There, with the end in sight, two bombs exploded on Boylston Street.
The shrapnel tore through the cheering crowd, knocking marathon runners down with the force of the blast, turning their moment of triumph into tragedy.
Even hours later, still surrounded by the fog of war, we are not sure of who set off the bombs or why. But whether this terror attack is the work of a lone wolf or al Qaeda or something else entirely, what’s clear is the cruelty of this twisted excuse for a human being.
The apparently homemade explosives were placed for maximum damage of innocent civilians, including children. They were placed with an eye toward maximum television camera coverage, detonating across from the formal receiving stand, beneath the waving flags of a dozen nations, designed to forever scar the celebration of Patriots’ Day in Boston.
The worst domestic terror attack since 9/11 shook us instantly out of our complacency with the stark reminder that terrorism is always one bad day away from being issue No. 1 in America.
Terrorism is straightforward about its aim—to change the behavior of free people through fear. The body count is just a means to that end.
That’s why our response must be clear—resilience. We cannot let terrorists change our actions as Americans, even for one day.
A call for resilience might sound disrespectful to the dead and the grieving, or those who are still fighting for life and limb in Boston hospitals. But courage is the essential quality in a democracy, and the next day is precisely the time to assert our freedom from fear. That means saying a prayer for the departed and then going about your day in a spirit of silent defiance. Go to work, board a plane or train if you were planning to travel—do not indulge in fear or self-doubt.
Terrorists believe in the essential weakness of America. They think that democracy is decadent and diversity is depraved. They are, of course, wrong. But sometimes it takes a challenge to muster the full strength and unity of our society. No doubt that will happen now.
Whoever did this will be brought to justice. But the ultimate insult to their murderous ambitions is to see a city, state, and nation more united than before. That’s what we did after the attacks of September 11, and that’s what we will do after the attack on the Boston Marathon.
It shouldn’t take a terrorist attack or natural disaster to unite as a nation, to realize again that all our interesting differences are small compared with what we share. But the wake-up call that comes with such a vicious cowardly attack can reinvigorate our best impulses, providing a more sturdy foundation to build upon, strengthening our ability to prevent, absorb, and respond to such disasters.
Resilience is the first step in that direction, straightening our civic backbone as we walk out the door—because free people refuse to live in fear.