EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 21, 2013

Column: Marathon will return but it will be changed

Taylor Armerding
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — As of this writing, one of the two suspects in the bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded more than 170 is dead, and police are looking for the second. The shock from the event itself has subsided.

That should be a better, less visceral, time to assess what happened and what it means for our future.

Amid the dozens of issues being debated and discussed, two stand out to me:

One group of opinion makers says the marathon will never be the same again. Others say it will be. I’m sad to side with the first group.

That does not mean I think the marathon will disappear. The race organizers have already declared that it will be held in 2014, and good for them. It may not even decline in popularity. I hope, as many do, that it will draw as many or more runners and spectators next year, and for years to come.

That would be an inspiring testament to the resiliency and courage of the human spirit.

All that said, it still won’t be the same. Our history shows it won’t. It won’t even after all the inspiring declarations by city and state officials, and the president himself, that Boston will not be cowed by terrorism.

Yes, it’s true that we don’t spend our waking hours obsessing over 9/11. New York City hums with commerce, the arts and the exuberant pride of ethnic neighborhoods. Millions of us get on planes every week.

But when we fly, we meekly submit to invasive, interminable security procedures. We take off our shoes, stand with our legs spread and arms over our heads so we can be scanned. Or, we get patted down over every part of our bodies. Nobody is outraged at what, even 15 years ago, we would have considered police-state intrusions into our privacy and freedom.

You know, because it is all about keeping us safer.

The saddest thing about Marathon Monday in Boston is the suffering of innocents – people killed, limbs blown off and lives irrevocably damaged by evil.

But it is also sad for Boston, for the nation and the world that in the name of protecting the public – always a worthy goal – we will consent to expanded surveillance and police powers. We are much less likely to be hurt or killed by a terrorist than by an auto accident, but because we think we have some control over the cars we drive and we don’t have control over who might detonate a bomb close to us, we want somebody else to step in and impose that control. And government is always more than willing to oblige.

The 9/11 terrorists succeeded in slaughtering thousands of us. But I doubt that in their wildest, twisted dreams they thought they would succeed so well in undermining freedom in this country.

It doesn’t really matter if the perpetrators are dead or caught, convicted and jailed for life. The goal has been achieved. We will never again be so relaxed, so free to move about, to cheer without worry one of the best athletic events around. There will be more cops, more plainclothes investigators, more high-definition cameras tracking our every move, more inspections of purses and backpacks.

All for our own good – who wants a repeat of death and dismemberment?

There will always be a shadow over the marathon. Saying otherwise at an interfaith service will not change that depressing reality.

President Obama took some grief for pointedly avoiding the words “terrorist” or “terrorism” when he first made a statement on the event.

The president’s critics jumped on it, with some good reason. He and Attorney General Eric Holder resolutely refused to call Army Maj. Nidal M. Hassan a terrorist after he killed 13 people and wounded 30 more at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009.

But his defenders declared that the “label” was irrelevant – that it didn’t matter. More than one editorial page said any attention paid to that issue was a “distraction.”

Really?

Check out a portion of a speech that Obama cribbed from his friend, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

“Don’t tell me that words don’t matter. ‘I have a dream.’ Just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words. ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words. Just speeches. It’s true that speeches don’t solve all problems, but what is also true is that if we can’t inspire the country to believe again, then it doesn’t matter how many plans and policies we have.”

In this case, the label can have much to do with what the public believes about an attack like this.

If labels don’t matter, why is there such fierce insistence on using the word “choice” instead of “abortion”? Why is it so very important for all right-thinking people to refer to those who come to this country illegally as “undocumented” instead of “illegal” immigrants?

Why does the president always say “revenue” or “investment” instead of “taxes,” unless he’s talking about “taxing the rich”?

Liberals, who are the champions of speech codes, ought to know better than anyone that labels matter very much. Control the label and you control the terms of the debate.

This, no matter who did it, was a terrorist act. There shouldn’t be any debate about that.

Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net