WASHINGTON // With horns blaring down Pennsylvania Avenue and loud shouts of “USA! USA! USA!” filling the air, large masses of people, mostly area university students, converged on the White House to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden.
The usually stern police that guard the US president’s residence looked on as revelers hung to the black iron fence that borders the White House grounds, clambered high into the trees across the street in Lafayette Park and bounced around on pogo sticks, clad in American flags.
Many of those who gathered around the executive mansion were old enough only to have the barest of memories of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington that bin Laden masterminded. For a few, those memories were especially vivid.
“Almost 10 years ago I looked out my school window and saw the [World Trade Center] towers fall. Today I have closure,” said Jimik Patel, a 22-year-old student at nearby George Washington University, grasping an American flag.
There will be some in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world who will undoubtedly grieve at the news of bin Laden’s death. To them, he was an anti-imperialist symbol, a defiant jihadist who insisted violence was a necessary tool for dealing with Islam’s foes.
For Mr Patel, however, a trip from his campus down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House was a long-awaited “celebration of his death.”
While few here in a mostly youthful crowd had recollections as stark as Mr Patel’s, theirs is a generation that has been irrevocably shaped by the events of September 11 and the wars and often toxic politics they spawned.
“It’s interesting to see it after 10 years. All the political events of our lives have been the result of 9/11”, said Alex Tan, a 20-year-old student at George Washington.
Matt Hafter, a fund-raiser, viewed Mr bin Laden’s death as a triumph of American values. “[Bin Laden’s death was] a victory of American patriotism and spirit over terrorism and hatred,” he said.
Nevertheless, for Mr Hafter, 38, America is still not safe. “We need to keep on pursuing the war on terror and prevent future attacks.”
For one resident of Washington who packed her neighbor’s children into her car and fled the city nearly ten years ago as one of four airliners slammed in to the Pentagon, the death of bin Laden was a cause for contemplation.
“It is a very proud moment but a tragedy at the same time. How can you celebrate a death? I can’t celebrate his death. I know almost everyone here would disagree with me. I feel sad about anyone dying,” said Jackie, who asked that her last name not be used.
She hoped the demise of bin Laden might be an opportunity to end 10 years of war. “Hopefully, it’s the start of peace, [a chance to] put this terrible phase behind us.”
In the background, a youth with a megaphone was heard chanting, “We got him! We got him!”