In Which I Turn to Douglas Adams for Advice on the Boston Marathon Bombings
The media are in a frenzy today with stories about the Boston Marathon bombings. KGO Radio’s coverage this afternoon was entitled, “Terror in Boston: The Aftermath”. The portions of this broadcast I heard were characterized by discussions of how little we actually know and descriptions of “high alert” security measures being enacted in major cities across the United States.
I don’t wish to make light of the events at the Boston Marathon yesterday, and I very much look forward to hearing that the perpetrator has been caught and brought to justice. My heart goes out to the families who’ve lost loved ones and the individuals in pain as a result of these events. But with those things in mind and in light of how little we actually know about what happened and why, I feel it necessary to say:
Let’s keep a sense of scale here.
Here are some notable mass killings in the United States in the past 20 years, in order of increasing lethality:
|Centennial Olympic Park Bombing||07/27/96||Atlanta GA||2||111|
|Boston Marathon Bombings||05/15/13||Boston MA||3||183|
|Batman Shooting||07/20/12||Aurora CO||12||58|
|Columbine High School Massacre||04/20/99||Littleton CO||15||21|
|Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting||12/14/12||Newtown CT||28||2|
|Oklahoma City Bombing||04/19/95||Oklahoma City OK||168||680+|
|September 11 Attacks||09/11/01||NY VA and PA||2996||6000+|
That really puts things in perspective, don’t you think?
The Boston Marathon attack yesterday was one of the least fatal attacks in recent history. We have no idea whether it was perpetrated by an organized terror group, a single unbalanced individual, or some other sort of organization altogether. We have no concept of what the motive was or when or how or where the attack was planned and prepared. It much more closely resembles in scale the 1996 Olympics bombing (perpetrated by an American member of a Christian terrorist organization) and last year’s shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado (in which the shooter was a single individual of unclear mental health status working alone).
What all of this adds up to is one simple conclusion:
In 2001, the September 11 attacks resulted in a dramatic curtailing of our liberty, which has done little to make us more secure and much to make us less free. Those attacks were also used as a flimsy pretext for an unwarranted war in Iraq (an act of terror which has killed significantly more Americans than the 9/11 attacks themselves).
What was described on the radio today as taking place across the nation today is what we call “disproportionate response” (everywhere except for Boston, where immediate response is warranted). People are already talking about terrorist groups, speculating about war, grounding flights because they hear people speaking Arabic, and just generally allowing the terror to take hold.
If we allow the terror to take hold — if we use this as a pretext for more unjust killing, if we allow our government to use it to deprive us of more of our freedom — the terrorists have won. You’re doing EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO DO.
Wait for the investigators to do their jobs and to come up with some information that’s actually worth acting on. Until then…
Keep calm and carry on.