Hindsight broadcasts in full HD, but I remember thinking yesterday that the total lockdown ordered by authorities for the greater Boston metropolitan area - with the "shelter in place" order stretching from roughly Emerson's house down to the Adams farm, and from Paul Revere's shop out past Bunker Hill and along the Charles to Watertown, where the Committees of Correspondance once met in direct contravention of the British Crown - was just a bit much.
People walking dogs ordered inside. Bars closed. The Red Sox game with the Royals cancelled. Universities shut down. The entire public transportation system at full stop. The loss of perhaps a quarter of billion dollars in trade for a the nation's 9th largest metropolitan area - sometimes known on school trips as the Cradle of Liberty. [Not all the economic news was bad: Karen Raskopf, chief communications officer for Dunkin’ Donuts, told HuffPo that the shops were asked to remain open “to take care of needs of law enforcement and first responders.”]
All this for one killer on the loose. While praise for the Boston police in the live capture of one of the two suspected bombers after a rampage of death and destruction that killed five in total (including the older of the two suspected brothers and an MIT police officer) and maimed dozens was nearly unanimous last night - celebrated on live TV by vast inebriation on Boston Common, proving that some of that noble city's traditions of liberty hadn't been lost - there was a small murmer that went something like..."hey, WTF?" (We live in a Twitter age, people).
Cautious criticism crept in. Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, lead Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the same party as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, got into it on Politico: “When you have lives at stake, it’s up to law enforcement. But it’s an accomplishment when someone shuts down an entire community and people can’t go outside and are told to stay away. We have to stand up as Americans to this. … We’ve got to continue to go to baseball games, continue to go to events. We can’t allow these people to shut us down.”
I suspect that the very word "terror" fit not just this horrific and brutal crime but the emotional reaction itself - just as it's designed to do - and not just greater Boston's but our general American reaction. Terror, with its modern-day insinuation of international plotting and violent religious zealotry, has spawned a decade-long over-reaction in our society. "The homeland is the battlefield,” proclaimed Senator Lindsey Graham last night, urging the Obama Administration to treat the captured and seriously wounded 19-year-old suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant, even though he's a naturalized U.S. citizen who came to this country when he was eight.
When you can scare a United States Senator so easily that you force him to reveal his own terror in all its chilling depth - well, the tactics of brutality and random murder might well appear to be profitable indeed to those lacking humanity.
Boston's declaration of near martial law might seem protective and just playing it safe - what Michael Cohen of the Century Foundation called "cover your ass business by public officials" - but doesn't it also prescribe a precedent? I was cheered at the Obama Adminsitration's decision to process the junior Tsarnaev in criminal court and not whisk him off to military detention. But it's also troubling that authorities invoked the "public safety exception," which allows investigators to question a suspect without reading his Miranda warnings against self incrimination and the right to counsel. I often disagree with Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian on some of the nuances of civil liberties, but he was exactly right in his latest column when he noted that this decision is one in a long line of other cases that have gradually eroded the basic rights of criminal suspects to the extent that it makes the invokation of such an extraordinary civil liberties exemption so mundane a choice.
I'm a fan of the cops, the firefighters, the EMTs, the first responders, the members of public service unions who risk their necks for the rest of us. And though I believe that since 9/11 we've over-militarized civilian police forces to a regrettable extent, I still think that most peace officers work to keep the peace. They faced a horrible, rapidly unfolding challenge in Cambridge and Watertown, no question. And they protected the populace. Certainly no one can exempt the omnipresent media for stoking the kind of paranoia our society generally shares during one of these events. Via Digby, I found Rick Perlstein's post in The Nation to be on point about terror and the cost of that mass paranoia:
As ghastly, evil, overwhelming, tragic, as the events this week in Boston, Texas, the Capitol mail rooms, have been, it's easy to forget, in our oh-so-American narcissism, enveloped in the wall-to-wall coverage that makes our present catastrophe feel like the most important events in the universe, how safe and secure Americans truly are by any rational standard. Terror shatters us here precisely because ours is not a terrifying place compared to so much of the rest of the world.
And also not really an objectively terrifying time, compared other periods in the American past: for instance, Christmastime, 1975*, when an explosion equivalent to twenty-five sticks of dynamite exploded in a baggage claim area, leaving severed heads and other body parts scattered among some two dozen corpses; no one ever claimed responsibility; no one ever was caught; but pretty much, the event was forgotten, life went on, and no one anywhere said "everything changed."
These days, events like the Marathon bombing are no longer just about the victims, the perpetrators and the cops. We come to believe they're about us. And we almost seem to revel in lockdown mode, even in the Cradle of Liberty.
*Note: Rick links to a 2002 story about that bombing at LaGuardia Airport, which I remember as a young teen. As I recall, no one in those days ever talked about a "homeland" unless they were studying European politics of the 1930s.
Acknowledgements: thanks to Lance Mannion and Pamela Leavey for their spirited discussion last evening on Twitter. It led to this post. Also, Blue Girl and Peter Daou. And this post by Charles Pierce on the combat scene near his own blogging lair is required reading.