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The Boston Marathon Bombing: Is This the Price of Freedom?

by on April 17, 2013 11:49 AM

As Monday’s events unfolded in Boston the media attention rapidly turned from gathering news and injury counts to the potential perpetrators, and motives. It is a natural progression to want to know who did this and why. Will there be more attacks?

The cleanest answer to the Boston violence would be a sick individual acting alone. It would allow us to close the chapter on a criminal who once captured, convicted and put away is a threat that is ended.

If it is part of a broader terrorist effort more questions emerge to linger hauntingly into the future. Where does it end? Will we have to accept the reality of other countries, with very real threats on buses, or malls or any place where crowds gather?

The potential danger is real. The defenders, law enforcement and our leaders, have an enormous challenge. The people responsible to protect society have to be right all the time about potential threats to hard targets and soft targets alike. The terrorists need only be right one time at one place at a target of their choosing.

The threat of terrorism opens a look into our psyche as a country. What type of nation do we want to be? Do we want to live safely in a cocoon-like police state where every event, every day, our civil liberties may be weakened or sacrificed in the pursuit of safety?

Having been in Washington DC for the last two Presidential Inaugurations I saw what a quasi-police state looks like. There was an overwhelming show of security including a military presence complete with Humvees parked on the streets and anti-aircraft missiles on building rooftops. It was intrusive but effective.

For years the relative isolation of the continental United State kept us safe from wars on the European continent, the Korean Peninsula, Southeast Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East. We have relied on geographic isolation, but also hoped that the allure of freedom would prove irresistible.

Bombings at the World Trade Center in 1993, Oklahoma City in 1995 and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics showed we are not immune to the problems in other parts of the world.

But it took the complete devastation of 9/11/2001 broadcast live on television to shatter the myth of isolation. The waves of foreign terrorism had breached the walls, washing away our detachment from the devastation of terrorism.

Events like the one in Boston force us to renew the conversation within our own minds, and with our fellow Americans, about where exactly we want to go and what kind of society we want to have. Whatever the source of the Boston bombing we have realities to face.

No matter how good our police, spies or our government, someone somewhere can slip through a crack. Are the victims of these bombings the price we pay for the freedoms we want? That is one way to look at it.

In his 2005 song Devils and Dust Bruce Springsteen sings “What if what you do to survive kills the thing you love?”

If we drastically alter the society we live in, if we limit our freedoms, if we give up basic civil liberties -- have we started to kill the things we love? Must innocent people die because we want to maintain certain rights or freedoms?

It is a question for all of us. As you look in the mirror before bed, as you kneel to pray for the people killed or injured in Boston ask yourself how we face the father or mother who lost a son. Ask yourself how we balance our freedoms versus our desire to protect ourselves in a world that seems to grow more dangerous.

The answers to the questions posed by these incidents are not easily answered. In the Bible they talk of separating the wheat from the chaff. Separating the people who intend to harm us is not that simple.

Soviet dissident, novelist and Nobel Laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote:

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Our nation’s heart is good but there are those within our world and who walk among us who would do bad things. If we gut the essential rights that make us uniquely American do we risk lacerating our own heart, do we kill the thing we love to survive?

It is a question worthy of the best men and women in this country. With every national tragedy we are left to ponder the questions and find answers. Those answers remain elusive still, but they are answers we must continually pursue despite the horror witnessed by the people of Boston this past Monday.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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