SYNECDOCHE. I first caught word that something was up when I saw that a friend had asked a question on Facebook about President Obama’s impending news conference.
It was right around 7:30 PST on that first Sunday evening in May: I had procrastinated all weekend and had to start thinking about tomorrow’s lesson plans, but was on Facebook reading and commenting on my friends’ Status Updates instead. The kids had been put to bed, but were making their nightly trips to the living room to complain of tummy aches and insomnia. And our next door neighbor and my wife were at the front door exchanging stories from each other’s weekends as the dog jumped about in gleeful excitement.
As I told the kids a second or third time that they’d better get back in bed before I count to three, and I tried to listen in on the hushed conversation at the door, I began searching all the typical news sites – CNN, LA Times, Google News – for any information other than the simple fact that President Obama was scheduled to make an unscheduled announcement at 7:30 PST (10:30 EST). There was speculation in response to the initial Facebook inquiry that Osama bin Ladin had been killed, but I could find nothing to confirm or deny this theory. And this one post was the only mention of it that I saw on Facebook. No one else, not even my more politically conscious friends, had posted anything about it. I really, really wanted to turn on the TV to see what was going on – it was already fifteen minutes past the 7:30 announcement time – but the kids were still coming out of their room at regular intervals and my wife was still at the door.
My wife soon wrapped up her conversation with our neighbor and we double-teamed the kids to get them back in bed. I mentioned the President’s imminent announcement to her, so we flipped on the television and tuned in to the first available news station, probably MSNBC or CNN. The words “BREAKING NEWS” were in bold, white letters against a red banner just above the ticker at the bottom of the screen. The talking head on the screen – not anyone I recognized; after all it was the Sunday night swing shift of a New York-based cable news broadcast – told us nothing we didn’t already know: the President had called, but had not yet given, an unexpected news conference to make an important announcement, which – according to several unconfirmed reports – was most likely that Osama bin Ladin had been killed.
As the 8:00 hour approached, we turned to one of the network channels in hopes that the news conference would happen soon and that we could then watch that night’s episode of one of our favorite reality shows. Instead what followed was nearly an hour of stalling by the news anchor who asked variations of the same four or five questions to three or four guest “experts” who were stationed at the White House, Pentagon, and other strategic locations in Washington. The next hour was filled with speculation of what exactly the President would say, confirmation from unheard-of Congressmen and other government officials of basically irrelevant bits of information, expert analysis of the minuscule amounts of confirmed information and of the speculation by the other experts being interviewed, and repeats of the speculation and unconfirmed information for those just tuning in. But in the end, we knew little more than we did when we first turned on the television: the President was about to make an important announcement at any moment, that announcement was most likely that after nearly ten years of hunting him down, Osama bin Ladin had been killed by US military forces, and that the delay was likely due to the necessary preparations to make this a worldwide, and not just a nationwide, announcement.
Finally at about 8:40 PST (nearly midnight on in Washington), over an hour after the unscheduled news conference was supposed to begin, the news anchor had to cut off the analysis by the foreign affairs expert as the camera feed at the White House went live and President Barack Obama strolled confidently down a red carpet toward the podium and microphone. At the start of his nine-and-a-half minute address, Obama confirmed what we were all waiting to hear: Osama bin Ladin, the mastermind behind the Horror of 9/11, and been killed by American soldiers. Few details were given; the information he presented about the intelligence leading to the raid and the actual covert operation – apparently the Pakistani government did not even know we had entered their country to take out the target – was all on a very high level of vague abstraction. He praised the efforts and diligence of the intelligence agencies and military forces who, after nearly a decade on bin Ladin’s trail, finally brought the most wanted man in the world to justice. He gave his heart-felt condolences to the families of those affected by the Horror and reminded the nation and the world that their pain and suffering has not been forgotten. And finally, he reminded Americans that the death of this one man who had declared war on this country by using our own airliners as weapons against us did not mean that the War on Terror was over, and that we must continue to be vigilant in the protection of our people and our home. Then, as quickly as he walked up to the podium to make the announcement, the President turned around and walked back down that red carpet and out of the camera’s sight, with a little more swagger than on his approach.
The end of the announcement brought back the network news anchor, who offered a summary of the speech we had just finished watching, speculation into exactly how the operation in Pakistan went down, and live footage of gathering crowds of Americans who took to the streets of Washington – and presumably just about every city in the country – to celebrate the death of our worst enemy. In these video clips, celebrants waved flags, gave hugs and high-fives, and could be heard chanting “USA! USA!”
At the top of the hour, regularly scheduled programming resumed. As we watched our show, my wife had Facebook open and recounted the responses that began to pour in. One friend wrote about neighbors who were driving up and down the street honking horns and yelling out of the windows of the car. Others posted and reposted patriotic axioms. Some of our church friends were quick to post reminders of the “appropriate” Christian response; that we ought to feel satisfaction in justice, but not rejoice in revenge. Several friends showed their newly reborn patriotism by changing their profile pictures to pictures of our flag or bald eagles. What better way to say “God bless America” than with illegally copied and uploaded photos and trite patriotic quotes that are fewer than 400 characters?
That night, as my wife and I lay in bed waiting for sleep to come, an odd mix of emotions began to settle over me as we talked about this historic event. I think we had both breathed an internal sigh of relief as we felt a bit of closure. The Horror had changed our nation and our lives forever, and that night’s announcement gave a sense that one chapter in this narrative was finally over. Honestly, I was skeptical that this day would never come, that this announcement would never be made. Nearly a decade had passed since that September morning, and it appeared – at least to the public eye – that the trail had grown cold and that bin Ladin was more likely to die from old age than from a Special Forces’ bullet. So I expressed a bit of pride in our armed forces and in their tenacity and determination that had brought this day to pass.
But these passing events also brought a rather unsettled feeling for both of us. With this news came a flood of questions: What does this mean for our future? Are we actually one step closer to real victory in our War on Terror? Is our country truly safer now than twenty-four hours ago? Or will this merely inspire a new wave of attacks, perhaps on a much smaller, but just as effective scale? What’s to stop some pissed off Al-Qaeda sympathizer from getting up the next morning and putting on a suicide bomber’s vest under his sport coat as he heads off to work and exacts his own form of revenge? Did Al-Qaeda have contingency plans set for when or if this day would ever arrive? What dastardly plots would fill the headlines in the days and weeks to come? Under the surface of pride and closure lay an uncertainty that would sit heavy as we dozed off to sleep.
By the next morning, the jubilant patriotism had turned to sarcasm and cynicism. Last night’s statements and Status Updates of support for our troops and our Commander-in-Chief on Facebook had turned into bin Ladin jokes, things like “Waiting for [Donald]Trump to ask for the death certificate,” “I guess bin Ladin shouldn’t have tweeted ‘just chillin’ with the homies at my compound in Pakistan,” and “bin Ladin: all-time hide-n-seek champion, 10 years.”
Later that next day, and into the following week, our collective cynical side began rearing its head. Questions about the President’s timing and other circumstances surrounding this announcement filled the airwaves and cyberspace. Was Obama trying to capitalize on this event for his own political gain and to help bolster his reelection bid in eighteen months? Did the fact that we found and killed the Horror’s mastermind somehow justify the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used to obtain the leads that led to his death? Was the GOP simply bitter that a Democrat was the one to make the announcement? It seems we can’t simply revel in the fact that the good guys won one this time; we have to wonder about motives and question the intentions of our elected officials.
It certainly didn’t take long for the true post-modern-Gen-X American spirit to come out, one that celebrates our victories and will keep us strong even through our darkest days.
 For many of us, Facebook seems to be the first place we turn for news and information. Need to know the weather or the latest breaking news? Forget CNN or MSNBC, go to Facebook.[back]
Our little half-poodle-half-bichon canine companion can get loss-of-bladder-control excited when certain visitors, including our next door neighbor, come knocking at our door.[back]
 I’m not always sure what will happen if I do get to three before they scamper back to their bedroom, but I typically hope the threat of something unpleasant will be enough to get them running back down the hall. Sometimes reaching two is enough; other times it takes getting to three and starting to get up from my chair to do the trick. One thing’s for sure, counting to three gets the dog all riled up. She’s very protective of the kids.[back]
 Aside from the financial obstacles and the fact we only live in a two-bedroom condo, one of the primary reasons we stopped after two kids is I don’t want to be outnumbered, especially when they hit the teenage years.[back]
We have only the most basic cable television package that does not include a converter box or on-screen programming. So we have to flip channels old-school style to see what is on.[back]
 Again, an unfamiliar face. Whatever this announcement was, it was important enough to preempt over an hour of primetime television, but apparently not important enough to call the Nightly News anchors in on a Sunday evening.[back]
 The whole news-anchor-stalling-while-we-wait-for-the-real-news-conference was very reminiscent of watching a high speed chase live on the evening news, except without the footage of the car chase. The newscasters just droned on and on, trying to fill the time while they waited to the video feed from the White House to go live.
At one point I commented to my wife that I was starting to feel sorry for the news anchor at the center of all these discussions. The guest experts at least got short breaks when the anchor moved on to talk to someone else, and all they had to do while on the air was look pretty and answer the same questions over and over. The news anchor had the more difficult job of having to come up with additional thought-provoking questions to ask these experts he was interviewing. While he began to get very repetitive after about ten minutes of this holding pattern, I grew to have some respect for the guy and his ability to think on his feet for such a prolonged period of time.[back]
 This is the name David Foster Wallace gave to the 9/11 attacks on his essay, “The View from Mrs. Thompson’s.”[back]
The following morning’s news radio broadcast played a recording of the reaction of crowds at a Major League Baseball stadium when the news broke. That afternoon’s broadcast played the reaction from a World Wrestling Entertainment event. Both were a raucous of cheers and chants.[back]
 Peaking in popularity is the showing of support and raising awareness for various causes by changing one’s profile picture. Perhaps my favorite of these was the change-your-profile-picture-to-a-cartoon-character-to-raise-awareness-for-abused-children day (because cartoon characters scream “help abused children” like nothing else can?). On this occasion an old friend replaced his usual picture with one of Homer Simpson with a chokehold on Bart.
I must confess that I’ve never participated in these awareness raising events, just as I have never forwarded those chain emails that one is obligated to forward if one truly loves Jesus. I prefer to share my faith in more practical, less socially annoying ways.[back]
The following week’s Time magazine revealed that one of bin-Ladin’s neighbors had inadvertently live-tweeted the actual attack with this post: “A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad… I hope its not the start of something nasty.”[back]
After all, he hardly even mentioned “The Shrub’s”* efforts in laying the groundwork for hunting down bin Ladin. And many commented on the apparent overuse of the first-person pronoun in Obama’s speech.
*DFW’s name for former president George W Bush in his essay, “Up, Simba.”[back]