The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Schrödinger's Bombs

Since yesterday afternoon, Americans have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. We know we’ve been attacked by someone deranged, hate-filled and cowardly, but we don’t know much more than that.

The police seem to be following some leads, but either because no one is claiming responsibility or because so many are claiming responsibility we don’t know which species of loon is responsible for this horrible act. While a few of the usual suspects have beclowned themselves with premature and unfounded allegations, most of the media seems to have done pretty well at holding back from speculation about the identity of the attackers. A few have been unable to resist scoring political points by attributing the crime, without evidence, to whoever it is they hate most.

Overall, the impression so far is that the American people are responding well to the dangers of the times we live in; as a people we seem to have grown since the shock of 9/11. The heartbreaking courage and spontaneous nobility of the bystanders and the first responders is still there; Americans still run toward a blast, seeking to help. Our social fabric is still strong; no looting, no random attacks on people whose clothing or appearance suggests a resemblance to the possible perpetrators. Ten years of insecurity and war haven’t eroded our core strengths as a people.

Beyond that, we understand that the purpose of terrorists is to terrorize and to disrupt. We are braced for shocks now and we don’t intend to let the bad guys determine our response. Like the Israelis, like the Brits during the era of IRA bombings, like Iraqis turning out to vote in the face of the violence, we are getting on with our lives. “Keep calm and carry on,” counseled the Atlantic, echoing a slogan Londoners used during Hitler’s Blitz.

We are a hardened people now, compared to the nation of civilians caught unaware on 9/11. We have lost the illusion that the 21st century will be a time without tragedy and testing. We know that any day can bring us this kind of news, and we have incorporated that reality into the way we think about the world.

This knowledge has hardened us, but it hasn’t made us coarse. Though many criticized the response to 9/11 and some spoke of waves of “Islamophobia” sweeping the country, it’s notable in retrospect how open we have remained. The large majority of Americans are not idiots; they do not blame a peaceful majority for the acts of the twisted few. We have tightened security and while there are sometimes excesses and miscarriages (as there must inevitably be), on the whole we have so far done a reasonably good job of balancing the need for protection with the conservation of liberty.

That is especially true when measured by the standards of past wars. Presidents Bush and Obama have been criticized by many for their allegedly draconian security policies, but Presidents Lincoln, Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt were almost infinitely more harsh in their responses to attacks. Not everything we have done has been well done or wise, and there are lessons to be learned from how we have reacted and improvements to be made in the protections for civil liberty in the face of danger, but for the most part, we have responded reasonably well to the challenge of protecting the people without squelching their freedom.

At some point, this Schrödinger moment will come to an end; we will know who did this and why. A lone wacko? A conspiracy? A deranged right-wing nut job who somehow thinks killing innocent people on Patriot’s Day will strike a blow for freedom? A crazed religious fanatic who has mistaken hell-spawned hatred for the love of God? Some other fool carrying some other kind of hate?

Amid our grief and sorrow over this attack, we should, I think, be grateful for the interval between the crime and politics. It allows us to treat the horror on its own terms, to see the pure evil of this act divorced from any rationalization or justification. A hater—of who or of what doesn’t matter—turned a festive public gathering into a bloodbath. Children with no possible connection to or responsibility for any political crime or provocation whatever have been mutilated and torn.

The anonymity of the crime allows us to experience its enormity.  Each hour that has gone by since the blast, each new report of heroism among the survivors and responders, each new detail about the identity of the victims clarifies the essential truth of the situation: there is no cause that can justify this deed.

Published on April 16, 2013 9:12 am
  • Stephen

    People shouldn’t be surprised if this takes quite a while to sort out. Two names: Ted Kaczynski and Richard Jewell. It took years to catch Kaczynski and years of hounding Jewell before it was realized by authorities that they had the wrong guy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Luke-Lea/579129865 Luke Lea

    Perhaps you meant the Heisenberg moment? It was Werner Heisenberg who formulated the uncertainty principle, according to which the momentum and location of an elementary particle cannot be simultaneously determined. (In fact they don’t even simultaneously exist!) Or maybe you are referring to the fact that the Schrödinger equation only gives us information about the probability of an event, in this case, I presume, who done it?

  • NoNewt

    Right, the only identifiable potential set of candidates (i.e., other than the absolutely generic “lone wolf” or “conspiracy”) is “deranged right-wing nutjobs.”

    Not Islamic terrorists. Not left-wing haters of capitalism. Clearly, it must be the Tea Party.

    WRM isn’t exactly the mainstream media, and this post may well have been written by an intern with mixed-up ideas received at a bastion of left-wing conventional wisdom like the Columbia School of Journalism.

    But. It’s revolting and unfair that any time we have a terrorist act, the only politically correct potential suspect to name is “right-wing nutjobs.” Forget that Michael Bloomberg’s intimation “the right” was behind the failed Times Sq. bomb turned out to be a dud because it was, surprise, an Islamist. Or that pretty much any terror situation we’ve had has been from those quarters – excepting, of course, the likes of the Occupy Wall Street socialists who tried to blow up bridges in Ohio.

    Certainly, a WASPy 60-something Tea Partier former executive with his crazy views about limited government and taxation must be behind this. Clearly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Burke/507873299 John Burke

    I would not be surprised if the culprit(s) turn out to be “right-wing nut jobs” or for that matter, a post-Occupy reincarnation of the Weather Underground or even someone with a grudge against the Boston Marathon.

    However, it is disappointing to see WRM pussyfooting around the jihad. The odds that this attack was carried out by jihadists is at least 20 to one, based on the fact that since 9/11 there have been dozens of foiled or failed jihadist attacks and a few successful ones inside the US, based on the fact that there are still at least four al Qaeda groupings overseas that are hard at work trying to find ways to attack Americans, and also not incidentally based on the circumstances of the attack.

    Let’s face it: the ridiculous media obsession with whether this was a crime, an act of terror, or terrorism and the near-frenzied repetition of the warning against “speculation” or “jumping to conclusions” is a combination of wishful thinking by Democratic pols and their media supporters (“Please, please, let it be a Timothy McVeigh”) and laying the groundwork, if as is likely it is jihadist terrorism, for a narrative to the effect that it’s no big deal.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Burke/507873299 John Burke

      Notice how the emerging watchword as early as last night is “resilience” as in, “We’re a resilient people, so let’s not get too worked up over a couple of bombs.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Burke/507873299 John Burke

      Right on cue, David Gergen, spokesman for our political establishment, echoes Obama’s words — Boston is “tough and resilient” — in a column and posts to his Facebook page that the “people of Boston will not surrender to the forces of darkness.” That would seem beside the point or even wierd until you factor in the emerging narrative: Sure, those al Qaeda guys are going to get through once in a while and cause some damage, but we’re tough and resilient. We can take it and keep on with our lives.

  • TheCynical1

    Yes, let’s minimize the bipartisan wrongs of Bush and Obama. Move along, nothing to see here.

  • Corlyss Drinkard

    Boston: More evidence supporting CCTV on public streets everywhere all the time. Anyone in public has no expectation of privacy, period. The claims that such CCTV is invasive and hostile to individuals’ privacy rights are laughably bogus.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Burke/507873299 John Burke

    My own emerging pet annoyance is the pass the media is giving Marathon security, overlooking the obvious flaw in the Boston Police Commissioner’s repeated excuse: it’s a 28-mile race course that has to be open to the public, so what could we do. But terrorists of whatever stripe are not going to waste their time, energy and resources and risk capture to plant a bomb at mile nine of the race that might not kill anyone. Sure, it’s a soft target, but so is my backyard. The bombs were planted virtually on top of the finish line clearly because the crowds would be thick there, you might hit some VIPs, and there would be a dozen or more TV crews recording the whole thing. With the millions spent on security for this event — including no doubt some federal counterterrorism dough — you certainly could have secured five or 10 blocks that provide the most tempting target. NYC manages to allow a million people to gather in Times Square on New Year’s Eve while making every one of them pass through a check point and forbidding them to bring backpacks.