in Iraq.


Celebrating Death

This article originally appeared in:

Psychiatric Times

It is reprinted here with permission.