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Duly Noted

Wednesday, Apr 17, 2013, 10:38 am

How Not To Respond to the Boston Marathon Bombings

By Lindsay Beyerstein

On April 15, 2013, rescue workers swarm the street after the Boston Marathon bombings. (smi23le/Flickr/Creative Commons).  

When I heard that explosions had torn through the finish line at the Boston Marathon, my first thought was, “Is Dr. Cullen OK?” Dr. Cullen is my family doctor, a brilliant and compassionate physician who has cared for my family for three generations. She’s also an avid distance runner. When I heard the news about Boston, I dimly remembered that she and her husband were running the Boston Marathon this year. I messaged her on Facebook and found out that she’d crossed the finish line 5 minutes before the bomb went off.

I lived in Boston for three years, a few blocks from the finish line. I recognize the blood-smeared blocks in the news photos. I still have friends in the city. My boyfriend’s got a gig there next week. Like so many others, I’ve been feeling shock, rage and even a tinge of irrational guilt that my loved ones are okay while others lost their limbs and even their lives.

One thing I don’t feel is fear.

Bombings on U.S. soil are rare. They’ve always been rare, and there’s no reason to think they’re getting any more common. Even if they got a lot more common, they’d still be a vanishingly small cause of death compared to other threats we take in stride, like car accidents, or the flu. We mitigate the risk where we can. Some risk is the price for a worthwhile life.

Maybe that’s why I’m so irritated with Ron Fournier’s bleatings over at the National Journal about how the “Boston bombings might be scarier than 9/11” and “life in America changed with the Boston Marathon bombings—again, and as with past attacks, for the much worse.” Fournier thinks that the Boston bombings marked a turning point because they attacked America at play, rather than a symbol of economic and military power.

Way to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, dude.

The lives of the victims have changed forever, but the life of the nation will be just fine.

Life went back to normal after Eric Rudolph bombed at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta killing one woman and injuring 111. We haven’t abandoned malls, movie theaters, nightclubs, or McDonald’s, even though mass shootings have happened in those locales.

Free societies are full of soft targets. We do what we can to mitigate the risk, but ultimately, a bomber or mass shooter can kill a lot of people in a very short time. We are not going to stop gathering together because of the infinitesimally small possibility that someone is going to set off a bomb.

This week’s bombings did not reveal any new tactical or technological threats. Investigators say that the bombs were crude IEDs: pressure cookers packed with gunpowder. This kind of attack has been possible for decades. The precedent of bombing a major sports event on American soil was set almost 20 years ago in Atlanta, and yet, countless races and tournaments have unfolded without incident.

If we tell ourselves that nothing is ever going to be the same again, the terrorists win. Terrorism is asymmetrical warfare. The bomber is weak. He doesn’t have the power to force us to do anything. All he can do is scare us into making our own lives grayer and lonelier and begging our government to take away more of our rights. We don’t have to do what he wants.

Investigators will dissect the Boston atrocity and learn from it. New tactics and technology will be developed to fill the gaps. Next year’s marathon, and future mass gatherings, will be safer than ever because they will have learned from their mistakes.

I was in Boston on 9/11. The next day, I had a seminar with the philosopher Daniel Dennett. What was important now, he said, was to keep trusting each other because the whole point of the terrorist attacks was to shake our faith in our ability to live freely and openly together.

That’s why, if Dr. Cullen wants to run the Boston Marathon next year, I’ll be right there to cheer her on. Life is not going to change because some freak with pressure cookers and gunpowder wants it to.  

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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