In Boston, one act of terrorism, millions of acts of humanity

Apr 18, 2013 By The Baltimore Sun

An 8-year-old boy was among the three people killed and at least 176 people injured, many severely, by a pair of explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday. According to The Boston Globe, the boy, Martin Richard, had been waiting to congratulate his father, who was running the race; his mother and sister were also seriously injured. Doctors reported that dozens of others had been wounded by some kind of shrapnel that had become embedded in their flesh.

The evil that would lead someone to inflict such indiscriminate pain and cruelty is nearly impossible to imagine. That it was accompanied by no claim of responsibility makes it all the more incomprehensible.

The federal, state and local authorities in Boston have done well to avoid jumping to conclusions, and the American people would be well advised to do the same. Early reports indicate that officials have questioned a Saudi national who was injured in the blasts and have searched his apartment in the nearby suburb of Revere. But it's worth remembering that in the attack to which this bears the most similarity, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, authorities incorrectly named a security guard, Richard Jewell, as a person of interest, destroying his reputation before eventually identifying and capturing the real perpetrator, Eric Rudolph.

President Barack Obama said the attack is being treated as "an act of terrorism," though it's not clear whether it really is.

Without question, however, this attack was terrifying. Its suddenness, its violence, its indiscrimination inevitably frighten us.

The terrible truth is that an individual or small group bent on mayhem is exceedingly difficult to stop. It has always been that way.

Lost in that overload of horror is another truth. More than 23,000 people set out from Main Street in Hopkinton, Mass., on Monday morning on a 26.2-mile run to downtown Boston in what was for most the culmination of months or years of dedication. Hundreds of thousands of people lined the course to celebrate the efforts of complete strangers. After the explosions, police, firefighters, emergency medical workers and good Samaritans rushed to the scene to render aid. Bostonians opened their homes to runners who were stranded, hungry, tired and scared.

Most likely, these attacks were the work of an individual or a small group, perhaps a few dozen people at most. We cannot comprehend what would lead someone to commit an act so monstrous as this. But we can comprehend the outpouring of love and concern that it inspired.

We will tighten security. We will, as the Boston police chief put it, go to the ends of the Earth to find whoever was responsible. We will return for the 118th running of the Boston Marathon next year. But as we look back on this tragedy, what we should remember most is not the evil that preceded it but the humanity that followed.

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