Cheers went up from Poly Canyon Village, and Facebook statuses were full of triumphant messages Sunday night when President Barack Obama announced the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
The news quickly spread via text message, word-of-mouth and Facebook among Cal Poly students. Chemistry sophomore Allee Macrorie said she was in a study room with a friend in Poly Canyon Village when a student ran in to spread the news. Macrorie said students waving American flags and playing “God Bless America” and were also shouting the news from their windows.
“It was pretty crazy in PCV,” Macrorie said. “It got a little intense. I didn’t expect people’s reactions to be so for it. I expected it to be kind of like ‘Oh my gosh what just happened?’ but people were cheering and yelling. I didn’t know that people would be so excited at the death of someone. I hope that it doesn’t lead to some retaliation from al-Qaida.”
Other Cal Poly students got the news not from their neighbors, but from Facebook friends. Paul Skillin, a general engineering senior and ROTC cadet, said he saw the news first on Facebook, and then immediately checked it on the websites of several news organizations he follows, like Al Jazeera.
Though Skillin understands the ecstatic reaction to the news, he said the death of bin Laden is not quite the major victory people think.
“In terms of what it means to us, I feel like it’s going to be more of a symbolic victory than anything else,” Skillin said.
That symbolic victory is one that has been decades in the making.
Bin Laden was active in global terrorism since the ’80s, when he first funded guerrilla fighters known as mujahideen in Afghanistan and later, in 1988, founded al-Qaida.
He was put on the United States’ Most Wanted Fugitive List after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, when six people were killed and hundreds injured. Bin Laden rose to the top spot when he directed the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, that killed more than 3,000 people.
In October 2001, the United States and Great Britain sent forces into Afghanistan to find bin Laden, after the Taliban refused to turn over the al-Qaida leader. Since that time, the United States has maintained troops in the country.
President Obama made the killing or capture of bin Laden a priority upon taking office, the president told the nation in his announcement of bin Laden’s death Sunday night.
“Finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice,” Obama said in his address.
With the reason for going into Afghanistan gone, the reactions of people in the Middle East remain to be seen, Skillin said.
“It will be interesting to see what the impacts are in terms of what the local population feels,” Skillin said.
In the United States, bin Laden’s death has had very little impact on military affairs. For the National Guard, security remains at the same level it has been since 9/11, said First Lieutenant Will Martin, of the California Guard Public Affairs Office.
At Cal Poly, the reactions are mixed between those who posted patriotic statements to their Facebook page, and those who feel military involvement in Afghanistan was excessive. Nutrition junior Cara Simpson said she was angry to see so many “Go USA!” Facebook statuses.
“It took them 10 years and a lot of lost American lives so I don’t think they should think everything’s going to be better,” Simpson said.
With bin Laden dead, Simpson said the risk might be even greater to American troops in the Middle East, and to America itself.
“Him being dead isn’t going to change all of the thousands of Taliban members that are probably going to be even more pissed off,” Simpson said.
To the rest of the international community, American celebration might seem a little overboard, said German student Alex Schleicher, who is studying mechanical engineering at Cal Poly for a quarter.
Schleicher said he almost didn’t believe the news when he read it on the LA Times website.
“I wasn’t really sure at first if they really got him or if they just pretended to say that they got him,” Schleicher said.
Schleicher also said he finds the excited Facebook statuses and cheers of “Go USA!” a little excessive.
“I think in Germany it wouldn’t be that big,” Schleicher said.