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Vandals with a bomb

Apr 17, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

The Boston attackers made the worst kind of trouble

On Tuesday, trying to keep worried citizens calm, no doubt, an official in Boston who had some reason to comment publicly about Monday's bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon noted that the human toll of the incident was no worse than "a very bad bus accident."

No offense intended, but that is a bureaucrat for you. Technically, he wasn't wrong. In terms of coroner trucks and ambulances, a bus that blew a tire and tipped over in highway traffic would have registered about the same on the cash register receipt, so to speak, as the explosions did in Boston.

But as we say in the news game, while this official's remark was true, it wasn't accurate. Everyone knows this was something bigger.

A taxicab driver the following morning told one newspaper reporter, "They just want to make us scared. I say no to that," he added in a heavy Caribbean accent. "Not in this country."

He may have hit on the difference between the Boston bombings and the bus wreck mentioned by the bureaucrat. After a bus crash, bystanders don't flee the scene in terror. They don't fear that another bus crash suddenly might occur. They can see what happened, understand it, assign scale and perspective to it. A wave of bus wrecks that might harm them isn't one of their fears.

But in Boston, after the two bombs ripped through a cheery spectator area near the race's finish line, killing three people and injuring scores of others, the impact was far different.

There were thousands of people in the immediate vicinity. They began running wildly, not really knowing where to go. Word of the blasts -- both fact and rumor -- spread quickly, adding to the confusion and fear.

There have been two bombs in two places. Will there be more? Where? When? What if the next one is right there in that backpack, or right under my feet in that manhole, or in the back of that food service truck? What if the place I am running toward is the place where the next bomb is?

These so-called "soft targets" are a huge worry for law-enforcement and anti-terrorism leaders. With tens of thousands of people gathered for a marathon race, or a St. Patrick's Day parade, or a college football game, it simply isn't possible to secure the site. We must rely on the orderly behavior of each other, and in those circumstances, even a 99.9 percent success rate might not be enough to prevent a pressure cooker filled with glass and nails to be detonated in a crowd.

News accounts of Monday's bombings carried a standard piece of journalistic boilerplate to the effect of "authorities said there is no clear motive for the attack." That line always seems incongruous. No clear motive? Who are they kidding?

The motive is absolutely clear. It was not to kill that specific 8-year-old boy named Martin who was sliced to pieces by flying metal. No, the motive was to wreak havoc, to cause disturbance, to generate unrest, fear, uncertainty, loss of confidence and control.

We might as well question the common vandal. What was his motive for breaking that window? Simple. To break the window. To cause trouble.

In Boston that is just what happened. The vandals were there, but with something more powerful than a can of spray paint or a rock aimed at a window. Their act was one of vandalism, however, both physical and societal.

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