Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

‘Got him’: Revenge, emotions, and the killing of Osama bin Laden

  • Lloyd Cox (a1) and Steve Wood (a2)

The extrajudicial killing of Osama bin Laden (OBL) on 2 May 2011 was greeted with jubilation in the United States. The dominant interpretation of the event – expressed in US media, by US political elites, and on the streets of US cities – was that justice had been served on the perpetrator of the 9/11 atrocity and thereby a great historical wrong had been righted. This article argues that the ‘justice’ deployed was a proxy for revenge, understood as the infliction of harm on those who had inflicted harm on the avenger. The argument is situated in a broader discussion of the emotional topography on which acts of state revenge are politically premised. The bin Laden case is used to explore some issues raised by the growing literature on emotions in politics and International Relations including, most importantly, how emotions are collectivised and made public.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence to: Lloyd Cox, Politics and International Relations Department, Macquarie University, Sydney 2109, NSW, Australia. Author’s email:
** Correspondence to: Steve Wood, Politics and International Relations Department, Macquarie University, Sydney 2109, NSW, Australia. Author’s email:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Oded Löwenheim and Gadi Heimann , ‘Revenge in international politics’, Security Studies, 17:4 (2011), pp. 685724

Andrew A. G. Ross Realism, emotion, and dynamic allegiances in global politics’, International Theory, 5:2 (2013), pp. 273299

Sung Hee Kim and Richard Smith , ‘Revenge and conflict escalation’, Negotiation Journal, 9:1 (1993), pp. 3743

Roger Berkowitz , ‘Assassinating justly: Reflections on justice and revenge in the Osama bin Laden killing’, Law, Culture and the Humanities, 7:3 (2011), pp. 346351

Jamil Zaki and Kevin Ochsner , ‘You, me, and my brain: Self and Other representations in social and cognitive neuroscience’, in Alexander Todorov, Susan T. Fiske, and Deborah A. Prentice (eds), Social Neuroscience: Toward Understanding the Underpinnings of the Social Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 1439

Alan Hamlin , ‘Rational revenge’, Ethics, 101:2 (1991), pp. 374381

Jonathon Mercer , ‘Human nature and the first image: Emotion in international politics’, Journal of International Relations and Development, 9:2 (2006), pp. 288303

Napoleon A. Chagnon , ‘Life histories, blood revenge, and warfare in a tribal population’, Science, 239 (1988), pp. 985992

Jon Elster , ‘Norms of revenge’, Ethics, 100:4 (1990), pp. 862885

Mario Gollwitzer , Milena Meder , and Manfred Schmitt , ‘What gives victims satisfaction when they seek revenge?’, European Journal of Social Psychology, 41:3 (2011), pp. 364374

Brian Knutson , ‘Sweet revenge?’, Science, 305 (2004), pp. 12461247

Dominique de Quervain et al., ‘The neural basis of altruistic punishment’, Science, 305 (2004), pp. 12541258

Khaled Fattah and K. M. Fierke , ‘A clash of emotions: the politics of humiliation and political violence in the Middle East’, European Journal of International Relations, 15:1 (2011), pp. 6793

David Wright-Neville and Debra Smith , ‘Political rage: Terrorism and the politics of emotion’, Peace and Security, 21:1 (2009), pp. 8598

Jeff Goodwin , James M. Jasper , and Francesca Polletta (eds), Passionate Politics: Emotions and Social Movements (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2001)

Brian Parkinson , ‘Emotions are social’, British Journal of Psychology, 87:4 (1996), pp. 663683

Roland Neumann and Fritz Strack , ‘“Mood contagion”: the automatic transfer of mood between persons’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79:2 (2000), pp. 211223

Sigal G. Barsade , ‘The ripple effect: Emotional contagion and its influence on group behavior’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 47 (2002), pp. 644675

Ursula Hess , Stephen Haude , and Agneta Fischer , ‘Do we mimic what we aee or what we know?’, in Christian von Scheve and Mikko Salmela (eds), Collective Emotions: Perspectives from Psychology, Philosophy and Sociology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 94107

William Doherty , ‘The emotional contagion scale: a measure of individual differences’, Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 21:2 (1997), pp. 131154

Steve Wood , ‘Prestige in world politics: History, theory, expression’, International Politics, 50:3 (2013), pp. 387411

Joyce Bono and Remus Ilies , ‘Charisma, positive emotions, and mood contagion’, The Leadership Quarterly, 17:4 (2006), pp. 317334

Mario Gollwitzer , Milena Meder , and Manfred Schmitt , ‘What gives victims satisfaction when they seek revenge?’, European Journal of Social Psychology, 41:3 (2011), pp. 364374

Mario Gollwitzer , Linda Skitka , Daniel Wisneski , Arne Sjostrom , Peter Liberman , Syed Javed Nazir , and Brad Bushman , ‘Vicarious revenge and the death of Osama bin Laden’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40:5 (2014), p. 604

Randall Collins , ‘Rituals of solidarity and security in the wake of terrorist attack’, Sociological Theory, 22:1 (2004), pp. 5387

Lee Jarvis , ‘Remember, remember, 11 September: Memorializing 9/11 on the Internet’, Journal of War and Cultural Studies, 3:1 (2010), pp. 6982

Nicholas Carnagey and Craig Anderson , ‘Changes in attitudes towards war and violence after September 11, 2001’, Aggressive Behavior, 33:2 (2006), pp. 118129

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 38
Total number of PDF views: 413 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 677 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.