The Rush to Closure

12 May 2011


Today I received Wikistrat’s CoreGap 11.12 newsletter by e-mail, which included the article Terra Incognita — At the Time of his Demise, OBL was OBE (“OBE” is “overtaken by events”). This article included a highly amusing passage placing the Bin Laden hit in Hollywood context:

“For Americans, who consume revenge plots with less guilt than most, Bin Laden’s takedown was a thing of beauty – consummating payback. Watch American movies and one plot is easily recognized: the violent man of justice who, once his loved ones are mercilessly killed or threatened by the crime boss, goes on a killing spree that would otherwise be horrifically received if not for the pre-approved moral justification. And once the bad men are killed? There is no remorse – just the pulsating soundtrack that ushers in the credits once that long, satisfying crane shot is finished. The 9/11 narrative is now complete for American society.”

I have to hand it to the Wikistrat team for this one — they’ve really nailed it, and I couldn’t have put it any better myself. I also have to hand it to the Obama administration for having chosen an attainable goal with a high emotional payback, followed through with it, made it happen, and now are capitalizing on the closure afforded by what Wikistrat calls a “take down” and I’ve been calling a “hit.”

The degree to which the Obama administration was prepared to exploit the need for closure was striking. The smell of cordite hadn’t cleared from the air before the president was laying a wreath at Ground Zero and the punditocracy was asking, “What next?” and “Who next?” I thought this came across as a bit rushed, and the administration could have benefited by waiting to exploit these symbols of closure, but, on the other hand, had they waited they might have come in for criticism for drawing out the consequences of the hit. Still, another couple of days before the wreath ceremony would have been more tasteful.

The whole point of managing the human need for closure is that it takes time — it can’t be rushed, it can’t be cut short, and ideally it can’t be delayed beyond a proper span. While the ten year hunt for Bin Laden meant that most who had been immediately affected by the September 11 attacks had, by this time, found a way to live with it, the hit on Bin Laden is the sort of thing that, even while providing closure, also may re-open old wounds and thereby subject survivors to the possibility of re-traumatization if it is not handled well.

The Obama administration proved that they were prepared to handle closure from a standpoint of political exploitation, but in terms of those who were personally affected, and who may have experienced PTSD, this rush to closure may possibly seem like a cynical political exploitation of the suffering of others. Some of these survivors are influential because of their high profile and the role that they played in events, but there are probably not enough of them to make an issue of the matter.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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