Bloodshed and mayhem on the streets of any city is tragic, but Boston is particularly disturbing to me. I spent many pleasant spring afternoons wandering the shops around Copley Square and, on one occasion, I cheered on runners at the normally joyous finish line of the marathon. Today is different.
There is much we don’t know right now — including the final number of victims, the motives of the attackers, or their identities. Whatever it is, Boston will persist, Boston will bounce back.
Terrorism (if that’s what this is) “works” to the extent that terrorism causes us to be disgusted, to want to retreat, and to feel insecure in public places and in our daily lives. In that sense, terrorism is not so much targeted to the innocents that lose their lives but to the rest of us that recoil in outrage and fear.
I want to make two brief observations. First, social solidarity matters. Tragedies bring people across vast social divides together. I expect that this disaster will strengthen civic bonds (like 9/11 did), and unite people in Boston with a sense of shared purpose. Bostonians are famously cantankerous — and woe to you if you are caught in the wrong place in a NY Yankees cap — but they are also exceptionally generous and they tolerate a great deal of social and economic diversity. It helps that Boston has a rich infrastructure of civic and religious organizations that bridge the real (and sometimes gaping) divides between Irish, Italians, Puerto Ricans, Brazilians, Indians, Pakistanis, Jamaicans, and just about every major religion.
Second, we are a society of law and order. Images of the first responders rushing to the scene, and restoring some semblance of order within seconds, were truly inspiring. The Boston police are not perfect. They have had their share of corruption and brutality cases in the past. Boston is not the safest city. But Boston is improving. It seems at once obvious and impolite to remember that today, on tax day, we experience the many benefits of living in a society where we pay cops and fire fighters to work tough jobs at considerable risk. Doctors at all the major teaching hospitals in Boston are working hard to save lives and limbs. Again, Boston’s medical system is not perfect, but there are few places I would rather go to receive world class medical care.
It’s hard to focus on what makes us strong on a day when we seem so weak. On Wednesday I expect to be in Boston and I will walk the streets around the Back Bay with a much heavier heart. But life will get back to normal — the Sox will return, the orchestra will play again, people will eventually return to the library steps to sunbathe and watch the flow of humanity. The institutions we create — and the values that animate them — are more powerful than bombs.