The Corner

Boston Bombing: The ‘Who,’ Not the ‘Why’

Make no mistake about it, yesterday’s bombing in Boston was a cowardly terrorist act. We don’t know yet who is responsible; all we know is that someone, or some group, targeted innocent civilians at an iconic American sporting event. Without getting into complex discussions about definitions, this is terrorism, plain and simple.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to those killed or injured near the marathon finish line on Boylston Street. Their prayers, and those of their family and friends, are our prayers. And to those who ran toward the explosions to aid the wounded — runners, spectators, first responders, security officers, etc. — we commend your bravery and resiliancy. You represent the best of the American spirit.

The next question naturally becomes: Who did this? And, for now, that is precisely where the conversation should stay. Investigators are hard at work, and hopefully soon we’ll know who was responsible. Once we know who committed this dastardly act, it’s then time to hold that person, or those people, accountable. That could mean the domestic justice system, an international manhunt, targeted military action, or anything in between. It could take hours, days, or weeks. But once we identify those responsible, our response, tailored to the perpetrator(s), should be strong, swift, and strategic. How we respond will send important signals to anyone who wishes our people harm.

What we should not do is start asking “why?” It’s not the time to try to “understand” why someone would intentionally target innocent civilians at a sporting event. Of course the perpetrators of a bombing like this have motives — ideological, political, religious, or otherwise — but those are of no consequence right now. We’ll all eventually find out why they did what they did, yet there will not be a moment where we say “Ah ha, now I know why they planted bombs at the Boston marathon . . . sounds reasonable.” Why the attacker killed innocent civilians matters very little right now.

That’s why I winced a bit while watching the president speak last night. His words were somber and appropriate, but missed in two subtle ways. First, the president did not use the word “terror” or “terrorism.” While I don’t (yet) fully begrudge the president for this, it would have been nice to hear him acknowledge what we all know (and which the White House quickly clarified, calling it “an act of terror”). Second, and more subtly, the president immediately coupled the “who?” with the “why?” when he said:

We still do not know who did this or why. And people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts.  But make no mistake — we will get to the bottom of this.  And we will find out who did this; we’ll find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.

I am not casting aspersions on the president. At this critical moment, we stand fully united with him and those in Boston (where I am proud to currently hang my hat). But it’s also important that we don’t get distracted by the “why” and stay focused on finding, and bringing to justice, the “who.”

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