Eleven years, seven months and four days after September 11th, 2001, we have had another full-fledged attack on civilians on American soil.
Since 9/11, several planned attacks fizzled or were thwarted, from shoe bomber Richard Reid in late 2001 to the would-be Times Square bomber in 2010. (The mass shooting at Fort Hood in 2009 was carried out by an Army psychiatrist against fellow military personnel.)
This one, unfortunately, “succeeded.”
Two improvised explosive devices went off on Boylston Street, just beyond the finish line of the Boston Marathon and in the heart of Boston’s downtown. They were 100 yards apart and exploded within 12 seconds of each other.
At least three people are dead, including an eight-year-old boy, and more than 176 were injured—17 in critical condition. Several will lose limbs. The grisly photos showed stunned runners sitting in pools of blood that soaked the sidewalks.
Thus far, there’s no indication additional devices were set to explode. Nor is there much evidence that we know about that would link this attack to any terror group. A 20-year-old Saudi national was questioned yesterday and his apartment was reportedly searched, but police say he’s not a suspect.
The Boston Police called the crime scene “the most complex” in the history of the department. They asked the public to send in photos and videos. That suggests they don’t really have solid leads yet. The FBI is heading up the investigation, which authorities say will be “worldwide.”
It’s dangerous at this point to jump to conclusions. This could have been carried out by a foreign or domestic terror group or by a deranged, sociopathic lone wolf. Tellingly, no one took credit for the attack on the first day, as international terrorists tend to do. But no matter who did it, this was an act of terror.
Speaking Monday afternoon in the White House, President Obama said, “We still do not know who did this or why. And people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts. But make no mistake–we will get to the bottom of this.”
Once again, first responders—police, firemen, emergency medical people—performed rapidly and brilliantly. A medical tent near the finish line was a godsend, and Boston’s magnificent hospitals were well prepared. Their first-rate trauma and emergency medical staff no doubt saved many lives.
Particularly heartening were the number of runners and spectators who ran towards the explosions, not away from them, in an effort to help. I can’t honestly say that would have been my first instinct.
I draw a couple of conclusions. First, there’s no such thing as 100% protection against terrorism. You can secure an airplane, office building or stadium by putting in metal detectors, but those are enclosed spaces. It’s virtually impossible to secure open spaces or events like the Boston Marathon, with 28 miles of territory to protect. All you can do is limit the possible damage, confine attacks to “secondary” targets, and hope intelligence gives you an early warning. In this case it didn’t.
Second, people’s memories are short. We were vigilant in the days after 9/11, but as time passed, security measures loosened and people got comfortable, even complacent. That’s human nature. It’s just impossible for us to live in a state of siege indefinitely.
But though we must be vigilant—and stepped-up security measures are prudent– we shouldn’t become paranoid, passing more laws that will further compromise our freedom, as happened in the aftermath of 9/11. Let’s mourn the losses, pray for the families, and go out and live our lives.
There’s always risk in life, and freedom has its price. We learned that, yet again, the hard way on Patriots’ Day in the blood-stained streets of Boston.