An eight year old boy was blown to bits, yesterday, as he waited for his father to finish the Boston marathon. Two others died and a hundred more were injured in the explosions that littered the sidewalk with dismembered legs.
Who would, could, do such a thing? Foreign or domestic, political or deranged? We want answers, preferably answers that will distance the horror. We are warmed by the reactions of the crowd, as President Obama said this morning—by those who ran to the hospitals to give blood, comforted the heartbroken, and gave aid to the injured. We need to feel a part of that species of human. We rebel against the notion that there are those among us whose humanity is so twisted.
Inevitably we will look for blame. Who let those bombs through the security nets? Who ignored a warning? Who? Who? Who? We need a target to vent our horror, our anger, and our grief. And over and over security chiefs will tell us there is no one. No one who can prevent the human impuse to destroy. And it may be well that we are deprived of a target while our blood runs so hot. Vengeance is as dangerous an emotion as the destructive rage that exploded in Boston.
For centuries we lived protected and isolated by two oceans from the wars and genocides that tore apart the rest of the world, so it is no wonder the 9/11/01 attacks filled us with such disbelief. We joined the world that day. Lost our sense of immortality, our innocence, our immunity from the ills that beset other continents. We were cast into our adulthood. Now it’s time to give up our belief that there is some Great Father in Washington who should protect us from such evil.
Maybe yesterday’s disaster was perpetrated by foreign terrorists, maybe not. In either case it is one of a string of such disasters that is rapidly becoming our weekly fare. We can become numb, cynical, bitter, vengeful, or we can face up.
I remember being in Berlin on Oct 3, 2007, Reunification Day, which looks very much like the Fourth of July here. That celebration of the day the Berlin Wall came down marked the end of a very long black night in German history. Our guides pointed out the steps Germany took to face up. To look deep into their national character and discover the source of the violence they let loose on the world and on their own Jewish population. They then took steps to insure it would never happen again. Hitler’s bunker is unmarked so it cannot become a symbol for neo-Nazi groups. The dome of the Reichstag is of glass, symbolizing the transparency of government. The memorial to the Holocaust is a field of black marble blocks that sits beside the Brandenburg Gate, an ever-present reminder of the blotch on the nation’s past. Everywhere was the impressive act of self-examination and the determination to remember the results.
I’m not suggesting our past is similar to Germany’s, but they give an impressive role-model for the act of facing up—examining the violence in our national character and changing course.