The Helicopter Left Behind

I think that now, weeks since the mortal remains of this generation’s most reviled mass-murderer were offered to fish and crustaceans, it’s safe to bring up an important Jewish thought that should have occurred to us all in the wake of the operation at Abbottabad.

No, nothing to do with its ethical merit or legality; formal procedures and qualms have no place when it comes to removing a clearly dangerous object, animal, or person from the world. Nor is it with regard to the jubilation seen in some places following Bin Laden’s killing; there are moral grounds for celebrating the demise of evil.

What may not have received sufficient contemplation was something else: the helicopter left behind.

Two Black Hawks were reportedly employed in the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. One experienced some sort of trouble and made a hard, damaging, landing. The commandos tried to destroy the damaged chopper before leaving the compound on the other helicopter, apparently concerned that the Pakistanis might learn some secrets from the cutting-edge technology of the now-abandoned aircraft.

But there is something valuable in the wreckage from which we might all learn—or, at least, be reminded of: Things can go wrong.

That was a thought that surely reverberated in the minds of President Obama and his advisors as they awaited word of how things had proceeded during the raid. After all, when Jimmy Carter sent helicopters to the Iranian desert in 1980 to rescue the Americans then held captive in Tehran, one crashed en route; one turned back; one malfunctioned; and, the mission aborted, yet another plowed into a transport plane, killing eight soldiers. The servicemen involved in the mission were from Delta Force, the Army’s equivalent at the time of “Seal Team Six.”

And in fact, in an interview last week, Mr. Obama admitted being struck with the fear of failure. “You think about Black Hawk Down,” he said, referring to the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, in which eighteen U.S. Army soldiers lost their lives. “You think about what happened with the Iranian rescue. And I am very sympathetic to the situation for other Presidents where you make a decision, you’re making your best call, your best shot, and something goes wrong…”

That fear, of course, dissipated when the report came in of the “double tap” (Seal slang for one bullet to the chest, another to the face) and the prominent EKIA (enemy killed in action). But recognition of what can go wrong shouldn’t ever dissipate. Fear should unfold like a flower into gratitude.

Which, in turn, should be directed Heavenward. Yes, we owe the President kudos for not putting Bin Laden on the White House back burner, and for risking a confrontation with Pakistani forces to get him. (One hopes some of the more thoughtful Obama-bashers among us were able to summon a smidgen of good feeling for the commander in chief’s determination and decision.) Ditto for CIA Director Leon Panetta. And we have to deeply appreciate the skills and, more importantly, the grit and bravery, of the Seal Team Six commandos.

But what we have to do above all is to remember that an errant gust of wind can wreak havoc on a low-flying aircraft’s ability to generate lift; electrical and hydraulic systems can and do malfunction; rotor blades crack; and human error happens.

And then we have to realize that the fact that none of those things took place—and that Bin Laden hadn’t booby-trapped his room and wasn’t protected by a dozen bodyguards and wasn’t wearing a suicide vest—are all the result of siyata diShmaya, Divine assistance.

It’s a realization that should inform our every humdrum day, for any day can easily be interrupted by things that make us pine dearly for humdrumness. A realization that a Jew should feel in his or her heart and even verbalize, clearly and without embarrassment, at every large or small turn of life that goes the way we hoped it would: Baruch Hashem.


[Rabbi Shafran is an editor at large and columnist for Ami Magazine]

The above essay may be reproduced or republished, with the above copyright appended.

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