Breaking news alert: Osama Bin Laden is dead.
That news rolled through our lives last night. It was stunning in every imaginable way. I took the news like I’d been punched in the chest, sitting in front of my television, drinking coffee, and waiting for President Obama to address the nation. But even from my home high atop South Park, I could hear the definitive sounds of celebration. They were coming from downtown Morgantown. I heard them for the rest of the night: sirens, car horns, more sirens. Here was one of the scenes.
If you ask me to explain to you how the death of a terrorist leads to a guy celebrating with his pants off, I can’t tell you. My guess is alcohol consumed in great quantities coupled with an enthusiastic crowd. That guy, incidentally, wasn’t the only one parading around with some of his clothes off. That’s John Flowers, this website’s favorite Mountaineer, plainly shirtless and plainly celebrating with the raucous students who emerged around the city.
This is a problem for institutions like West Virginia University, who understandably don’t want students burning everything in sight for the most minor of reasons. That makes sense. The university has earned its reputation for out of control students. University administrators are planning a counter assault, as hinted at here and here.
The following is as odd a sentence as I’m ever going to write. There is a significant difference between burning a couch after beating Virginia Tech and burning a couch after your childhood bogeyman has been vanquished. Games, no matter how passionately fans care about them, are ultimately meaningless. Beating an opponent is a nice release, but celebrating by madness is too much. It was a game and it will forever remain a game. Fighting back against that perspective is praise worthy.
But terrorism has been a very real part of the lives captured in celebratory videos and photographs. They were relatively young children when September 11th occurred. The grew up in a world where Osama bin Laden was a very real, and very menacing, bad guy, no matter how trite a description that might be. All of us were forced to confront a particularly awful reality ten years ago; I cannot speak authoritatively to how to affected children but I can easily imagine that the specter, if only for a few hours, of that threat being diminished was something worth celebrating, something which brought out the sort of uninhibited glee that leads to a college student imagining that a pantless celebration is the best possible celebration.
We can collectively agree that WVU students overreacted last night while at the same time acknowledging that there is a difference between last night’s madness and the kind you’d see after a big win. One is entirely unjustified. The other is too, but it isn’t given a childhood of fear. Find the kids. Make them clean up the damage. Make them pay some money for repairs and salaries. But suspending them from school ignores the historical nature of the evening and the contextual reasons for its occurrence. Sometimes, in other words, kids are going to react like kids and we as a society can say that while it wasn’t okay, it was something we can deal with without being capricious.