“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.”
- Benjamin Franklin, c. 1759
I know I don’t normally start with quotes, but considering the events of the day, it seemed appropriate. I also tend to stay a little behind the times on current events stories because many times, the “mainstream” media will begin saying things as fact that aren’t necessarily confirmed. Truth, and its pursuit, is very important to me. The way I see it, I’d rather be late and credible than early and wrong. But I couldn’t let this event pass without writing something, because its events like these that define us for generations to come.
It was late in the afternoon when a co-worker asked me if I had heard about what happened in Boston. It was a really busy day today (I didn’t have time to pick my own nose, let alone read the news), so I hadn’t. He related to me that someone had set off a bomb at the Boston Marathon, and that a bunch of people had been hurt. So, I stopped what I was doing and immediately went to Yahoo to look it up. There, on the front page, was the story, and a picture of the aftermath. Instantly, on Twitter and Facebook, people started with the normal rhetoric you would expect – the immediate assumption that this is terrorism, and the arguments that banning bombs didn’t prevent this tragedy, so why should we ban guns.
So, rather than talk about the event itself, since we know so little, I want to talk about… well.. the talking. Some of it disturbs me, and some of it makes me sad. Right now, there are over 130 people whose lives have been irrevocably altered by the events today. They should be our primary concern. Flag-waving and chest-beating will not accomplish that. I think the most important thing we can do, though, is to go about our daily lives as if nothing happened. Please don’t misunderstand – I don’t mean to imply that this isn’t important. On the contrary, it’s very much so. What I’m saying that we shouldn’t let events like this determine how we live our lives.
When I was a kid, IRA bombings in the UK were frequent. Of course, living in the States, I really had no idea what it meant to live in that kind of state of mind. Never knowing if the guy sitting next to you with the brogue accent was a terrorist or not. Or if the baby carriage being pushed toward you actually had a bomb in it. We never had to live with that level of uneasiness. Even in the big cities (I grew up in Middletown, Ohio, a city of about 50,000 – so this did NOT apply to me), you were more concerned with being mugged or raped than being the victim of a terror attack. In fact, until the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, it had never occurred to me that anything like what happened in the UK would happen here.
As a culture, we are heavily invested in our own invincibility. To the point that even though we lost the Vietnam War, we refuse to accept it as a loss because it was “only a police action”. When I was in basic training, I was taught that we salute palm inward because showing your palm was a sign of surrender and we had never surrendered to anyone. That sort of attitude permeates out culture to the deepest levels.
But 9/11 changed all of that. For the first time, we felt vulnerable and exposed. We suddenly didn’t feel so invincible. Maybe it was the circumstances, or maybe it was the fact that we were faced with fighting in ideal rather than a country, but we were completely out of our element. We allowed ourselves to be consumed by our fear. And it’s only getting worse with every new event. Just a few weeks back, I was assaulted by the idea that I should be watching my neighbors and reporting “suspicious” activity. They didn’t define “suspicious” – I guess that’s left up to the Department of Homeland Security. Even our science fiction, which really reflects our visions of the future, has darkened, particularly when compared to that of the past. The favorite enemy in film changed from being Soviet/Communist to being obviously Arab or Islamist. I remember watching True Lies when I was in the Air Force and commenting to a friend that it was the first film we’d seen with Arab-based antagonists (compared to The Hunt For Red October from a short 4 years earlier where the Soviets were still the enemy). Even my survival training was based around Middle Eastern combatants (previously they had been based on Southeast Asian – read: Vietnamese – tactics). Granted, terrorism wasn’t the root cause of this, the First Gulf War was. But even then, we imagined our selves fighting the Iraqis, not because of religious or idealogical differences, but because they did something you should never ever do – they bit the hand that fed them.
And after all that, we were still invincible.
After 9/11, we slowly started giving up our freedoms. We decided that it was better to be safe than to be free. We wondered how we ever were so lax in our security. We started becoming suspicious of anyone “brown”. Iraqis, Iranians, Libyans, Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis – they were all lumped together in a giant bin we called “Muslim Extremists” even though they are all really very different people. And while I would agree that Sharia isn’t the ideal system of government in terms of equality and freedom, it is the government the people selected, and we should respect that. But we don’t. We want everyone to be like us, because this is the greatest country in the world, and how wonderful the world would be if we were all like us.
And so we started checking ourselves before we stepped onto aircraft. Not because we probably should have been doing it all along – but because we are scared. And it’s crippled the companies that provided us with air travel because they have to foot a great deal of the expense of the checks. And people avoid air travel because it’s more of a hassle than a convenience now.
And then we started thinking about our borders, trying to keep out the “undesirables”. All of the men who attacked us were here legally, though, so we made it harder for foreigners to come here legally, meaning more come illegally… because we didn’t think that far ahead. We aren’t very good at planning for consequences.
And then we started rattling our saber at anyone who we thought might be intimidated by it instead of trying to identify what made us a target in the first place. I won’t go into why I think we were targeted, but suffice it to say that it’s not because they are jealous of our freedoms. They WERE or ARE free people. As an example, Iran was just as free as we were up until we had their President deposed in the 50′s. Then they spiraled into decades of oppression by a US/UK sponsored tyrant who was deposed by religious zealot. We’ve made our bed, ladies and gentlemen, and now the whole world has to lie in it with us.
So what does any of this have to do with Boston, seeing as how we don’t yet know what happened? Well, it’s like this. As I watched the events unfold, I started seeing this identified as an “Act of Terror”. Friends, by definition, and “Act of Terror”, which is what terrorism is about, is defined as an act of which the sole purpose is to inspire fear. And while that MAY be the case here, we don’t know that yet. I find it more likely that the blast was intended just to kill and hurt people. Which makes his good old fashioned mass murder (or at least an attempt at mass murder – as of this writing, thankfully, only 3 people have died while well over a hundred more are severely injured). Before we sensationalize, let’s find the facts. There’s no reason to qualify this as ANYTHING other than to drive rating and feed our over-developed need for violence and impended sense of doom.
This is how I see it: Today, we witnessed the depths of human depravity, and we don’t need to understand it. We likely never really will. It’s not necessary to. We just need to know it was awful. What’s far more important is that despite the horrible things happening – the death and misery, the looting and hysterics – there were people who ran toward the danger rather than from it. There were people who were there immediately to help the wounded and the frightened. It took the worst in us to find the best in us. And that’s the real take-away here. Because honestly, we don’t need to glorify whomever did this by plastering their face all over the international media. That’s exactly what they want. We need to recognize the heroes of the day – like the man who was running alongside a wheelchair, holding pieces of a man’s legs while he was being taken to an ambulance.
See, if this WAS an act of terror, and that’s a big IF at this point, the last thing we should do is change how we live our lives. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be vigilant – we should – but we have people whose sole purpose is life is to be vigilant FOR us. I shouldn’t have to watch my neighbors and keep my eyes open for suspicious activity. Because that’s exactly what terrorism is about – making me afraid. They want us to think an attack is awaiting every minute of every day. They want us to be afraid. And I refuse. I refuse to live in fear. I look at that quote from Ben Franklin from 250 years ago and it’s much more common paraphrasing, “Anyone who’s willing to give up freedom for security deserves neither and will lose both” and I think to myself… what price, this freedom of ours? I don’t want to teach my daughter that we gave up our rights and freedoms just so we would feel safer. I refuse to teach her to be afraid.
I would much rather teach her to be invincible.