Opening old wounds

Wednesday April 17, 2013

More than a decade after the 9/11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., the explosions that rocked the Boston Marathon on Monday were grim reminders that terrorists are still among us.

In commenting on Monday’s attacks, in which three people were killed and more than 140 injured, President Barack Obama was careful not to use the words terror or terrorists (though on Tuesday, he did classify it as an "act of terrorism"). He urged Americans not to jump to conclusions until we have all the facts and find out who perpetrated such a heinous act. But whether those responsible are Islamic extremists from abroad or evil-doers from right here at home (remember Timothy McVeigh), what happened in Boston was by every definition a terrorist act.

Police said the bombs had been placed in trash cans, less than 100 yards apart, near the finish line. Unconfirmed reports said the explosions were triggered by remote control, and officials said police found at least two suspicious packages at other downtown locations, including a footbridge near the Copley Plaza Hotel.

That it happened at the Boston Marathon was a tragic irony on many levels. Terrorists, unfortunately, seem to have a knack for choosing a place or event at which an attack would provide the biggest symbolic blow to our country and our psyche.

Back in 2001, the targets were the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, iconic symbols of America’s global military and economic dominance. In many ways the explosions in Boston struck even deeper into our soul.

First, a marathon is an endurance race, a test of one’s physical and mental stamina, a personal Mount Everest for all of those who make the attempt. Some strive to beat their personal best time, for others the victory is in simply crossing the finish line, which was marked by a string of colorful flags from countries represented by the racers. They had no way of knowing when they started the race that bombs would be waiting for them at that finish line. For those who were able to complete the race, their personal victories rang hollow the minute the bombs were detonated and spewed shrapnel all over the area. Blood was streaked across sidewalks and the street where moments earlier runners consumed by exhaustion and joy had embraced friends and family.

This all took place in one of America’s oldest and most historic cities, one of the very cities, in fact, where the United States was born, and the bombings came on one of Boston’s most important days of civic celebration. Monday was Patriots’ Day, a state holiday that recalls the first battles of the American Revolution and brings Bostonians together for their world-famous marathon.

Worse yet, the final mile of this year’s race was dedicated to victims of December’s school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and some relatives of children who died that day were in attendance. As if they haven’t had enough tragedy and horror in their lives recently, this was like pouring salt on a still very open wound.

For all Americans, the events in Boston on Monday reopened old wounds. We watched on the television screen in déjà vu horror as the chaos unfolded: People running from the explosions, some screaming and crying, others frozen in a state of shock; medical personnel and volunteers scrambling to set up triage centers and tend to the injured; police trying desperately to evacuate the area, restore calm and investigate a crime scene. Reports of heightened security reverberated throughout the country, and the world, as the realization of what was happening quickly sank in.

In the years since 9/11, America has tightened up security on many fronts, especially at the airports. Thanks to those efforts a number of attempted bombings have been thwarted over the past decade. In Boston, security at the marathon was carefully planned; hundreds of police officers and other emergency workers lined the route. But as with any marathon, the 26.2-mile course is open and sprawling, stretching through the city and its neighboring towns.

Unfortunately, despite the best attempts, safety in this age of terrorism cannot be 100 percent guaranteed. Some of those directly affected by the explosions have already said they will probably never participate in another marathon because of what happened on Monday. We can certainly understand that sentiment; it may take years for these people to recover emotionally and/or physically from such a trauma. Many of those who were at Ground Zero on 9/11 still carry those scars.

However, we as a nation endured the attacks from 2001. Many things have changed since then, to be sure, but though we may grumble at the airport screenings and other high security measures, life eventually did return to some semblance of normal for most of us. People still fly in airplanes, the pentagon was repaired and a new memorial structure now takes the place of the Twin Towers in New York City.

We recovered then, and we will recover now. To do otherwise means the terrorists win.


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