Homegrown or foreign-directed, it was terrorism — a coordinated act meant to kill, maim, confuse and frighten at a major American event — that we saw at the Boston Marathon on Monday.
There are lessons here. They are not as explicit as they will become as we learn more; but it is clear no matter what that we are vulnerable and that vigilance remains crucial, which doesn’t mean we go into hiding.
We want our bold American lives to continue to be more celebratory than quivering, we don’t want to ban the excitement of a good Patriots Day race or surround every moment with cops. What we do want is to be prudent, cautious, careful, to understand that this 21st century is fraught with brands of peril in some ways different from what we knew before. And we must be prepared to make the harms that come our way less harmful than the evil intended.
In some ways, on top of the inspiring kindness of citizens toward each other, we saw evidence of such preparation in Boston — quick, smooth responses by local police, medical teams and others.
When you listened on TV to public spokespeople explain what was going on after two bombings, three deaths, more than 170 injuries, you felt — to the extent possible — comforted. You heard good sense being spoken, an avoidance of anything panicky, care not to come to premature conclusions and ironclad determination to capture the guilty.
Being ready for a disaster is a big part of what we need. There are dangers of biological and chemical and even nuclear terrorist attacks that we can never be assured we can stop, no matter what our military does abroad or how incredibly well our intelligence agents and police perform. Since 9/11, we have thwarted some murderous schemes, but then there was Fort Hood and now there is Boston, and we have to grasp the importance of containing the tragic possibilities.