The investigation of the bombings that terrorized runners approaching the finish line of the Boston Marathon was not even 24 hours old before authorities were asking for patience.
Ours is a society that lives with and for instant gratification. Technological advances make it easy for us to expect answers to even the most complex question right now. The cowardly attack on the runners and spectators in Boston demands a swift response, all right, but a rush to judgment won’t bring justice to the dead and the maimed in Boston.
Finding and prosecuting the individual or group responsible for the bombings will take time, as most methodical investigations do. There are no real short cuts despite the thousands of witnesses.
We’ve been here before, of course. First there is the shock, followed by words of comfort for the wounded and survivors of the dead. Then there is the anger and the demands that authorities track down the killer or killers.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the terrorists who hijacked the planes left behind lots of clues, but it still took time to put all the pieces together.
In 2009, a gunman opened fire on soldiers going through the tedious chores of processing for deployment at Fort Hood. There was no doubt that Maj. Nidal Hassan was the perpetrator. He was shot and left paralyzed by security officers responding to the gunfire. Two years later, though, he is still awaiting trial for the shootings that left 13 dead and 32 wounded.
Because of the Middle Eastern origins and connections of the 9/11 hijackers and Hassan — who was communicating with Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who was later killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen — the word “terror” has become a code word for Muslim fundamentalist zealots whose perversion of the tenants of their faith inspire them violence. CNN was reporting at midday Tuesday that the Obama administration’s security team is discounting the possibility of foreign involvement in the Boston attack.
If so, that would focus the search on an enemy within. We’ve seen a misguided U.S. citizen or citizens whose perverted notions of patriotism pushed them to attack other Americans. In 1995, the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City was eventually traced to Timothy McVeigh, a recently discharged Army noncommissioned officer who had a grudge against his government.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, wisely cautioned against jumping to conclusions. “That’s always the caution, is that you have to follow down every lead, and most of them don’t lead to the perpetrator,” McCaul, a former federal prosecutor, noted.
Yes, it’s frustrating. There is a natural, human tendency to demand swift retribution for this kind of assault on our sense of security. The people who registered to run in the Boston Marathon — including a sizable representation from Central Texas — had every right to expect that the race would be a good memory after Monday instead of the traumatic one it became when the bombs detonated. “You wouldn’t think it would hit running. You wouldn’t think just people running down the street would be a target for this,” Austinite Michael Madison told the American-Statesman’s Pam LeBlanc.
But it did, underlining once again that terrorists hit the unsuspecting, the most vulnerable, at times and in places where we least expect it. Terrorists are first and foremost cowards, after all. Their payoff is in the panic and fear they rouse.
In Boston as in every other place where terrorists have struck throughout history, the terror also roused the heroic instinct in those who ran to help the injured. In Boston as in Oklahoma City, New York and Fort Hood, there were people who didn’t hesitate to help those who only seconds before were just faces in the crowd, perhaps.
It was a tough day in Boston, but Boston — as President Barack Obama noted — is a tough town. The assault on the Boston Marathon runners has for a time brought a polarized nation together. Sadly, experience tells us that the sense of unity will quickly fade, but in the aftermath of this latest attack on our physical and mental security, we once again confront a common enemy — one who doesn’t ask its victims their party affiliation, race, age, sexual orientation or economic station.
Experience also shows us, though, that terrorists seldom succeed in their long-term goals. The loss of life — lamentable though it is — does not dim the determination to endure and overcome. It will take time, of course. So will finding the perpetrators.
Boston and the nation will honor the dead, heal the wounded and will hunt down and prosecute those who killed and assaulted them.
Society has changed considerably since the time John Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock walked Boston’s streets, but this much hasn’t: Boston and the nation from which it sprang will mourn but will not wilt.
©2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas
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