Essay: Real Victory is When the Troops Come Home

I remember September 11th clearly, the shock of that Tuesday morning and the sorrow in the days that followed. I remember Wednesday, September 12th, seeking solace in the community of fellow New Yorkers at makeshift vigils in Union Square: We sought, in the company of others, some emotional strength; and even the act of being outside in some ways demonstrated we weren't held captive by our fear.

So there is a part of me that understood what drove people to impromptu rallies at the White House and Ground Zero last night on learning the news of bin Laden's death. Events that transform strangers into neighbors and moments that break through insular lifestyles and pull us into the public sphere are important, cathartic and part of the democratic experience.

But yesterday is not like V-J Day, a comparison made by television broadcasters describing the communal outburst during last night's live coverage. The real celebration will come not for the death of a single enemy, but will come for a true "victory": When our troops are able to come home.

I hope the news of bin Laden's death brings some closure to those whose families were victims on 9/11. The suffering of those who lost loved ones was compounded by the fact that the man responsible had not been brought to justice. In that sense, may they find some measure of solace, though bin Laden's death itself will not close the gaps they still feel in their lives.

Our society's suffering is a different matter. We responded to our loss by launching three wars. The Afghanistan invasion, which felt right to many of us at the time, is in its 10th year. It is one of America's longest military actions, even though it would be hard for most Americans to explain what we're still doing there.

The Iraq War, which many of us felt was wrong from the start, was launched on false premises, never made us safer, and had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden. Yet our men and women in uniform remain in harm's way in that country.

And the "War on Terror," a foolishly named crusade, became a justification to suspend democratic principles, beef up the security state apparatus and keep Americans in fear.

Our country has suffered from all three of these "wars," and that pain is compounded by every soldier who dies, every dollar we spend on missions with no objectives and every time we sacrifice freedoms here at home in the name of false "security."

Osama bin Laden was a criminal terrorist, but yesterday showed it required a network of good intelligence and well-trained operatives - not a military invasion -- to deal with him. Now he is no longer a threat, though the network he created may prove nimble and destructive even without him at its head. But he was also a bogeyman: a phantom that excused all manner of poor American decisions.

He is now dead, but the effects of those poor decisions remain. When we finally end those wars, when our troops are on their way home to reunite with their families out of harm's way, that is when we should take to the streets as they did on V-J Day. That is when we will share a communal scream of catharsis.

The death of one man is not reason for society to celebrate. A real reason would be victory for our country - victory that will come not in the old way of "winning" a war, but in the more important way of "ending" one.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."