In the Arena


7 thoughts about Boston

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Flowers, personal objects and three crosses for the victims of the bombings are seen near the Boston Marathon finish line in Boston, Mass., on April 20, 2013.

Some thoughts about Boston:

1. American law enforcement is extraordinary. This case was wrapped up with remarkable speed–with the help of surveillance cameras and, it seems likely, our ability to trace cell phone calls. Both of these tools have been controversial among civil libertarians–and indeed, in the days since the Boston attack, there have been those on the left who have warned against further government intrusion into our lives. I am not at all worried about that, not even slightly…because this is a country that, if anything, errs on the side of libertarian excess–as witnessed by the Senate’s disgraceful vote against background checks for guns, and the various tweets and noise pollution about the post-Boston need for armed citizens to defend themselves against terrorist marauders. I do not see how armed civilians would have made a difference in this case. In fact, those killed or wounded by gunfire this week in Boston were police officers (although I’m not sure the MIT campus police officer was armed).

2. Do not extrapolate. There is talk now that this will affect our immigration debate, or our gun control debate, or raise issues about the President’s vigilance against terrorism. These are the very sorts of arguments–tiny, tawdry political arguments–that disgust the overwhelming majority of Americans who (a) stood together,  with Boston, after the attacks and (b) celebrated the swift resolution of the case and (c) appreciated and were moved by Obama’s extraordinary address at the memorial service. These extrapolations are also specious because…

3.The government has been extremely successful in stopping other terrorist attempts. Rudy Giuliani, known for his intemperance on occasion, took to the airwaves after the capture of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to say that both the Bush and the Obama Administrations have been rigorous and excellent in combating terrorist attacks. The record is, in fact, remarkable. But you can’t stop them all–and the promotion of the idea that we can entirely safe and protected from this filthy, insidious threat is a dangerous delusion. The fact that the Boston attack came from two Chechen brothers who probably–but not definitely–were lone wolves was a scenario that no one could have predicted. The ricin letters addressed to public officials, including the President, last week allegedly came from an individual who may have been mentally disturbed. We live in a society where all sorts of lethal weapons are available–and where anti-government paranoia is encouraged–at both deep ends of the political spectrum. (Although, in recent decades, the right has far outstripped the left in its nuttiness). But…

4. We have been very lucky. There have been precious few of these attacks, a fact that has mystified law enforcement and security professionals. It is extremely easy to create terror in this country. Home made bombs can wreck shopping malls, sports events…and elementary schools.

In the months after 9/11, I participated in a successful terrorist attack on an elementary school in a St. Louis suburb. It was staged, of course, by a government agency, but it was scary as hell. Our team secured shotguns with a phone call to a gun shop. We had an Israeli security official along for the ride ask, in a heavy foreign accent, a woman in the school’s office, “When is the next school assembly?” She cheerily told him it would be Wednesday afternoon, for Halloween. We were able to case our points of entry and exit without any questions asked. It is simply remarkable that we haven’t had a slew of attacks against soft targets. And therefore…

5. We’re going to have to be far more vigilant now. Copycats may be out there.

6. And I would urge those in the media who speak of the United States government as if it were a foreign entity to chill out. You may be further poisoning the demented. Criticism of the government is, of course, as American as oxycontin…but it is our government and this is our President. You may disagree with one program or another–you may think (wrongly) that Obamacare is socialistic, you may think that the Patriot Act is part of a ruinous, possibly conspiratorial invasion of privacy–but this President has proved time and again that he is a strong American patriot. Any inferences otherwise may reap the whirlwind.

(PHOTOS: Images: Joy and Relief in Boston After Bombing Suspect’s Arrest)

7. As the President said, Boston is a piece of me, too. I began my career there. Far more important, my terrific son, Terry, his wife, Lindsay and my two absolutely perfect granddaughters, Zoe and Bibi, live there. I had my heart in my mouth on Monday–and again on Friday, when the younger Tsarnaev was on the loose. I wonder what the long-term impact of this week of horror will be on the girls…and on all Bostonians. It truly is a unique and fabulous American place. My kind of town: obsessed with sports and politics. And this week, in their feisty calm and courageous grace, Bostonians have shown the rest of the world why so many of us love them so.