Riveted by news reports about the two explosions that rocked the finish line of Monday’s Boston Marathon and left at least three dead and about 176 wounded, I was struck by the rampant speculation about who the perpetrators were.
Yes, we want to know but speculations only confuse the issue.
Interviewees, so-called experts on Middle East terrorism were pressed to say who was behind the bombings: Al Qaeda professionals? The work of U.S. based Al Qaeda cells? Suicide bombers? Thrust into the spotlight on radio and television, some had to remind their questioners that it was “too early to say.”
And, of course, law enforcement authorities saying they are looking for a “dark–skinned or black male’ wearing a dark hoodie and a backpack”, really narrows the field. Apparently, we haven’t moved past that type of description or perhaps more shocking no one in the media questioned why authorities issued such a non-descriptive description that could fit millions of African Americans.
It reminded me of the initial news reporting surrounding the Oklahoma bombing in April 1995 on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City — the biggest terrorist attack on American soil before September 11, 2001.
The Oklahoma bombing prompted hypotheses that perpetrators were Muslims, black militants, etc.—every one except who it turned out to be: two disgruntled, lone wolf Americans.
Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols didn’t fit the profiles being bantered about by the media.
These two white male anti-tax survivalists and gun advocates were angered by the violent outcomes of the federal government’s handling of stand-offs in Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992 and Waco, Texas in April, 1993. McVeigh, a militia- movement sympathizer and veteran of the Gulf War parked a truck bomb outside the federal building in retaliation for these incidents by government officials that he considered “fascist tyrants” and “storm troopers.”
The bomb killed 168 people–19 children under the age of six in a daycare center— injuring 450, and destroying or damaging a 16-block radius.
Now we have the April Boston Marathon bombing with hundreds of people injured or dead, including 8-year old Martin Richard. Martin died shortly after running to hug his dad who crossed the finish line. Martin returned to his mother and sister to watch the other runners cross the line and the bomb exploded. His mother is seriously hurt and his sister lost her leg.
There is no doubt that the bombing is an act of terrorism, aimed to do maximum damage not only to buildings but people as well.
The bombs – ten seconds apart – were set to go off on one of the city’s biggest civic holidays, Patriots Day. And at least two other unexploded bombs were found and safely disarmed, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.
What kind of people are behind these acts of carnage?
Often, quite ordinary people.
Certainly, whether domestic or foreign, they are cowards, certainly disaffected and disconnected from humanity. Perhaps some are mentally ill.
Regardless of their origins, they can always find justification for their terrorist acts, as did McVeigh, who worried that the federal government was a threat to American liberty and the Constitution.
We’ve heard a lot of that in the debates on gun control, but McVeigh moved from talk to considering “a campaign of individual assassination” with “eligible” targets such as then-Attorney-General Janet Reno.
Reaching Reno would have been a challenge, but not the Murrah building that he blew up.
Nor was McVeigh remorseful.
“To these people in Oklahoma who have lost a loved one, I’m sorry but it happens every day. You’re not the first mother to lose a kid, or the first grandparent to lose a grandson or a granddaughter. It happens every day, somewhere in the world. I’m not going to go into that courtroom, curl into a fetal ball and cry just because the victims want me to do that… I am sorry these people had to lose their lives. But that’s the nature of the beast. It’s understood going in what the human toll will be.”
Chilling on the heels of the Boston Marathon tragedy.
And it is certainly true that such horrors do happen every day, somewhere in the world: recent history illustrates this in Ireland, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in South Africa and Asia a; often daily today in Israel and the Palestinian territories, in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Congo , and in Pakistan where a girl can be brutalized for just wanting an education.
Americans have only recently been subject to such atrocities and any global perspective does not diminish them.
But we should be mindful that things fall apart slowly.
The deterioration of our public discourse, the polarization of our politicians some of whom too often paint the government as the cause of all suffering, our still fragile economy and a growing perception that the American way of life is lessening, all have an impact. One has only to read the online comments under articles to sense that many Americans are inchoately enraged.
The portrait of increasing polarization and demonization is quite compelling, according to political scientists Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal, authors of Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches.
Our connectedness via the Internet and social media—all of which I believe are beneficial—only offers another opportunity to ratchet up dissension and disgruntlement, to have our folie a deux confirmed by others of like minds and, for those who would move beyond talk, to act with horrific consequences.
In T.S. Elliot’s poem The Wasteland, in the section Burial of the Dead, he writes that “April is truly the cruelest month.”
Certainly that is true this April.
Karen DeWitt has a long distinguished career as a journalist, covering politics, but also has worked on political campaigns. She compares the later to the labor of a Hebrew working for the Pharaoh. She’s covered the White House and the national politics for The New York Times; foreign affairs and the White House for USA TODAY before joining that newspaper’s management as an assistant managing editor. She switched to television as a senior producer for ABC’s Nightline, where she wrote and produced the award-winning, Found Voices about the digitization of 1930s and 1940s interviews with former slaves. She returned to newspapers, as Washington editor for the Examiner newspaper and eventually left to help on local political campaigns. She has several blogs, but contributes mostly to a food blog called “I don’t speak cuisine” at peacecorpsworldwide.org and theroot.com.