Vs. Bad Guys

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Chris Hayes argues, in the wake of Osama's death, for moving past the days of Muslim heat vision, and mad villainy:


It is an irony too often overlooked that the war that grinds on most bloodily isn't the "dumb war" Bush started in Iraq but the "good war" in Afghanistan, authorized in 2001 by a vote of 98-0 in the Senate, 420-1 in the House and supported by 88 percent of Americans at that time. The war was born of our pure and shared desire for justice. To speak out against bombing and invading Afghanistan, in those days, seemed truly radical, almost an insult to the dead. But in retrospect, maybe it was also right. 

I am blessed to have been spared personal loss during 9/11, and it would be callous to begrudge survivors, or anyone, their emotions: people will feel what they will feel. But in the realm of public life we should resist the tug of "bad-guyism." (It's no surprise that Friedman couldn't resist the urge, using the phrase yet again in his first column after bin Laden's killing.) We can use the occasion of bin Laden's death to grasp back for the moment when the world seemed simple, or we can turn away from that impulse. 

We can say that with his death, we return to the world as our adult eyes see it, shot through with suffering and complexity. We can feel compassion for the thousands of innocents who died by bin Laden's hand as well as our own, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time in places like Bagram and Baghdad. We can remember that just because there is evil in the world that we are fighting--and bin Laden was a mass murderer and war criminal--that does not mean we are purely righteous. We can reject relativism and still embrace nuance. We can have the courage to speak and act like adults, to put away childish things, to once and for all banish the bad guys from our nightmares.

Reading Foner's Lincoln book, I've been thinking about how change actually happens. The radical abolitionists are often written off as hare-brained fools, while Lincoln is considered all-wise and all-knowing. But the abolitionists, somehow, successfully moved the public debate. They helped create a strong anti-slavery electorate, with which Lincoln was forced to grapple. The Civil War and the end of slavery is as much there's, as it is Lincoln's.

Presumably, Chris would like a more internationally informed public, one that understood, say, the costs of Obama launching more drone attacks. But how does that tangibly happen? Marching and protesting seems painfully outdated. What are the tools, today, for moving the body politic? 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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