The Boston Bombings and a Path of Uncertainty

I consider myself a writer now, but before that I was a teacher. I have a degree in political science and international studies, and at one point I was sure that my life would take me into a career in diplomacy or counter terrorism. Most people see those two fields as contradictory. Diplomacy deals with developing good relations with other nations and major world players. It necessitates skills in the use of power, both soft and hard. Wielding that power is the key to a successful outcome. Usually, diplomacy is the path taken when one wants to avoid conflict, and overall, is usually successful.

Counter terrorism officials deal with intelligence and strategy. Their goal is to uncover non-state actors that post a great threat to the state, in my case, the US. The power they wield is the power of secrecy and arms, a powerful combination that is necessary when hunting enemies that have no end-game other than pure destruction.

Both diplomacy and counter terror efforts take place without much fanfare. Officials for both do their work in the background, ensuring a smooth global operation. One needs the other, whether we as Americans admit it or not. There is no such thing as the possibility of isolationism, nor should there be. The world is filled with humans just like us, and we have to acknowledge that.

I bring this up because of what happened at the Boston Marathon. Both our diplomats and security specialists are in overdrive, and they are at the helm of a pissed off nation. With 3 dead and over a hundred seriously injured, we find ourselves asking questions. We want to know who did it and why. We want to know why our intelligence officials didn’t know about it. But most of all, and perhaps more telling of who we are, is our need to know who we will kill in retaliation.

Scanning the blogs, tweets, and other social media postings, it is clear that people need someone to hit back. It reminds me of when I was four. A classmate hit me so I hit him back. It’s a natural response. Human response. Even though we as adults tell our kids not to hit back, we don’t really mean it. In fact, I imagine it’s hard not to be proud of your kid for sticking up for himself.

The US has usually followed what is a policy of proportional response. The terrorists kill ten of our people, we respond by taking out a “reasonable” amount of theirs. The US has the capability to destroy any enemy that they want, but we temper our anger and strike, not with our full capabilities, but with the equivalent of a toothpick into a watermelon. In reality, we could just take our baseball bat and destroy it, but we don’t.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Boston, especially the eight year old boy, Martin Richard, that was killed. His mother had to have brain surgery and his sister lost a leg. They were watching their dad run the marathon. Reading that, if your first reaction isn’t to find everyone involved and kill them, then you are a better person than me. However, I know that finding everyone involved and killing them would lead to innocent people getting killed as well. That is something I don’t want and something that is hard to a nation of people to understand.

As a nation, it is easy to strike with our weapons. A nation is all of us combined. All individuals. But it is also a thing. With everyone combined, we become a collective, no longer individuals. Why is that important? Because, as a collective we can suspend our concept of appropriate retaliation. Forgiveness is hard enough for individuals, but nearly impossible for a nation. We have to have blood.

I was not there in Boston, and if I was, if my family had been hurt, I would probably not be calling for patience and calm. For most people, this is not a situation that deserves either. I just don’t want to make a mistake and let loose the weapons of fury on innocent people because we demand someone pay. Don’t get me wrong; I want those that did this to be punished severely and quickly. Somebody will pay. But I do not want innocent people to die because of it. I’ve come a long way in my views of other people, religions, and cultures. In the end, we are indeed all humans. Some of us were lucky enough to be born in free nations, some unlucky enough to be born under the watchful eyes of oppressors and terrorists. Those are the people that I feel sorry for, just as much as I feel sorry for the victims of the bombings.

The photo that almost everyone has seen of the little boy that died is one in which he is holding up a sign that says “No more hurting people” followed by “Peace.” It is hard to look at now, but we should take heed of the message. The hardest times to find peace are times like this. For the sake of Martin Richard, let’s try.


– Reaching out to an enemy in kindness often changes the enemy into a friend. – Don Miller


4 thoughts on “The Boston Bombings and a Path of Uncertainty

  1. I really appreciate the language and argument you present here. I agree, there needs to be some action in finding who is responsible and justice should be served. To tag onto your comments about retaliation: we often come from the standpoint of civil action and moral understanding that people deserve to be treated humanely; we stand up when we do something wrong and take responsibility. The people who committed this have yet to stand up. This tells me one of two things: one that they had all intention of hurting people because of their absence for glorification; two, that they have complete disregard or respect for humans as a collective because they have yet to stand up and take responsibility. When dealing with people like that there has to be an alternative form of retaliation. If we are to find them and “strike” back with force it will NOT stop them from continuing the violence, which in turn will keep us violently attacking back.

    I agree with you Shane- there has to be some kind of balance, but there also has to be a cognitive patient moment; let the anger swell, but as it subsides let’s concentrate on alternative and constructivist ways of punishing. And maybe there aren’t any options at the moment, but I don’t think it would hurt to try…I don’t know. I frequent the Boston Area and it’s been hard to shake this.

  2. Is it vengeance we seek or justice? Sometimes those two things are confused, but human beings have a natural, healthy desire to see justice served. We can’t help it. When it isn’t, something feels wrong. There is no closure. People can’t heal or move on. The wrong must fail, the right prevail.

    I think we’re witnessing a pursuit of justice- perhaps fueled, for some, by revenge.

  3. All of that is true. Justice can easily be confused for vengeance, but vengeance can just as easily disguise itself as justice. Sometimes, all too often, situations such as this are used as excuses to pursue other motives. That is what I am worried about.

  4. Well said. Hasty responses and impulsive decisions in the name of justice have cost us all more than is calculable. I think everyone dreads it being a foreign group, but I think it’d be easier than having to hold a mirror up to ourselves. Justice and “swift” being married together is a mistake. Calculated, informed and reasoned justice is the correct response to madness.

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