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Apodaca: Symbols give us more than we realize

May 04, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

I had been planning to write something snarky about the breathless media coverage of Britain's royal wedding, and plea for a return to focusing on the important stories of our time, like Lindsay Lohan's shoplifting trial.

I considered the obsession with Prince William's nuptials to be a royal pain, filled with overblown pomp and pomposity, anachronistic traditions, and ridiculous Lady Gaga hats. Why should we — in the land of the self-made — care so deeply about what is largely an antiquated symbolic display of inherited privilege?

But in the past few days, I've changed my tune and toned down my snarkiness. The reason, somewhat paradoxically, is that the death of Osama bin Laden has led me to appreciate the importance of symbols.

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To be sure, the killing of Bin Laden is far more than just a symbolic victory. He was the head of a worldwide terror network responsible for unspeakable crimes, and his continued existence posed an ongoing threat to our security and freedom. Our actions were just, and they were necessary.

But Bin Laden's death is also deeply meaningful because of the idea it represents. It reminds us who we are, and why we fight to preserve that very notion of what it is to be American. It's a message that we badly needed in this age of cynicism and divisiveness.

Like millions of others, I spent the hours after the president's speech glued to the TV, hungry for any and all details behind the successful raid on Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. I watched transfixed as crowds gathered and celebrated in Washington D.C. and New York.

At first, I was a little surprised at the extent of the revelry. This was the news we'd waited nearly 10 years to hear, but shouldn't we greet it with greater solemnity and circumspection, I thought. After all, Bin Laden's elimination, however righteous, can never erase the pain and suffering he caused.

What's more, government officials had been measured in their comments, avoiding any hint of gloating and warning that the war on terrorism is far from over. Indeed, they cautioned that his death might trigger reprisals, and that a heightened state of alertness was warranted.

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