Bioedge highlights an apparent ongoing meme in some bioethical and science circles that it was wrong for people to be happy at the death of OBL, that somehow “revenge” is something out of our primitive past that has no place in the modern world. From the article:

In the profusion of articles this week, other writers reminded their readers that revenge was, to a certain extent, biologically determined. In the Wall Street Journal, columnist Jonah Lehrer reminded readers that “we are engineered to get pleasure from punishing those who deserve to be punished”. This claim is supported by a 2004 paper in the journal Science which showed that revenge is literally sweet. Swiss scientists used brain scans to show that revenge activitates a region of the brain called the dorsal striatum which is involved in feelings of enjoyment or satisfaction. So there you have it. Knocking off Osama bin Laden may not have been an ethical decision at all, but one which was determined by atavistic impulses in the brain more suited for speak-brandishing cave-dwellers than civilised soldiers.

I don’t see anything wrong with people being happy about a victory over an implacable and dangerous enemy that acted so despicably and mercilessly against unarmed, defenseless people going about their daily lives. It is the culmination of a long campaign, an intelligence and military victory that makes us all a little bit (not a lot) safer.

Besides, it was an act of war, not an assassination. Assassinations are murders of legitimate political leaders, such as JFK, Lincoln, King, and Malcolm X.  OBL was no such legitimate leader.  Congress essentially declared war on Al Qaeda after 9/11.  That makes his killing no different than when the U.S. military broke the Japanese code during WWII and found out where Admiral Yamamoto would be flying.  They shot down the plane and aided the war effort by taking out the enemy’s most capable navy leader.  That wasn’t an assassination, either.

I am sure there were cheers that day, too.  It’s okay to be happy when you win a victory.  It would not have been okay to drag OBL’s body through the streets as some of our enemy have done to our killed soldiers.  But toasting the military or our political leaders for jobs well done?  Not unethical at all.

Articles by Wesley J. Smith

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