Boston bombing reveals a new American maturity toward insecurity
The post-9/11 'new normal' has evolved: The tactical and emotional responses to the Boston Marathon bombings show what experts call a national maturity toward terrorism that echoes longer experience with such crises in England, Spain, Russia, Japan, and Israel.
In ways both big and small, both fleeting and transformational, this time simply felt different.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Running strong: Reclaiming the Boston Marathon
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On the lawn of the First Baptist Church in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Eve Nagler stood at a prayer vigil two days after terrorists attempted to shred the joy of Boston's biggest day with nails and BB's and bits of hurtling metal.
This, she knew, was not 9/11 – the scale, the shock, the fear were nothing like people had felt 12 years ago. Yet something else had shifted, too – something perhaps less easily definable but no less palpable to many of those at the vigil and across the suburbs that bound themselves together as "Boston Strong."
There was a calm, not only in the streets but in raw and wounded hearts.
"For myself, it's more an opening of the heart than a tearing of a big wound inside me. It feels different from 9/11," said Ms. Nagler. Dressed for a run after the vigil, her voice grew defiant when she added that the bombings would not deter her training for a coming triathlon.
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What has changed since 9/11 is America itself. The Boston Marathon bombings were tragic, but they hit a city and a nation that were prepared for them, both tactically and emotionally. The calls for retribution, to apportion blame, or to lash back at Islam have all been notably muted. Even when 1 million residents were told to stay put and hunker down for 10 hours after a blazing police shootout with the suspected bombers that left one of them dead and the other on the loose, there was no panic or resentment, only resolve.
In that way, Boston has hinted at a new American maturity, say experts. Because of it, the "new normal" post-Boston might not look too different from what came before – a more robust police presence at big events, more surveillance cameras on urban streets perhaps. But like other cities worldwide that have faced the threat of bombings for decades – from London to Madrid to Jerusalem – Boston has made the more profound step of showing that a community's greatest defense against terrorism is in the determination of its people.
"Boston is showing you can take a blow like this, and you can keep going," says Stephen Flynn, codirector of the George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security at Northeastern University in Boston.
Of course, resolve was in no short supply after 9/11, and the flag planted at ground zero in New York came to symbolize the nation's determination to move on unbowed. Yet in many ways it could not. September 11 laid bare not only shocking gaps in the US intelligence network, but also the full array of terrorist groups targeting America. Quite simply, America had work to do – and new threats for its residents to process – before it could move on.
What Boston has done, indelibly, is confirm that those post-9/11 changes have become deep-rooted.
Take the number of foiled plots during the past decade – more than 150, according to Gary LaFree, director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland in College Park. Law enforcement's success at rooting them out has given Americans confidence that authorities are doing all they can to stem the terrorist threat. Moreover, those plots have spotlighted the diversity and sheer volume of schemes against the United States.