Tim Tan Huynh

Killing Osama bin Laden

  • 2 May 2021
  • The most infamous terrorist of the 21st century was killed 10 years ago.

I almost forgot about the 10th anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death. I didn’t realize that 10 years had passed until I saw a blurb on YouTube … and it was about the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, of all things. I had to look up the exact dates, but I remembered that these two historic events happened around the same time. That weekend in 2011 was pretty memorable.

I don’t remember exactly how or when I learned the news that Sunday evening in May. I might’ve watched the presidential announcement as it happened live. Certainly, President Obama standing at the podium in a hallway of the White House is unforgettable in my mind’s eye. So too, is crowds of people celebrating outside of the White House’s gates and at other landmarks.

Like a lot of people, I learned the mission details as they leaked in the following days and weeks. Also like a lot of people, I read No Easy day by Mark Owen and watched Zero Dark Thirty by Kathryn Bigelow. They capitalized on interest that was still high, a year-and-half after the mission. Both works faced controversy, yet they ingrained the mission into cultural memory.

To commemorate, I considered watching Zero Dark Thirty again. The movie is to the Abbotabad raid as Saving Private Ryan is to the D-Day landings. Instead, I watched Without Remorse after I learned that it was based on a novel by Tom Clancy. The movie is a contemporary re-imagining that features Michael B Jordan as John Kelly. In Clancy’s fictional world, this character is second only to Jack Ryan in prominence.

I can’t help but notice the connections among this movie, that mission, and their respective worlds:

  • Michael B Jordan plays a Navy SEAL, a member from the same type of commando unit that’s famous for the mission.
  • Jordan had a breakthrough role in the Friday Night Lights show. His role and the show itself ended a few months before the mission.
  • The Without Remorse book was published in 1993, several months after Al Qaeda’s first bombing of the World Trade Center.
  • John Kelly aka John Clark is the main character of the Rainbow Six book, which will be adapted into a movie as a sequel to the Without Remorse movie. The book was published in 1998, several days before Al Qaeda’s bombing of US embassies in Africa.

It’s fitting that Without Remorse has debuted in the same weekend as this 10th anniversary. John Clark, and the world of Clancy fiction, epitomized the zeitgeist of the 1990s. That zeitgeist included the fear of large-scale terrorism. Osama bin Laden, and his followers, made that fear real with the September 11 attacks. They shaped the course of the world for the next 10-15 years.

Enough time has passed that the anniversary of his death hasn’t lead the news broadcasts. The COVID-19 pandemic has, obviously, overshadowed this event. I wonder if another unprecedented, world-disrupting event will happen in my lifetime. I can only hope that in something like the September 11 attacks will remain a distant memory and that people like Osama bin Laden will only be villains in fictional thrillers.