The Boston Marathon bombers do not seem to have been right-wing nuts. The president of their country of origin said that these men had lived in the United States for ten years, implying that this country, not his, was responsible for them. Al-Qaeda has been experimenting with using isolated individual operatives who are non-Arab. The more arbitrary and unexpected an incident is, the better. Those under 75 still have to de-shoe in airports because of the work of one man a decade ago. The more a country has to defend itself from within, from its own citizens or its visitors, the less it can do elsewhere.
People ask why anyone would want to interrupt a peaceful, hometown race. The answer is that it’s a perfect vehicle for maximum global publicity at minimum cost. I doubt if the loss of life of one of the Tsarnaev brothers makes much difference to the brains behind this operation, if there are any besides those of the brothers.
We are uneasy because, increasingly, we know so little about outside agents who are already in this country and prepared to disrupt our society. Or if we do know them, we cannot identify them, for reasons of political correctness. Our government has given us few signs that it considers national security a high priority. The Libyan bombing of the U.S. embassy in Benghazi has never really been seen for the political incompetence that it displayed. On another front, we seem to be, if anything, demilitarizing ourselves so that we could do little to protect our interests even if we wanted to.
Each new crisis, it seems, leads to a growth of government’s power. The Boston attack was not caused by guns. Somehow, I expect a movement will arise to ban pressure cookers. We are slow to learn that such “terrorist” attacks are not “caused” by weapons of any sort. They are caused by ideology, personal madness, or, sometimes, both. If we ban guns and pressure cookers, the next round of killers will use knives, poison, or baseball bats. A hundred websites will tell us how to use them, as a hundred sites tell us now how to make bombs at home. We will be into banning baseball bats, both wooden and aluminum.
The president assures us that every strand of information about where the Tsarnaev brothers came from and got their ideas will be pursued. We would like to believe him.
If two homemade bombs can disrupt a country and practically paralyze a large metropolitan area for days, who do we think is watching this drama? What lessons are being drawn? The difference between 9/11 and the Boston Marathon is not so great in that respect. Indeed, we might say that the minds behind 9/11 miscalculated the size of attack they needed to achieve the end they sought.
In short, while this country may return to “normal,” I do not think that the lesson of this bombing will be lost on those who shrewdly calculate the vulnerability of modern societies. In the end, we either increase government control of everything, which not a few desire anyhow, or we leave ourselves open to increased random disruption. All of this has much to do with our unwillingness to ask ourselves about the difference between ideologies and common sense.