Ben Grosscup: Boston tragedy reveals our essential vulnerability
AMHERST — Public acts of inexplicable and horrific violence such as we saw in Boston on Monday reveal basic vulnerabilities that are painful but necessary to face.
My whole family converged in Boston to cheer on my father and my two brothers who entered the marathon. We are all well. My brothers and I heard the explosions from a few blocks away, not knowing what they were until many minutes later. My sorrow is for the suffering of the people who died, their loved ones and the hundreds who suffered painful and debilitating injuries. My greatest fear from the day was seeing the fear on other people’s faces. Fear is a natural human emotion without any inherent political content. The proper response is compassion and sympathy.
Let’s remember that the results are disastrous when people respond to perceived political threats based on fear. We have seen this starkly since Sept. 11, 2001: When people are fearful, they are more easily persuaded to support policies that curtail rights and exacerbate war.
I believe we must remind ourselves — to avoid being manipulated — that human vulnerability to violence is inevitable and universal. Our leaders are not giving us that message, however.
On Tuesday, President Obama said of the bombings, “We will get to the bottom of this and we will find out who did this and find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.”
The idea that we can be so sure about that suggests “we” as an American culture believe we are invulnerable. Americans remain invested in the idea that any offenses against “us” will ultimately face justice.
People across the globe who live under the daily threats of U.S. drone strikes, bombs and military occupations, however, cannot be so certain justice will be served. They live on the other side of a world marked by fundamental imbalances of power — a world in which the deaths of brown people, especially Muslims and Arabs, are not treated with an equal sense of outrage and remorse.
Ours is a world where many Pakistanis, Afghanis and Yemenis have come to know that the U.S. military can use drones to kill anyone — including children — and nobody will face consequences.
The war on terrorism has vastly expanded institutions of surveillance, detention and war-making, but has not increased the safety in our everyday lives.
After the horrific Boston bombings, we must remember our common vulnerability. All we have to lose is the illusion of security — the notion that by giving sufficient cooperation with policing authorities we can ultimately become safe.
We gain a sense of solidarity and common cause with billions of people across the globe. The people who ran toward the bomb blasts to help the wounded exemplify courage. Also courageous are all those who face violence every day and respond peacefully.
Ben Grosscup represents Precinct 9 in Amherst Town Meeting.