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The Boston Marathon Bombings - The Other Lesson

Updated on April 25, 2013

It could hardly be denied that the twin bombings that marred this year’s Boston Marathon this past Monday, April 15, leaving three people dead and scores of others seriously injured left yet another jarring and ineffaceable brunt on our frayed national psyche.

With one of the assailants now dead, the other securely in custody, and law enforcement officials scurrying to interview the suspects’ family members and close associates and pour over the crime scene and mountains of evidence in an effort to establish motive and piece together the tapestry of events leading up to the explosions, the city of Boston and its residents struggle to grapple with the attack, clear the streets and get back to business as usual.

As is often typical of terror attacks of this nature, moment of silence observations had been ordered, flags had flown at half mask, and makeshift memorials had sprung up at the site of the explosions in demonstration of support and respect for the victims.

Also, funeral services with representatives from the highest levels of our government in Washington in attendance are underway for the dead and fundraising events had been initiated to honor victims.

The authorities’ first order of business following the apprehension of the attackers was understandably to swiftly establish the terror plot’s magnitude---identify any organizational/national sponsors and ascertain whether the incident under investigation was the first of multiple salvos of assaults.

Thus far, it appears that the Tsarnaev brothers acted alone; they did not receive training or material/logistical support from any outside terrorist groups. But, it was disclosed that had they gotten away, the City of New York would have been the next stop of their murderous odyssey.

Also, it has been established that the older of the two conspirators, Tamerlan, reportedly made one or two excursions abroad and in the years before the bombings, grew increasingly radicalized after falling under the spell of an influential Muslim convert who, over time, steered him toward a strict or more orthodox strand of Islam. Before meeting this associate, Tamerlan supposedly led a normal, religiously apathetic life.

Considering that following a tip-off from Russian authorities, Tamerlan had been questioned in 2011 by US law enforcement agencies, lawmakers in Washington are exploring the likelihood that there were avoidable intelligence or communication lapses---the possibility that either someone dropped the ball or that existing bureaucratic problems inhibited the timely sharing of information between all concerned agencies.

Not surprisingly, we really have not witnessed the kind of visceral, venomous backlash that most assuredly would have ensued had the suspects hailed from the Middle East or borne more Arab-sounding common names; say, Mohammed and Abubakah Hussein.

Nor did other young Bostonians of East European origin necessarily have to worry about being pointlessly “profiled” or brought under close scrutiny because of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan’s iniquities.

To the contrary, granted that there had been a generalized expression of horror regarding the carnage, there seems to be a general interest in or disposition toward understanding how/why the Tsarnaev brothers (two ordinarily “normal” young men) perpetrated such heinous evil.

Reflecting on how terrifying and paralyzing it was in Boston while the manhunt for Dzhokhar was in progress, I couldn’t help but wonder how it must have felt to live in Iraq or Libya at the height of the American-led air campaign there---living through the thundering sounds of American warplanes literally blanketing entire cities with 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 pound bombs!

If two unaided assailants could practically bring life to a screeching, petrifying halt and strike such fear in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Boston citizens over a 24-hour period, how does it really feel to live through a proxy war (with manned aircraft or drones) in a faraway country financed or resourced by American tax dollars in pursuit of “freedom” or whatever else the political leadership tenders as justification for its prosecution?

The fact of the matter is that, given that it has been hundreds of years since there’s been any kind of military conflict or battle on the American mainland, we can safely assume that no one alive today in the United States has lived through war on the mainland or had to defend the homeland from an invading enemy force.

So, it’s not a reach to say that the horrors of war, in its truest and most immediate sense, have been lost on generations of Americans.

Yes, we have sent young men and women to fight and die in distant lands. But, the average American does not know how it truly feels to live with the unending thought of death from military conflict or be totally immobilized (holed-up in the basement of their homes) for months or even years; nor does he/she know what it means to watch entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble because of warfare.

Being that I was alive during the Nigerian civil war in the late sixties, I know how it feels to be a dispossessed refugee robbed of any semblance of normalcy and fighting to stay alive! I recall that for nearly three years, swaths of school-age children from the eastern region of the country could not do something as ordinary as go to school!

My point is that witnessing war or conflict in such a personal and relatable way affords one a more appreciative perspective about its horrors---it does not seem so third-party, or faraway, or hypothetical, or sanitized.

In ending, much as the event in Boston this last week, or Oklahoma City (1995) and New York (2001) before it, do not approximate military conflict in its classic sense, a key lesson that may not seem obvious precisely because of the foregoing reason is its infinite capacity to render life spiritually and materially pointless, brutish and short. War or any form of organized conflict targeting masses of people and involving the thoughtless use of weapons of death must be rightfully understood as hellish and devastating. It is real; neither thrilling nor meant to entertain; and it oughtn’t be approached cavalierly. As informed citizens, extreme vigilance and concerted action is required of us to train our political leaders to express utmost prudence and demonstrate restraint on all matters of war and peace.

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