Osama bin Laden killed in Pakistan. Nine years and seven months after 9/11.
Although I share a degree of the elation demonstrated by the crowds that gathered near the White House and at Times Square last night, I’ve lived long enough to know that these moments are all too fleeting. I remember well when the Berlin Wall opened–I was there a few weeks afterwards to photograph its rapid destruction. And I remember the feeling that the world had changed forever, that freedom had won out over authoritarianism. That the long shadow of World War II had finally been lifted off of central Europe.
Twelve years later, Osama bin Laden and his terrorist hit men flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and another shadow descended. September 11th, and our reaction to it, led to an unjustified war in Iraq, torture, and the weakening of our economy–call it Bin Laden’s decade-long victory. Feel free to argue otherwise, but I do not think history will support it. Bin Laden’s death does not end that saga, but it offers, at least symbolically, the possibility that we can move forward again, after falling back.
Undoubtedly, those who were directly touched by 9/11 will feel that justice has been served, though I doubt that closure is an appropriate word to describe their (our) ongoing loss. I think, especially, of my friend Jack Hardy, the songwriter, whose brother was killed in one of the towers. Jack died in March of cancer. Were he here today, I do not think he would find much solace in bin Laden’s demise.
For me, it is a moment of mixed emotions. I have spent a good deal of my life as a photographer focused, by design or by accident, on these two watershed events, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the destruction of the World Trade Center. They are two of the most important events of our time. I have books on these subjects, whole bodies of work. With today’s news I have this rare sense of being momentarily at the center of things, that my work connects to the flow of history. And yet, just as quickly, I feel history rushing forward and slipping from my grasp.