0503BINaudU.S. Army Col. Michael Pyott, professor of military science at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, speaks to the veracity of Osama bin Laden’s death.
Jim Haight remembers 9/11 well.
He interrupted regular lessons on that day to let North Hall High School students discuss their feelings about the national tragedy. He had the TV set in his room tuned to CNN.
Haight got a fresh reminder Sunday night of those surreal events nearly 10 years ago, with TV news’ announcement that 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden had been killed during a firefight with U.S. military special forces.
“You think back to 9/11 and ... I hope there’s closure for a lot of people,” he said. “There was a sense of relief because I never thought I’d hear those words.”
President Barack Obama announced late Sunday that bin Laden had been killed in a private compound in Pakistan. A group of Navy SEALs accomplished the covert mission, with reports that bin Laden was caught in a barrage of bullets as he fired at the Americans.
His body was gathered up and later buried at sea, following Islamic tradition that requires a speedy burial.
Obama’s announcement triggered impromptu celebrations, including in New York, where the once-beaming Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, after terrorist-flown planes had intentionally crashed into them.
Haight had mixed feelings at seeing those shouts of joy.
“What have we come to when we’re overjoyed when somebody is killed?” he said.
“I’m not going to condemn people, because I don’t think that’s fair, but when I watched people dancing in the streets and things like that, the first thing that ran through my mind was, ‘Are we any better than they are?’
“I would love to have had this announcement made and then everybody just went on with their life like he was a nobody.”
The news produced a range of emotions for many Americans, reminded since 2001 — and even before, when bin Laden carried out other acts of terror — that he was enemy No. 1.
In its war in Afghanistan, American spent years searching for bin Laden in mountainous caves and other potential hideouts.
Bin Laden’s demise would come in a high-walled compound less than a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, the country’s equivalent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Kakul is in Abbottabad, which has numerous other military installations and bases, as well as a spy network to protect them.
On Monday, Taylor Marshall told his mother, Bonnie Marshall of Forsyth County, that while his fellow soldiers in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division are glad bin Laden is dead, “it doesn’t change anything,” his mother said.
He told her “if anything, it makes more uncertain about what’s ahead,” she said, adding her son is deploying today to Afghanistan.
Her worries are raised. “I’m thinking now about what kind of retaliation is going to (befall) the U.S. because of this,” Marshall said.
“What sort of cells or pockets of terrorists are out there that are going to be upset at America?”
She believes “the military is really going to be on their toes because they don’t know what to expect.”
Brian Oliver, who lives in Reunion subdivision in South Hall, has a son, T.J., who is serving in the Marines in Afghanistan.
“I don’t want to sound like (bin Laden’s death) is an eye for an eye, but a lot of people are happy that he is out of the picture,” he said. “He wasn’t only horrible to Americans, but there was a lot of Muslims who suffered under him as well.”
Kerry Stewart, a Gainesville State College professor set to take an intensive course in terrorism studies next month in Israel, said he was pleased, but not particularly surprised, at the president’s announcement.
“I knew it would take a long time, but I knew also that we would get him some day,” said Stewart, who has an article set for this fall’s Digest of Middle Eastern Studies, “Just War and Terrorism: A New Policy Perspective.”
He doesn’t believe bin Laden’s death is going to have a profound effect on the U.S. war against terrorism.
“Certainly he was a symbol (of terrorism), but primarily a symbol only,” Stewart said. “Most of these organizations work on their own. Even al-Qaida has several different branches throughout the world.
“They may even step up in the next few months for retaliation purposes. Certainly, (bin Laden’s death) is going to give them pause, and for the nations that harbor (terrorists), like Pakistan, give them pause to continue to do so.
“Because we will get whomever we go after.”
U.S. Army Col. Michael Pyott, professor of military science at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, heard the news Monday, his birthday.
“It was a nice birthday present, but I know for many years, we have been trying (to catch him) and thought we had him on a few occasions,” he said.
Pyott, who has served in Afghanistan, said he believes bin Laden’s death represents an “important” blow against terrorism.
“Whether (he) had day-to-day control over al-Qaida and its operations, he was the figurehead of that organization,” he said. “... When you lose a central figure like that, that is going to hurt their morale.”
Overall, Pyott believes bin Laden’s death is more than a temporary moment of relief for Americans. “It’s a chance for us to rekindle our patriotism and remember that we are one nation.”
Associated Press contributed to this report.