Our small coastal towns came together this past weekend to enact cherished local traditions of patriotism and community, just as elite American forces on the other side of the world were keeping America’s word by ending the life of a murderous, smirking scoundrel. 

Loyalty Day, which has evolved into a weekend-long tribute to American virtues and aspirations, formed a perfect background accompaniment to the high-tech raid on Osama bin Laden’s secret luxury compound in Pakistan. Justice arrived for bin Laden at 1 p.m. Sunday Pacific Saving Time, precisely when our parade was starting.

Proudly borne in the parade were banners bearing the photos, names, hometowns and dates of death of the Washington state soldiers and marines killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks ordered by bin Laden. Every bit as much as the Navy SEALs who took part in Sunday’s military strike, these service personnel deserve our profound gratitude. They were heroes. They died safeguarding the innocence on display in downtown Long Beach — little kids watching proudly from the sidewalks as nervous teenaged musicians marched by. 

Nearly 10 years ago, we wrote, “The well of our mourning is black and deep. The terror and death of those innocent thousands vibrate in our bones like wasps. A sunny September morning, airplanes disappearing into gleaming buildings as if by a sly magician’s trick — these frozen moments will be forever welded in our minds, a poison capsule of deeply personal grief. …”

“Rarely in the world, there is a time when pure vengeance and punishment are called for. This is such a time.”

It has been a long time coming. Without meaning to, in the end we adhered to the old Afghan Pashtun observation that “revenge is a dish best served cold.” Bin Laden had far too much time to continue spewing his evil, but he also had about 3,500 long nights to contemplate the bullets that ended his life this week.

We have proven that we still yield President Teddy Roosevelt’s “big stick” with determination and patience. 

But as we also observed in September 2001, “Smashing one man and his minions will not fix this problem.” Bin Laden’s death won’t keep those who hate us from thinking up new plots and atrocities. We will have to remain vigilant forever after. But let’s do it smartly — “speaking softly,” as Roosevelt advised.

Let’s start divorcing ourselves from the endless, expensive wars in the Middle East. Arab countries appear to be on the path toward rejecting extremism. We can help them and help ourselves by winding down large-scale military involvement. 

Bin Laden’s death may not represent outright “victory.” But it may be as close as we come.

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