Saturday, April 20, 2013


There are a lot of us Americans out here who believe what happened in Boston is really indicative of a much more pervasive threat in America. The simple truth is that there are way too many human beings of varying nationalities who abhor all things American. We are roundly hated in many corners of the earth, and our one-time “impenetrable” borders are now anything but. Everybody is fully exposed now. We American citizens are seemingly dangerously exposed to unknown individual enemies with psychopathic intentions, and those very enemies are exposed to unprecedented law enforcement technology and countless cameras. We’re all naked in the worst way.

 Those of us in my generation trace one of our earliest memories to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. From that moment, we progressed on through a number of other mid-to-late-20th century bloody assassinations, and right into the ongoing carnage of the Vietnam war. In between it all was the civil rights struggle that saw eruptions of street rioting coast to coast. We were raised on violence and mayhem. As children we saw our President shot through the brain. As teens we watched blood and guts in Vietnamese rice paddies every night on Walter Cronkite’s evening newscast. As young adults we were already inundated with unnatural acts of horror. By the time we were full adults, the Murrah Federal Building (left) was blown up in Oklahoma City. This time the carnage was the work of a disgruntled American angry at the government for another violent confrontation in Waco, TX two years earlier. And then the road winds around right into 9/11.

And now…Boston.

The day JFK was murdered, the U.S was about as low-tech as a developed nation could be. When the riots happened late at night in Washington, D.C. and Harlem the night Martin Luther King was murdered, many of us had no idea it was happening until the next day. Vietnam happened on our TV screens, but generally not in real time. Even so many years later when Oklahoma City happened, and later when the planes hit the buildings in NYC, although we watched it happen live on TV, there was not much social media happening and cameras in phones were not widely available yet.

But Boston? The world is so high tech now that not only did law enforcement rely heavily on private citizens’ phone photos, but the second suspect was caught after a helicopter used infrared imaging technology (right) to determine that he was hiding under a sealed canvas in a boat. Those in the know explained it to us laypeople as technology that senses heat
to indicate there is an animal or human being in the targeted region. X-Ray vision, 21st century style. Technology did in the Tsarnaev brothers. As one network reporter put it, the phrase “lost in a crowd” no longer exists in 21st century America. If not technology, what other explanation is there that the Tsarnaev boys were identified and targeted by law enforcement within 24 – 48 hours of the marathon bombings?

 But there are other differences between Boston and the history-making violent events through which we have lived. Chief among them may be the fact that Chechnya, a country of just over 1.2 million citizens could be a threat to the mighty USA. It speaks to the undeniable shift in world security that these two boys were able to pull this off. Another meaningful difference between Boston and past violent incidents is the complex fact that although they caught us by surprise with the bombings, we are no longer fully shocked that it could happen. We know now that terrorist attacks can happen anywhere, anytime. Three days after the Boston bombings a bomb threat at the New Orleans Marriott hotel forced its officials to evacuate the entire 41 floors and 1300+ guest rooms. Right here in New Orleans – we’re not a major U.S. center of commerce; we’re not a national government seat; we’re not even a tremendously populated city, compared to our more cosmopolitan sister cities. Yet even we have bomb threats.
The difference between Boston and other events we’ve witnessed is simply that now we know terrorism has no geographical preferences or boundaries. So – we are Boston. And Boston is us. And that “new normal” that you hear bandied about in contemporary vernacular is real. The new normal can be summed up this way: We are not necessarily safe in America. We know that, and we navigate our way through life with that sort of hanging over us each day.

It is still the freest country in the world, but freedom has been somewhat redefined. It now means we are on camera most of the time that we are not at home. It means there is even technology being used that can determine if someone is indeed in their home at any given time. The new normal holds that we Americans are not internationally adored. In many places just the opposite is the case. And the new normal holds that those who would commit violent mass attacks walk right among us. The surviving Tsarnaev brother is described by some of his American high school and college classmates as a great guy, fun, and just “one of us.” So far, to a person they describe someone who they would never have known had it in for Americans.

 Those are the necessary lessons of Boston. We are now the United States of Boston. I remember not so many years ago when we were all called upon to be the United States of New Orleans. It was a powerful feeling. The larger lesson I take away from these moments? That would be that unity is our true, best shot at national security.


Anita said...

I want to thank you for this beautiful post. Thank you for describing the world you grew up in. It is the world my own children grew up in and I have never before now been so clear about how very different it was from my own childhood.

Despite the problems we had as the great depression and WWII impacted all our lives, our president spoke to us in his fireside chats on the radio telling us the only thing we had to fear was fear itself and we all had a job to do to help our country. We felt safe in our own land--the Greatest Generation was fighting and winning for us the right to be free and safe. From sea to shining sea. We even believed that evil aggressors had been vanquished abroad. Our country was strong and magnanimous and we were heroes.

It was a time when even first graders could safely walk to school and children ran barefoot and free in the fields and woods in the summer. We knew our neighbors. We were such innocents. You and my children never had any of that. Not after 1963.

Joan Eisenstodt said...

Terrorism has existed for all time. We in the US have been remarkably insulated .. or in some ways from terrorists from other countries. Those locally born and bred? Oh the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hate Project has tracked them for years. And before that? Some courageous newspaper folks, especially in the South, wrote about the lynchings.

Why do we think terrorism is a new thing? Why do we believe that WE (what you've called the "US of Boston") can't be targeted when people around the world have been dying for so long and we turn away?

Did you see the photo on the front page of the Saturday New York Times? Of the family running from a terrorist attack in Afghanistan? The horror on the face of the little boy?

Is it technology or people? Is it knowing or not knowing? Is it that we Americans think we are special? Is it that we are so insulated from the rest of the world - EVEN given technology and the "global community" we tout - that we can't be touched?

I'm not sure what you wrote and I usually understand and know and agree.