As a tragic Patriot’s Day finally comes to a close, we are still left with few answers to too many questions about the bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon. All we know is that the death toll has grown to three including one child and the number of wounded is now set at 144. We don’t know who committed this heinous act or why they did it, and those television pundits playing the guessing game as to whether it is the work of foreign terrorists or the domestic killers, Islamists or right-wing extremists, are embarrassing themselves and their networks. But there should be no doubt about the fact that what happened in Boston was an act of terrorism.
There is some debate about the fact that President Obama chose not to use the word terror or terrorism in describing what happened. So long as there is so much that is unknown about these events caution is called for, so we won’t quibble about his use of the word on Monday. But with the bombs being described as loaded with anti-personnel shrapnel so as to maximize casualties there is no doubt that what has occurred is an act of terrorism.
For the moment, we must sit back and wait as the authorities seek to find the answers needed to our questions and the murderers responsible for this atrocity. Those like the New York Times’s Ross Douthat and the Atlantic’s Bruce Schneier, who have written about the need for the country to “keep calm and carry on,” are exactly right. The life of the nation must continue even as we grieve for the dead and the many who were wounded and maimed.
But as much as we must not succumb to panic, it is vital in the days that will follow that we not lose sight of the need to treat terrorism, whether foreign or domestic, as more than just a matter for the police.
In the past few months, there has been a great deal of debate about whether the government has misused its powers in the course of conducting counter-terrorist operations. While there are legitimate questions to be posed about the use of drone attacks and other tactics, too much of what we heard in recent months spoke of the threat of terrorism as if it were merely a pretext for the administration to exceed its authority. Some even raised the possibility of absurd scenarios in which the government would attack innocent American citizens as part of some paranoid conspiracy theories.
No matter who set off the bombs in Boston or why they did it, this event should remind us that the United States remains locked in a struggle against terrorists that need no drone attacks to convince them to kill Americans. As much as we should hold our government accountable, the first responsibility of the president and our security services is to combat terrorists, no matter their origin or motive. Let’s hope this tragedy reminds more of us that treating this question as an excuse to vent foolish speculation about nonexistent government attacks on innocent Americans advances neither our civil liberties nor our security.