It was a confusing week, dominated by the Boston Marathon bombing, the evil act of two young men who had been welcomed into this country and had repaid the kindness with unspeakable cruelty.
Then, for grim comic relief, letters believed to contain the deadly poison ricin were sent to President Barack Obama, a U.S. senator, and a local judge. The FBI immediately arrested a serial letter-writer in Mississippi who is an Elvis Presley impersonator.
From the very beginning, the Boston Marathon attack smelled like the work of international terrorists — maybe al-Qaeda — rather than a domestic nutjob. Homemade bombs that spew deadly shrapnel have the feel of Iraq and Afghanistan, not Oklahoma City.
But the Boston brothers who authorities believe carried out this outrage — one a U.S. citizen, one who was trying to be — didn’t really match the international terrorist profile. They seemed more like regular immigrants, ethnic Chechens who were struggling to be assimilated into our culture. Until they weren’t. What made them turn so violently against a country that had treated them rather well?
Beats me, although they were not the first homegrown “international terrorists” — mainly Muslim extremists, who have killed or attempted to kill Americans in the name of jihad.
Some say the problem is the way we’ve allowed our “War on Terror” to become a war on Islam, at least in the eyes of many young Muslims who are taking up arms against us. Could be.
Maybe this was their version of giving us “a taste of our own medicine.” Why, after all, should we be exempt from the senseless carnage that is all but universal?
Certainly the Boston attack, hideous as it was, wasn’t terribly exceptional. Only last week, for example, the news contained the story of at least 185 people dead in a Nigerian fishing village in the aftermath of a gunfight between the military and Islamic extremists.
Meanwhile, back in Syria, 80 people died during a government raid.
People in the Middle East, Asia Minor, and North Africa live in constant dread of an imminent attack by their enemies. Sometimes the toll is a few, sometimes a few dozen.
The other day the media showed the photos of a row of dead Afghan children lying on the ground. Or were they Pakistani? They’d been killed in a drone attack. Ours.
There are those who’ve called the Boston bombers “cowards.” I don’t buy that. They were something, but cowardly wasn’t it. The eldest brother apparently launched a suicidal charge at the police who ultimately killed him. Crazy is more like it. There seems to be an epidemic of crazy these days.
Cowardly, it would seem to me, is much more descriptive of killing people with drones — a lethal robot that puts the killer at no risk at all. And when the wrong target is hit or the wrong person killed, it’s written off as “collateral damage.” If that’s not cowardly it’s at least a long way from heroic.
Does that mean I’m in favor of replacing our drones with troops who can go into enemy territory and look our enemies in the eyes before they kill them? By no means. I’m not in favor of putting American troops in harm’s way.
What then? I don’t know, but I think it would help if we didn’t get involved in so many wars. We call ourselves a peace-loving people, but we’ve been involved in wars, invasions, and attacks almost constantly for the past hundred years.
There have been one or two brief periods of relative peace in our recent history but not many more. I don’t suggest that we become a nation of pacifists or isolationists, but could we just cut back on warfare a little? Limiting ourselves to one war at a time would be a start.
OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.