Kevin Cullen

Street perspective

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / May 3, 2011

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Think back to the hours after 9/11, when smoke was still rising from lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and a grassy field in Pennsylvania.

Remember those jubilant scenes in parts of the Middle East? Of people dancing and chanting in the streets? Of people, poor and ignorant, celebrating the murders of thousands of people they didn’t know, half a world away?

Do you remember the revulsion you felt?

I do. It was sickening.

Which is why I felt strangely ambivalent watching college kids, many of whom would have been 9 or 10 years old when the Twin Towers fell, dancing in Kenmore Square, celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden as one might the Red Sox winning the World Series.

Of course, there is no moral equivalence: The people who danced in the Arab street in September 2001 were gloating over the murder of innocents, the humbling of a great power, while those in the American street were celebrating the ultimate justice for a mass murderer.

But if there is no question of moral equivalence, there is the question of how to properly commemorate the death of someone who plunged your country into war.

It was obviously good news — great news — that bin Laden is dead. The Navy SEALs who carried out the operation were superbly heroic. They have avenged not just the murders of compatriots, but of citizens of the world, from London to Madrid, from Karachi to Bali.

I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who lost a loved one on 9/11, or joined the military after, or lost or had a loved one injured in the wars that followed, celebrating the demise of Osama bin Laden however he or she sees fit. They’ve earned that right. But it’s been noticeable and laudable that so many 9/11 families, so many military families, have reacted with grace, with dignified, reflective satisfaction.

Watching the jubilation in Kenmore Square felt oddly uncomfortable, as if bin Laden and the 10 years that followed his most diabolical accomplishment had managed to brutalize all of us just a little, just as the harshness of life had brutalized so many people in the Middle East who hate us even though they don’t know us. For most Americans, including many in Kenmore Square, including me, the biggest sacrifice we’ve made in the last 10 years is having to take our shoes off at the airport.

Bin Laden was such an evil, cynical manipulator of human emotion that he is not worthy of ours. He’s dead. Good riddance.

Things change, even on the street. People have been back on the Arab street this spring. But now they’re chanting against the tyrants who have impoverished them. Using the Arab street to demand justice instead of rejoicing at the spilling of innocent blood is certainly progress.

Now what for the American street? Wouldn’t it be better, wouldn’t it have more meaning, if all the people who flooded Kenmore Square return there on May 22 and walk up to Fenway Park to cheer on and shake hands with the 500 active duty military members who are part of the 3,000-runner field in the Run to Home Base? Last year, the inaugural race raised $2.5 million for the Home Base Program at Massachusetts General Hospital that helps wounded veterans.

A lot of these young men and women — soldiers, Marines, airmen, and sailors — volunteered for service because of what Osama bin Laden did to their country. They are our best. And the best way to honor them is not to dance on bin Laden’s grave but to take care of our wounded warriors, so they can dance at their weddings or the weddings of their children.

Bin Laden started the war. Our people in uniform had to fight it. Now we have to fight for them.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at