Boston bombing reaction: why are we such a frightened people?
I'm going to talk briefly, I hope, I intend, about two thoughts prompted by the Boston bombing. They are thoughts I want to put out there for your consideration.
One has to do with the reactions to the hunt for Dzohkar Tsarnaev. When he was caught, people were in the streets cheering and chanting "USA! USA!"
Why? I mean, this was not just relief. This went way beyond relief. If he had been, say, a bank robber who had killed a bank guard, carjacked a car, and killed a cop and was described as armed and dangerous and in the vicinity, would the reaction of the cops have been the same? Would there have been city-wide lockdowns? Would there have been tanks in the streets of Watertown?
Would the reaction of the people have been the same? Would his capture have brought them out in the streets, cheering and waving flags?
Why are we such a frightened people? Why are we such a frightened people that this one guy was able to turn Boston and Watertown into ghost towns?
Schools and business were closed. Trains and subways were halted. Roads were blocked off and empty. The streets resembled, in the words of one writer, a post-apocalyptic movie set. Even baseball games and cultural events were cancelled. This was all in response to a single 19-year-old fugitive - an armed and dangerous fugitive, yes, but still alone and on foot and clearly identified by the news media.
And don't give me any of this "Boston strong" crap because it's utter nonsense. Cops were telling people to stay inside. Nobody in, nobody out. It was lock your doors, be afraid to be in the streets, be afraid to answer your door; people were even told to stay away from windows, be afraid even to look outside; hide in your home with the lights out and the blinds drawn until you're told it's safe. And then after the guy is caught, you come strutting out going "Oh yeah, we strong, we strong." No, you're not. You're scared. Scared enough to surrender your civil liberties without a fuss.
Former Rep. Ron Paul, a man who gives a political meaning to the term idiot-savant, wrote the other day that the response of law enforcement to the bombings should frighten Americans more than the attack itself.
Forced lockdown of a city. Militarized police riding tanks in the streets. Door-to-door armed searches without warrant. Families thrown out of their homes at gunpoint to be searched without probable cause. Businesses forced to close. Transport shut down.There are tanks in the streets of an American city and it's not an Armed Forces Day parade! There is video of the door-to-door searches - some folks have video taken from their windows and channel 7 in Boston covered this as well - there is video of heavily armed and heavily armored cops banging on doors, sticking loaded guns in the faces of people who answered the doors, forcing everyone in the house to leave at gun point with their hands in the air, sending them to be searched without warrant or cause, then storming in the house like they were going into combat. They were going down streets doing this, house after house - and in a move that would have Orwell grinning in recognition, offcials had the utter, the monumental, gall to refer to these armed home invasions as "rescuing" the occupants!
These were not the scenes from a military coup in a far off banana republic, but rather scenes in Boston as the United States got a taste of martial law. The Boston bombing provided the opportunity for the government to turn what should have been a police investigation into a military-style occupation of an American city.
And we're supposed to think this is okay! We're supposed to accept this! And, somehow, passively sumbitting to this is supposed to prove that "We strong!" It proves no such thing; in fact it proves the opposite. It proves just how frightened we are, just how fragile our freedoms are and just how readily we will surrender them to the demands of power as soon as the magic talisman of "terrorism" is waved in our faces, the Constitution and all that nonsense about "rights" be damned.
And I don't want to hear the blather about it being necessary for "public safety." Daniel Webster said it well:
Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.It's like a conditioned reflex: We hear word the word "terrorism" and any legitimate fear we may have felt, any rational concern we may have had, goes up by an order of magnitude or more and the words "legitimate" and "rational" are dropped from the lexicon. Why? Why has a people that likes to pride itself on its supposed daring spirit as we tell ourselves stories of how we dared to cross the oceans, we dared to cross the plains and prairies, we dared to step out into space, why has a people whose nation was born in revolution, whose third president, Thomas Jefferson, said "the spirit of resistance to government is so valuable at times that I wish it to be always alive," why has such a people become so timorous, so afraid, that we regard our freedoms as being based on nothing more than the sufferance of the state? Why are we such a frightened people?
And there is a clear political aspect to this question. Since 9/11, a total of sixteen people have been killed by Islamic terrorism on American soil. Even if we are to speculate on motives, including Boston brings the total to nineteen. That is one more than the number who died as the result of gunfire in the US on the day of the bombings and little more than half the daily average. The average American is more likely to die of malaria than as the result of Muslim terrorism. Meanwhile, the number of anti-government so-called “patriot” groups, defined as those dedicated to overthrowing the federal government in the belief it intends to confiscate weapons and impose socialism, reached an all-time high in 2012 and according to a study by Arie Perliger of the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, in that same period, that is, since 9/11, over 250 people have been killed in the US in right-wing violence. But we don't talk about that; in fact, when the DHS - the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland - issued a report on right-wing extremism in 2009, the reactionaries in Congress screamed so loud that the agency had to withdraw the report. So not only don't we talk about that, politically, we're not even allowed to talk about it.
So I ask again? Why are we such a frightened people? How did that come to be? Why is that fear so narrowly - and wrongly - focused? And, now, and perhaps most importantly, I will ask, who does that fear serve?
Ultimately, I think Ben Franklin had it right:
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.America in 2013 appears to be among Franklin's undeserving.
Links to the previous posts on the Boston Marathon bombings:
The Boston Marathon bombings (April 18)
More on the Boston bombings (April 26)