There couldn’t have been a more apropos blending of fact and fiction on Sunday night as the astonishing news broke that U.S. Special Forces had assassinated Osama bin Laden nearly 10 years after the devastating attacks he ordered on Sept. 11, 2001, that forever changed the world.
I happened to be catching up on season two of "24," the part where a nuclear bomb has gone off in Los Angeles and Jack Bauer is on a quest to find evidence that will prevent President Palmer from attacking three unnamed Arab countries that are believed responsible. Bauer, as would become his trademark M.O., is on a rogue mission running up against the powers that be at the fictional CTU, while around the president, subterfuge brews as the drumbeats for war grow louder and louder, and in fact warplanes have already been launched for the Middle East.
About to settle in for another episode of this dramatic, dearly missed program for which I didn’t come to the party until later in the game, I decided to bail out and check the news at 10 p.m. on, fittingly, Fox11LA. Shock of all shockers. There was president Obama announcing the news that quickly reverberated around the globe, that bin Laden had been executed in a firefight, a revelation that quickly translated into impromptu, cathartic celebrations at the White House, Ground Zero and Times Square.
The Los Angeles Fox station did an excellent job of immediately providing some perspective on the fast-breaking news, lining up live interviews with terrorism experts, experts on the Middle East, and the brother of the pilot of the doomed American Airlines jet that crashed into the Pentagon.
As details begin to filter out, including word that only a very few people inside the U.S. government knew about the operation, which began in earnest last fall when a trusted courier to bin Laden was tracked to the fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, beginning a series of five top secret national security hearings led by the president, they echoed some of the fictional plot lines of the early days of "24." With timing that couldn’t have been more fortuitous in mirroring real-life events, the “real-time” actioner premiered less than two months after Sept. 11.
Looking back on those dark days, it’s easy to see why the Fox drama resonated so strongly with the American public, and how the character of Jack Bauer as played by Kiefer Sutherland became the face and the flash point for the fearless, fierce, win-at-all costs bravado that was the antidote to the fear and victimization that 9/11 engendered across many segments of the population. Naturally, the show became a political hot potato as well, with accusations that its creators cultivated a right-wing agenda that villainized Muslims and condoned torture–issues that still reverberate across political debates today.
Yes, here we are in the present–and episodes from nearly 10 years ago seem so prescient that it’s almost spooky.
With President Obama thanking the counterterrorism experts who paved the way for the mission and former President George W. Bush, for whom the battle against Al Qaeda was the cornerstone of his presidency, saying, "America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done," the words could have been taken right out of a "24" script book.
The reality of it all is just sinking in, even as bin Laden himself has been quickly buried at sea. He is this generation’s Hitler, a maniacal mass murderer who is certain to remain a hero for some.
But for the vast majority of the world, there is glory and relief in his demise, even with the long delay in redemptive justice after his most deadly of deeds–a turn of events that surely has given the folks behind the upcoming "24" movie creative inspiration–and even further validation of their past work.