After 9/11, there was a sentiment, and often an express dictate from the administration then in power, that it was somehow wrong or weak or even unamerican to ask why the perpetrators of that heinous crime had done what they did. One got the distinct impression that those in power were either afraid of having their strategies and motives challenged by reasoned analysis or else were so self-absorbed that they felt no one else could possibly add to their own analyses. I remember distinctly that Donald Rumsfeld, when asked by a member of the press about some critical event or decision, responded that the matter would be handled by him and that the press and its readers should be more concerned about the World Series. It was precisely that kind of narrow-mindedness and intellectual (or rather anti-intellectual) arrogance that brought us the catastrophic Iraq invasion, the introduction of torture into the American arsenal, and the outlandish financial misdealings from the profiteering of Cheney’s company to the squandering of billions of dollars in cash with utterly no explanation.
Thankfully the Cheney days are gone, and scholars and citizens alike are making significant efforts to understand, and to communicate to the rest of us, what elements have motivated and continue to motivate these seemingly lunatic attacks on innocent people. I say “people”, rather than “Americans” because these attacks have been aimed at, and have killed, people from around the world. The attack on 9/11 was an attack on the World Trade Center, and, as I recall, people from more than thirty different nations died in the attack. The bombing in Boston took place at an event attended by people from over one hundred and fifty nations, and the bombs were in fact placed directly under the row of flags from those nations. Whether intentional or not, the placing of those bombs under those flags certainly underscores the fact that these terrorist crimes are crimes against all humanity, crimes in fact against the very notion of what it is to be human. No contrast could be more stark than the cold, inhuman slaughter of innocent bystanders, including children, and the selfless courage and care of those who rushed to care for the maimed and wounded.
To paraphrase Santayana, those who refuse to examine the past are doomed to repeat it. We can never hope to contend with a given evil unless we examine its roots. If we refuse to examine the motives of those who carry out these abominable acts, we are severely handicapping our efforts to eradicate such conduct. Blindly lashing out at our attackers will only create more attackers, so that, like the Hydra of myth, for every terrorist we eliminate, two more will appear. Examining the motives of the terrorists serves both humanity and our own interests in self-preservation.
On April 15, 2013, two young men placed two bombs in the path of the Boston Marathon. These bombs were structured to cause, and succeeded in causing, widespread and severe damage to innocent observers of the event. One of those men has survived, and those who succeeded in taking that young man alive deserve enormous credit for their courage and caution and expertise in doing so. It appears that this young man was under the spell of his older brother, and he is not likely able to give us the names of those who directed his brother to carry out this abomination. He may very well, however, bring us closer to an understanding of why a young man with evident talents and opportunities to do well and do good as a part of his American community should choose instead to take a path that could only lead to death or lifetime incarceration.
Thank God for all of those brave and caring people who tended wounds, saved lives, consoled those who mourn and pursued the perpetrators. Thank God also that we have a city, state and federal administration that will work ceaselessly to help us understand and address the root causes of this societal cancer that threatens us all.