Mourning For Boston

Boston will always have a special place in my heart.

In October of 2010 I was called to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I was asked to serve in the Boston-Massachusetts Mission. I accepted the call and for the next two years New England was my home. Approximately half of my time was spent in the Boston Metro. There was not a city between Lexington and Lynn whose streets I did not travel. I know those neighborhoods better than any of the dozen other places I called home before I came to Boston. Those streets will always be with me.

Most missionaries have a special relationship with the places they go to serve. They drop all that they have done or might do for two years and devote their entire lives to serving and helping others. Missionaries are plunged into a world that they do not know and then asked to give everything to it. They spend all of their time, devote all of their efforts, focus all of their thoughts, and give all that they are to teaching, serving and strengthening the people around them. In the end they do not just help the people around them. They come to love them. Even when those people are stubborn, ornery, chilly New Englanders.

Last year I celebrated Patriot’s Day with the rest of Boston. The year before I watched the Boston Marathon, cheering the runners on the same street where the bombs went off. On Patriot’s Day the entire city is a party. I have only seen two days to which I could compare it: The Fourth of July and the night the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. And unlike the other two holidays, Patriot’s Day manages to pull the party off with far less drunkedness.

This attack cuts deep. It cuts me deep.

However I am not just sorrowed by the attack. I am saddened by America’s response to it. I now plead to my countrymen: keep this tragedy in its proper perspective.

When I returned from work today the news was full of reports on the metro’s lock down and my Facebook feed full of friends who were ordered to stay indoors. Schools were shut down, universities did not open, the T did not run, and the Sox game was postponed. Half the metro was placed on lockdown. Empty streets were filled with SWAT officers and police men – some 9,000 were mobilized before the day was over, rolling down the streets of Boston in humvees and full military attire. [1]

Mario Tanza/ Getty Images, Watertown, 19 April 2013. Source

If this is the way America reacts to a terrorist attack then we have drifted terribly and horribly awry.

Eugene Kontorovich explains why this is so disturbing:

Two Chechen Islamist terrorists have succeeded in turning Boston, America’s cradle of liberty, into a prison. Just when we had gotten used to obscene lines and searches at airports as the price we pay for safety, the lockdown of Boston illustrates the extent to which civil liberties are at stake in the war on terror. Since 9/11, there has been an ongoing debate about the protection of the rights of suspected terrorists. But today’s events show that its is not just the civil liberties of terrorists at stake, but also those of millions of innocent civilians. 

If Boston is “closed” for just six hours, that is 175,000 man days of functional house arrest; roughly as many as would be required to keep everyone in Guantanamo confined for a year or two. [2]

Boston was turned into a prison to catch a 19 year old who killed three people. Lets put this in perspective: every year an average of 115 people are murdered in the Boston Metro. [3] That is roughly one murder every three days. Living in Boston’s lower income “ghettos” I was acutely aware of this fact. I befriended many people whose friends and family members were the victims of gang warfare. Their deaths brought no manhunts.

Photo by Feyza Burak Ali, Watertown, 19 April 2013. Source.

Acts of terrorism are different from normal homicides, and they should not be treated as such. Justice must be mete out.  But the fearful and extreme response of the American government and her people are disgraceful, fit for a nation of sheep, not citizens. Again, I implore my fellow countrymen to  see things in proper perspective. India and Great Britain have shown how great power democracies can weather protracted terrorist campaigns without curtailing civil liberties or searching homes with heavily armed troops. Between 1970 and 1999 the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonated over forty bombs in the city of London alone. Since 2000 Islamic terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and the Indian Mujahadeen have staged more than 30 different attacks in India since the 1990s. The most recent, a motorcycle bombing in Bangalore, happened two days ago. Great Britain survived the IRA. India thrives despite her home-grown Jihadists. Neither nation resorted to urban lock downs or paramilitary man hunts to do so.  

The bitter irony of the counter-terror operations we witnessed today is that they produce exactly what they are trying to combat: terror. This is a constant theme of interviews with laymen in Watertown and surrounding areas. A couple examples suffice. The first is an interview published by NPR:  

Meantime, residents such as Emi Larsen were just trying to get through the day. She’s a nurse at Boston’s Floating Hospital for Children and was a volunteer at the Boston Marathon’s medical tent on Monday. Larsen said her goal was to keep her kids entertained while they’re trapped inside the house.

“My husband and I are trying not to be emotional, trying to keep them distracted,” she said. “Everything is so heightened, then you have to try to paint with your kids so they’re not stir-crazy in the house.” 

Larsen lives in Belmont, right next to Watertown. “Overnight, we heard a lot of sirens,” she said during a phone interview. “Just a second ago, there were all these helicopters.” 

Monday’s blasts had left her “feeling overwhelmed and emotional,” but she said she found it calming to attend Thursday’s interfaith memorial service and to shake President Obama’s hand. 

“It was really an emotional day, and it felt very healing,” Larsen said. 

But Friday’s manhunt changed all that. 

“Today, it’s so much scarier,” she said.” [4]

The other is an account e-mailed to Time Magazine:

At 1:45 this afternoon, there was a pounding on our door. I was shaking and asked, “Who is it?” They said it was the police, but I was still scared to open the door. I sent my 6-year-old daughter to the third floor. I didn’t want her to see any of this. She knows there were explosions at the marathon on Monday and that people were hurt. She knows that the police think they know who did it, and lots of people are looking for them and keeping us safe. Still, when the police banged on the door, I hustled her out. I don’t want her to see her neighborhood swarming with guns.

When I opened the door, there were three police officers in fatigues standing there with huge guns, pointing into our house and at me. I know these people are here to protect me, but I have never stared into the barrel of a gun before, and I hope I never have to again.[5]

Photo by Michael Danubio, Watertown, 19 April 2013. Source.

Had someone told me two weeks ago that a terrorist attack on a major U.S. city would wreak such devastation that its citizens would be unable to walk outside and convoys of military vehicles would be rolling down its streets I would have dismissed the story without second thought. Only a truly catastrophic attack could possibly produce such ruin and terror. 

We suffered no attack of this sort. Our terror is entirely of our own making. 


[1] The statistic comes from Nikhil Kumar. “‘We got him’: 19-year-old Boston bomb suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev alive and in custody after stand-off in WatertownThe Independent. 19 April 2013.

[2] Eugene Kontorovich. “American Athens Becomes Prison City.” Volokh Conspiracy. 19 April 2013. Hat tip to John Kranz.

[3] “America’s Best and Worst Cities for Crime: Metropolitan Area List” Sperlings. 2013. Based on the FBI’s 2012 UCR Report.

[4] Alan Greenblatt. “Boston on Lockdown: Today is So Much Scarier.” NPR. 19 April 2013. 

[5] Jenifer Sartori. “A Town Under Siege: Watertown Residents Describe Life Under Lockdown.” Time. 19 April 2013. 

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Your second paragraph confuses me as to the timeline. Is there perhaps a typo there? It seems to me we're only 1.5 years from Oct 2011…