The twin explosions in Boston yesterday serve to remind us of the vulnerability of an open society. Despite the best intentions of our government, we can never completely prevent attacks such as this. The initiative is always with the enemy. They choose the time, the place, the method, and the target. We can't stop all the attacks every time but we can choose how we react to them.
Lenin is supposed to have said, "the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize." In the aftermath of tragedy, we forget that the purpose of any attack is to provoke not only a reaction but an over-reaction. The goal of terrorism has always been to undermine free societies by creating the circumstances where those societies destroy themselves from within. When we choose security over civil liberties, the bad guys win. In our rush to "do something" we forget the freedoms that are the prime reason we were attacked in the first place.
This is true of any tragedy of this type. At the time of this writing we still don't know who is responsible for the bombings in Boston. Whether we lable this "terrorism" will depend on the presence or absence of a political motive but what we call it is really immaterial. How we react to it is everything.
September 11th led us to a disturbing curtailments of civil liberties both at home and abroad. But in a similar fashion, the shootings in Newton have led to a strident and emotional debate over measures that offer questionable value in preventing future shootings and are viewed by some as attacking fundamental Constitutional rights. Where will Boston take us? Will we see calls for more stringent controls such as background checks on all runners, searches of spectators, restrictions on bags and parcels? Will we continue, as we did after September 11, to view our citizens as potential terrorists rather than allies this fight?
There are certainly things we can do. We can track down and bring to justice the perpetrators of this tragedy.We can review our security precautions to see if we can do better. We can use our bloated intelligence services to try to prevent future acts. But above all, we need to be rational, keep things in perspective, and avoid an over-reaction that will do little to improve our safety.
To do less is a disservice to the victims of these outrages. Worse, it means the bad guys win again.