As stories of a massive manhunt through Boston and of the still-unfolding drama surrounding Monday’s events capture the attention of every news network, I am struck by our collective reaction to Monday’s attacks. Yesterday morning, the Washington Post’s editorial page carried a number of letters to the editor concerning the Boston Marathon bombing. One letter in particular jumped out: the author worried that Americans feel too safe these days and have grown too complacent, and as a result are less vigilant; she concluded that what this country needs is heightened security and additional precautions, since our current system didn’t prevent the attacks from happening.
In a similar vein, I got hit with an unexpected question Monday night: am I still planning to run the Marine Corps Marathon this fall? The question gave me pause. I’ve run Marine Corps as often over the years as deployments and children allowed, and ran Boston once some years ago (I remember that finish line spectacularly well, mostly because I barely crossed it). The family often comes out to watch, and the team I run Marine Corps with has accumulated a strong cheering squad and support group at the finish. But what would the reverberations of Monday’s events be? Would people want their families to be there after what happened in Boston? Would I? And would I feel safe running it?
The answer is an unequivocal yes. Yes, yes, and again, yes. Absolutely, I’ll run the Marine Corps Marathon, as will thousands of others. We will run it with pride, anger, and disgust, directed at those who spread fear within our borders. What happened Monday is exceedingly rare here, and in that we are beyond fortunate; Boston should remind us of that. What happened is abnormal, horrific, and yet so often, in so many places that are not America, people are numb to it. Not here. Our defenses and security measures are imperfect; we cannot see and catch all. But when a bad apple gets through and inflicts harm upon fellow Americans, we react. We abhor. And we bear witness. Monday’s events had news outlets tripping over each other trying to get the facts out; four days later we can still see the same ubiquitous slow-motion video clip of the explosions everywhere we look. The analysis is too much, perhaps even voyeuristic, sensationalistic. But that’s far better than the alternative, and it keeps us aware.
My immediate reaction to the letter I initially described was primarily an instinctive hatred for the unwelcome image of this nation gripped by fear. We should always be improving security, and we should always be alert. We should embrace our families, and fear for their safety. Yet part of what makes this country amazing is that there will still be marathons, and there will still be spectators at the finish line. We will continue to fly, to travel, and to gather in large numbers in public places. We will continue to be shocked when terrorists attack here, obsessive in the aftermath, and naïve in our beliefs that we can really keep terrorism out of our borders. What scares me most of all is the image of an America where those things cease to happen.