On Monday, a shocking and deplorable terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon left three people dead and over a hundred injured. Blood literally covered the streets as the injured littered the blast site. Ordinary people found themselves performing feats of heroism. Former Patriots linebacker Joe Andruzzi shrugged off the possibility of another blast to spirit three strangers to safety. Bystanders provided medical aid to those who lost limbs or were hit by shrapnel. Boston Police Department officers rapidly secured the scene and helped emergency personnel reach the wounded.
It was a devastating attack that has permanently damaged the lives of dozens upon dozens of innocent people. My heart goes out to the victims.
At the time of writing, we still don’t know who was behind this craven act. No group has come forward to claim responsibility, and reports of a person of interest detained at the site proved unrelated. The lack of an immediate and triumphal press release seems to discount the possibility of a group like Al Qaeda having carried out the attack, although the bombs could have been the work of a domestic “lone wolf” sympathizer.
The timing of the attack, however, could be significant. The Boston Marathon is always held on Patriot Day, which commemorates the opening shots of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord. Both the Waco Siege and the Oklahoma City Bombing, touchstone events for far-right-wing extremists, occurred on the anniversary of Lexington and Concord. And if this is indeed the work of a person or group trying to reference the memory of our violent founding, Boston is a logical target. After all, the city played host to early patriotic radicalism among the colonies.
But perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the attack is that the technique employed—bombs placed in public trash cans, then remotely detonated—mirrors tactics used by Irish radicals in Britain between the 1960s and 1990s. Violence has since largely subsided in Ireland, however, and the main groups involved have laid down their arms. Why anyone would want to use IRA-style techniques to attack a city with a long and proud Irish heritage is anyone’s guess, although the use of these tactics could have more in common with their low cost and ease of use than Irish radicalism.
Regardless of who was responsible for this attack, though, one thing is clear: we must not surrender to terror. Groups use terror tactics for a variety of reasons, but they are all motivated by one thing: bringing about political change by spreading panic and unease throughout the population. True, when Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11 2001, they wanted to kill Americans. But they also wanted to bring about policy change, by manipulating public feeling and naïve leadership to elicit an overwhelmingly disproportional response.
We may have kept our strength, but we lost sight of our ideals in our collective response. We are a country built on civil liberties and the rule of law, but the attack on 9/11 and the fear that followed led us to rapidly pawn away our freedom. Policies like indefinite detention suspended the rule of law and violated the foundational precepts of the Bill of Rights. The threat of future terrorism has been repeatedly to justify the invasion of Iraq our continued engulfment in Afghanistan, putting American lives at risk for dubious strategic goals.
The strongest thing that we can do right now is not to pass knee-jerk legislation or lash out at the nearest potential perpetrator. The strongest thing we can do is to come together and say that our values and our ideals are worth defending, even to the point of risking another attack, because the ideas which our country was founded on are more important than a temporary sense of wellbeing.