There’s a one-word question, made to no one in particular, on the lips of a whole lot of Americans right now.
Monday was supposed to be a celebration in one of America’s most historic cities, Boston. Massachusetts was observing its Patriots Day state holiday, a day set aside to honor those who fought for our country’s freedom from foreign rule. The big event of the day was the Boston Marathon, the nation’s signature running event.
Monday afternoon, that celebration became a catastrophe. As people crowded around the finish line, two explosives went off within seconds of each other. Three people were killed, including Martin Richard, an 8-year-old boy who was waiting to greet his father when he completed the race — an 8-year-old boy who is dead now because he was caught up in some demented people’s personal war.
Another innocent is lost from us; another life will go unfulfilled.
In fact, there were at least 10 children among the nearly 150 who were injured by the explosions. And more deaths are likely to come from this, since at least 17 were seriously injured. Witnesses reported to various news agencies that a number of people lost limbs, and doctors said many of the wounds they treated contained ball bearings.
There’s no doubt the cowards behind the bombs meant to kill innocent people, to turn a joyous time into mayhem. Why? No one knows, at least not yet.
The details after a disastrous event like this tend to be sketchy, but early on authorities said they didn’t have any reason to expect the attacks were coming. And while everyone from President Obama on down seemed to be tiptoeing around the actual words the first day, the bombings were acts of terror, plain and simple. What else could you call murderous assaults on civilians in a high-visibility setting that ensured that the horrors of the attack would be widely viewed?
The people behind this terror attack want to exert power over Americans, make us afraid. They want us to be afraid to go to sporting events, shopping malls and any place else where people gather. They want to make us suspicious of anyone who doesn’t look exactly like us.
They want to control us with what is the most paralyzing of emotions — fear.
That works in the short run. Think back to 9/11. Walking from your car to the mall, if you went soon afterward, you were looking over your shoulder, sizing up every vehicle and person you saw. I know I did. Getting on an airplane became an act of faith, and not a very strong faith in my case, being a white-knuckle flier in the best of times. Other events had impact as well. The letters laced with anthrax that were sent to Washington in 2001 also resulted in behavior changes. I generally checked the daily mail to the news room back then, and for months I wore latex gloves and a surgical-type mask when handling envelopes.
Eventually, though, life gets back to a sense of normalcy, though some habits do change. There isn’t that much physical mail that comes in these days, for instance, but I never did go back to my old habit of slitting the side of the envelope and blowing into it to make it easier to take out the contents. And when I walk to my car or anywhere else that’s in the open, I always keep an eye peeled for people and things that seem out of place.
It just makes sense to stay alert. It helps, though, if you know what you’re looking for. That’s why the “why” is so important to us. We want to know who our enemy is.
The answer could come quickly or it might take days or even weeks. Nobody was claiming credit right away, so a lot of people — and pundits — have assigned blame, from right-wing extremists to foreign terrorists to the federal government, with most of the conclusions stemming from supposition, personal ideology and predisposition as opposed to facts, which are still fairly scarce.
Learning the why has one primary value — leading investigators to the culprits. (The one speculation I’m allowing myself is that I believe this had to be the actions of more than one person). I’ll let others consider what perceived injustices led these murderers to kill and maim and how to address that. I just want the people responsible — whether foreign or domestic — caught as quickly as possible and dealt with in a way that guarantees they won’t destroy any more families.
We can’t let these cold-blooded murderers win. Our very freedom as Americans is at stake.
A life lived in fear is no life at all.
Email Jim Hendricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.