Is It O.K. to Feel Happy About Osama bin Laden’s Death?

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Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME

How is one supposed to react to the violent end met by one of the world’s most violent men? Some people took to the streets cheering and chanting, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Others experienced quiet relief that a terrorist had been eliminated. For others, the news rekindled old feelings of trauma and pain.

(More on TIME.com: “Photos: Celebrating the Death of Osama bin Laden”)

In an article on CNN Health, reporters Elizabeth Landau and Madison Park pointed out that all of these feelings were to be expected. Landau and Park polled several psychologists as well as a few New Yorkers to get a better understanding of the public’s emotional response:

For some, bin Laden represents an idea more than a person who lived and died. More than the death of a human being, this ends the life of a powerful symbol of terrorism and destruction, said Nadine Kaslow, psychologist at Emory University. Bin Laden’s death hits closer to home in the U.S. than the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein, for example, because the Iraqi dictator did not directly attack American soil, she said.

The celebratory mood reflects a sense that fairness and justice had been restored and that a terrorist got his comeuppance, said Kaslow. “I think people feel like this guy got what he deserved. It was a sense that it was ‘our family’ that was killed,” she said.

For others, the feeling was less jubilation than closure and relief. Diana Massaroli, who lost her husband Michael in the World Trade Center attack on 9/11, told CNN that the news of bin Laden’s death imbued her with an “overall calm that I haven’t felt in 10 years. I feel better … like I can start a new chapter in my life.”

For many who were directly affected by the 9/11 attacks, however, the feelings of sadness over the loss of their loved ones cannot be undone by the killing of one man. What’s more, the terrorist’s death may resurrect past pain and trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress in some survivors, Columbia University psychiatrist Dr. Jeffery Lieberman told CNN.

(More on TIME.com: “Video: Gathering at Ground Zero”)

And at least one commenter opined that the joy and celebration that many Americans displayed was misconceived. In a piece titled “‘USA! USA!’ Is the Wrong Response,” Salon contributor David Sirota noted that in our “unbridled euphoria” over death, “we see bin Laden’s more enduring victory — a victory that will unfortunately last far beyond his passing.” Sirota wrote:

[I]n the years since 9/11, we have begun vaguely mimicking those we say we despise, sometimes celebrating bloodshed against those we see as Bad Guys just as vigorously as our enemies celebrate bloodshed against innocent Americans they (wrongly) deem as Bad Guys. Indeed, an America that once carefully refrained from flaunting gruesome pictures of our victims for fear of engaging in ugly death euphoria now ogles pictures of Uday and Qusay’s corpses, rejoices over images of Saddam Hussein’s hanging and throws a party at news that bin Laden was shot in the head.

While the nation’s response to the news has varied from person to person, one thing remains constant — that everybody wants to experience their emotions together, whether via Twitter or Facebook, at Ground Zero in New York City, or in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.

Read CNN’s full piece here.

Related Links:

Inside ‘Operation Get Bin Laden’

Photos: Inside the Situation Room

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