It was just after midnight on Friday, April 19, that some friends and I arrived in Utica, New York, on our way to the Toronto area for the FilKONtario convention. We’d been driving for hours, and it was only then that we learned that an MIT campus patrol officer had been shot dead and a Mercedes had been carjacked in Cambridge. In the morning the news was even worse: Whole cities were in lockdown. It was widely proclaimed afterward that the instructions not to leave home were voluntary, but that wasn’t the impression I got from the news reports; and going by the pictures I saw of empty streets, it wasn’t the impression of the people living there. Harvard was closed, which affected the reporting of some work that I’m doing. A “voluntary lockdown” is a contradiction in terms. Cambridge, Belmont, Watertown, Newton, Brighton, and Allston were shut down tight. Brighton and Allston are parts of Boston; Belmont is officially a town and the other cities, but all are sizable municipalities.
The line we’re getting now is that hiding out in their houses was the most heroic thing residents could do, that it was necessary to leave “the police and Dzokhar Tsarnaev as the only pieces out on the board” — an expression which implies everyone else is just a pawn. Never mind that “giving the professionals room to work” failed, and it was only when people could get out again that one of those unprofessional pawns found the clues that led straight to a cowering would-be Joker (definitely not a G’Kar). Never mind that the vast quantity of photos provided by non-professionals at the Boston Marathon helped to build the trail of information. The only heroism ordinary people can aspire to is staying in their seats like good little boys and girls.
This was just one aspect of a campaign to inflate miserable murderers into rampaging, unstoppable monsters. What they (whether it was the Tsarnaevs or it ultimately turns out to be someone else) did was certainly vicious and horrible, but it’s not unprecedented. There have been many larger mass killings that didn’t prompt anything near the same reaction.
Dzokhar Tsarnaev has been charged with using a “weapon of mass destruction.” Seriously, a pressure cooker bomb is a WMD? I guess Saddam Hussein did have WMD’s after all, and they were lying in plain sight in Baghdad’s cafeteria kitchens. He wasn’t read his Miranda rights because that would somehow have endangered the public safety. Maybe they thought he had an implant triggered to the words of the warning? “You have the right to …” KABOOM! The only thing using absurd charges and breaking with due process can accomplish is to decrease the chances of getting a conviction and give his lawyers more issues to drag the trial out with.
The right thing to do is to investigate the Tsarnaevs’ actions impartially, find out as much as possible, and if there hasn’t been some spectacular error, to treat Dzokhar as the rotten criminal he is. Some members of Congress want him treated as an enemy combatant, which implies that the bombing in Boston was a military action. This gives them unearned glamor, glamor which may inspire some other frustrated bum to kill people spectacularly, just as the Boston bombers may have been feeding on the perverse glamor which the War on Terror has already built up. As an act of murder and maiming, it was horrible, but as an attack on America, it was pathetically feeble. Keeping a balance between these two perspectives is tricky. People anywhere close to the victims of any violent attack rightly regard it as a horrible thing, shattering their world; but it was no 9/11, no grand attack on America.
As I said before, the right thing is to mourn the dead, comfort the survivors (should have added that one the first time), find and punish the guilty, and continue with life.