Archive for May 2013

IEDs and Suicide Bombers on American Soil: Perspectives on The Boston Marathon Bombing

May 14, 2013

The Boston Marathon on Bombing on April 15, 2013, created an uncomfortable reflection for Americans as one of her citizens and a legal resident detonated a bomb at a public event.  This is not the abstract bombing in a Middle Eastern country but something disharmonious with American life.  While some compare this to the hijacking and subsequent crashing of four airplanes on September 11, 2001, I believe there is a meaningful difference, an awaking of an awareness that Americans are not familiar with.

The mainstream press has focused on the meaning of the day—Patriot’s Day—and other events that have occurred in proximity: the Branch Davidian siege at Waco, Texas; the shootings at Columbine High School, the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  While this may be coincidental or intentional it neglects the underlying lingering feeling:

law enforcement is not widely prepared to handle

suicide bombers or improvised explosive devices detonated

in public places on non-military targets

There is training for hostage situations, yet bombing civilian targets on American soil–either planned, executed or unfolding— is the stuff of movies to most civilians.  The concept is foreign, removed from daily life and something not well understood.  It happens in countries whose general population struggles with the basic levels of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs.  Images of sandy curbless streets with a mule and cart come automatically to many American minds.  This is a distant cry from manicured wealthy Bostonian suburbs, MIT’s campus and Harvard Square.

Not since the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta has an improved explosive device (IED) been successful detonated at a large public U.S. venue.  What I see is the beginnings of an American understanding of the uncertainty and insecurity that are routinely felt in some other countries.  In Iraq and Afghanistan this type of violence is commonplace.  The same American media outlets that offered unrelenting coverage in Boston also seemingly announce daily another foreign car bombing, suicide bomber or shooting of law enforcement or military personnel.  The stories detail the civilian casualties and wounded then fade into the background for many Americans as they lack any relation to their daily lives.

Perhaps it takes place in the disputed territories between Israelis and the Palestinians.  Maybe it is a violent interpretation of one’s religion.  The slippery word martyr may be applied.  These attacks may be ideologically part of an organization desiring political change.  It could be grounded in sectarian warfare, as with the Sunnis and Shiites.  Maybe it is a single individual or a small group.  These individuals may be self-motivated or directed into their actions through coercion or manipulative teachings

Ultimately, the perpetrators of violence—and their motives, the targets, the means, the rationale and the desired aim—are not fully congruent or cognizant within traditional Western logical frameworks.  Essentially it is guerrilla style tactics generally focused on non-military targets.  This non-traditional form of protest or furthering of one’s aim is executed with varying levels of sophistication: from amateurish to chillingly calculated.  Since they do not adhere to the international and (generally) recognized rules of war, the ordinary western citizen struggles to reconcile how this can happen within his country.

This brings uncertainty to the basic need of physical security and safety for any human.  This is particularly unsettling to Americans where this is generally thought of as a Third World concern or in a country engulfed in civil war.  (The United Kingdom is a glaring exception to this as numerous bombings since the 1970s are claimed by Irish individuals or groups and target civilians).  These fears include:

  • How can I protect myself against an unknown threat?
  • It may happen to me?

This is not a new or unknown problem.  Ultimately there is not a perfect way to prevent all types of violence.  There was an interesting social commentary in the movie Minority Report—both the attempt to create a society without violence and the manipulation of such a society to selfish ends.  This juxtaposes with the shootings in schools and public places in the last year further flaming the perennial gun control debate.  Yet the bombing in Boston seems more raw.  (Click for a recent gun control perspective)

This dilemma invariably leads to difficult conversations about at what cost is security desired within the society.  Just like the citizen trying to understand why this is happening, there is not a neat, simple answer to this very amorphous problem:

  • What is considered reasonable safety?
  • To what degree are individuals responsible for their own safety?
  • What is the responsibility of the government?

In the end, in an open society there cannot be an expectation of perfect security.  Garrison Keeler, on A Prairie Home Companion, offered a folksy Dr. Seuss Butter-Battle-Book-esque commentary that ended with elderly grandmas owning assault rifles.  Constant escalation based out of fear is not the answer.  Conversely neither is irrational elimination of firearms out of similarly rooted fear.

The words of Franklin d. Roosevelt are well heeded now:  “The only things we have to fear is fear itself.”  As we soul search and consider these questions our fear should not govern decisions redefining our freedoms.

A Time for the Somber

May 1, 2013

I wrote the thoughts below in the days after Osama bin Ladin was killed by US Special Forces.  My original thought was to publish it soon after the emotional noise passed.  I have since grow concerned about the level of publicity being focused on the inner workings of covert US military units, especially the US Navy Seals.  Clandestine special units work best when they are just that; however, this does not exclude the absolute necessity of civilian oversight.  I am disappointed by the recent spate of books and movies that add a romanticized Hollywood spin to the harsh truths of that profession’s actions.   The opening moments of Spielburg’s epic movie Saving Private Ryan, offered an unvarnished look at combat’s brutality to both the Greatest Generation–who fought–and those that have followed.  We seem to be losing the humbleness that generation has shown us in the pursuit of profit.  “Nobody wants to fight, but someone better know how,” is a quote from long ago.  When we must, it should be short, focused and decisive.  These are my thoughts as the second anniversary of his death approaches.


May 3, 2011

I watch the news with a mixture of confusion.  There are celebrations by the uninvolved, criticism from usual corners and passing praise from political enemies, the bravado of those not involved garnering recognition.  I read the words used to describe the killing of Osama bin Ladin.  I hear the fashionable contemporary phrases of “9-1-1” to reference the horrific events in fall 2001 that forever altered my generation.  I watch government officials, describing with astonishing forthrightness, operational details and capabilities in apparent efforts to show transparency.

The unvarnished story is not glamorous.  The US deployed a venerated clandestine team to accomplish a difficult task within a defined set of parameters across international borders.  This mission included the capture or killing of a specific individual.  He was shot, his body removed and buried.

Elaborations to fill airtime and hyperlinked articles will embellish this thread.  These will be furthered by news agencies striving to stay current and be relevant in today’s society.  A new phrase or two will be grasped upon by audiences who crave details with the instantaneous sense of understanding provided by social media.

Are we collectively seeking the meaningful details?

I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which his body, a man violently ideologically opposed to the US, was cared for.  “A society can be measured by how it treats its dead,” it was once said.  If the United States wishes to lead by American values, the respectfulness and sensitivity shown to honor the Islamic traditions is noteworthy.  Irreconcilable debates will ensue over its exactness by an unsatisfiable few.  I wonder what the moderate majority sees?

It is not what we do when it is easy, but rather when hurt and in a position of strength, that shows our true mettle. Practicing these values when convenient to “win hearts and minds” is shallow, hollow.  If American values are cherished, are they ingrained in our actions, our intentions, as a whole?

In a world of violent games, graphic movies, and instant connectivity, what has the gravity of this action imparted to us?  Were our actions consistent with our stated aims and our values?

I believe yes.