Wake up calls: why aren't we up yet?

The bombings in Boston brought to mind familiar images from past American tragedies and its wars abroad. But why are we still shocked?

Cameron McGrath
18 April 2013

It is an event that never ceases to stop people still. All the media, all the browsing and all the public’s eyes turned to the Massachusetts Monday that is home to the Boston Marathon, which was abruptly and violently interrupted by the sound of explosions and screaming. This is a wake up call and there have been many like this. As we calmly go about our lives in our democratic spheres of existence we seem almost oblivious to the large bull’s-eye that can be drawn on each of our nations when we gather in large groups, whether in celebration or in mourning.

The question called to my mind is: should we all be so stunned when such an act of aggression occurs? The internet is abuzz with disbelief as I write this, but there appears to be an almost complete lapse in our collective memories at the actions Western nations have instigated around the world, sometimes justly, other times not, that have produced similar images of horror. Rather than solely focusing on the intense media attention to ‘our’ victims, I want to instead look at the shock when an attack slips through the complicated intelligence net in place round the clock to protect the homeland.

America and its allies have conducted extensive campaigns in the Middle East; this everyone knows and I in no way wish to state the obvious. Enemies have been made of fundamentalist jihadist groups and other unfriendly nations upon whom the US and other allies have placed certain political constraints; attacks of ‘retribution’ can only be expected. The homeland threat upon nations is as great. America is home to lots of different thought, some very radical, experienced in school shootings and numerous attempts and successes of planted explosives by radical political agents.

So why does this all seem so alien to the ‘Western Bystander’? Surely we all know the constant, if at most times moderate, danger to the security of our nations. The symptom of disbelief could be caused merely by the fact that this does not occur often, which is simplistic, but ultimately probably correct. We’re saturated with news reports of explosions of devices – but in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria. The constant reiteration of reports of distant attacks in foreign nations continues to breed a laissez faire attitude in the public towards the actions of Western Powers. Further more a dilution in morality is present with the constant focus on attacks, on terrorism and enemies in countries some people could not find on a map. It occurs when the ending of lives in Kabul becomes less shocking then the ending of lives in America; a break down of humanitarian ethics that philosophers such as Kant would abhor.

The harm lies in the response generated by a distressed public to an alien event; an environment of anger provokes rash decisions and demands that can lead ultimately to possible state and international actions that result only in greater tension. The possibility that the public can jump to conclusions about the culprits and motives behind such horrific events could backtrack years of internal measures that protect against discrimination of certain people over the supposed actions of a few radicals.

No-one should have to suffer the horrors that have unfolded in Boston. Nor should anyone suffer such horrors anywhere in the world; the point remains that such threats are constant. There will always be people ready to kill to gain the attention of the world and we should not be surprised when they do so. I am neither advocating stoicism; outrage, sadness and fury should be what such actions are met with. But to lose our reason, our calm, and our moral compass would not be the just action of the ‘good guys’. These events should be met with the regrettable knowledge that such things can happen and that the people will be discovered, tried and placed somewhere that will show a nation can do far worse then merely ending someone’s life: they can put them somewhere small, quiet and far away, where they will watch their lives slowly be taken away by time.

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