I’ve had CNN on in the background all day today (I’m working from home) and while I’m as transfixed by the unfolding terrorism story as everybody else, I think we all, especially the prattling commentariat, really need to take a deep breath. As ghastly, evil, overwhelming, and tragic as the events this week in Boston, Texas, and the Capitol mail rooms have been, it’s easy to forget enveloped in the wall-to-wall coverage that makes whatever our present catastrophe is feel like the most important event in the universe, how safe and secure Americans truly are by any rational standard.
Terror shatters us here precisely because the U.S. is not a particularly terrifying place compared to so much of the rest of the world. Take your pick, but you have to go pretty far down the list of places with more death, destruction, war, poverty, disease, or whatever else ails humanity before you find us in any category except self-absorption and Twitter use. And we don’t really live in a more objectively terrifying time compared other periods in the American past.
Who remembers Christmas, 1975? An explosion equivalent to twenty-five sticks of dynamite exploded in a baggage claim area at La Guardia airport, leaving severed heads and other body parts scattered among some two dozen corpses. No one ever claimed responsibility, no one ever was caught and pretty much the whole event has been forgotten. Life went on and no one anywhere said “everything changed.”
If not for 9/11, I would never have heard about September, 1920: the Wall Street bombing kills 38 and seriously injured 143. The bombing was never solved, although investigators and historians believe it was carried out by Galleanists (Italian anarchists), a group responsible for a series of bombings the previous year.
A brief perusal of this Wikipedia article is a sobering, if oddly reassuring reminder that it has always been thus, just without the collective PTSD of 9/11 coupled to the 24-hour news cycle. Maybe those were less narcissistic times, but not now. Now, we let trauma consume us. Now, our desperate longing to know—to find easy, immediate answers—confines us, makes us frantic, reduces us to our basest instincts. I’ve already seen douchebags all over the internet – and yes, I know there are millions of them – blaming lax immigration laws for letting in refugees or promoting arming the population with AR-15’s. We have lost all sense of decency and proportion in our discourse, trying to find larger demons in the mundane evil of two terribly misguided young men. People with something to sell or some ideological axe to grind rush to make hay out of a tragedy that has taken an 8 year old boy, a young woman enjoying a spring day, a young woman studying far from her home in China, a young policeman watching out for our children while away at school, as well as all the survivors and other victims. Shouldn’t we be focused on their stories, on the ordinary and extraordinary stories of bravery of the first-responders? Are we going to be there to help with the rehabilitation of those who have lost limbs or worse? Why not deny these scoundrels their spotlight and instead exile them to that special circle of hell occupied by Tim McVeigh, Mohamed Atta, Eric Rudolph, and their ilk.
On an average day in America, 85 people are shot dead. There are now five dead in Boston, including one of the suspected bombers – over the course of five days. Nonetheless, we don’t yet know whether others could be involved, or the true scale of this terror plot. And authorities have to weigh excruciating risks – between over-reaction and under-reaction – in a fog of fact and fiction. They certainly deserve a break, and by any measure have done a fantastic job responding and hunting these killers down. What we do know is that the bombers had another pressure-cooker bomb with them as they sped toward Watertown last night. They could have terrorized us again, and the remaining asshole may still yet.
One thing I do know is that nothing really has changed, and we remain safe in our beds no matter, or maybe in spite of, the vast army of men who stand ready to do violence in our names. We should indeed keep calm and carry on. If Boston has shown us anything, it’s that the good will always outnumber the evil. There will always be many among us who run toward danger to help the wounded no matter the risk, that the heroes will always outnumber the evil perpetrators. We will soon enough know all there is to know about this particular tragedy, and most of will go on as before. What we owe the victims and each other is to remember them first, honor their memories and pick up the fallen to the best of our ability. We need to find a way to take the oxygen away from these attention starved psychopaths, find a way to make their pathetic excuses and grievances as forgettable as the hundreds of excuses for evil that have come before. Only when we utterly forget and ignore the perpetrators of this type of evil will we be rid of them. They deserve no less than oblivion.