9/11 provoked a lot of thoughtful writing and one of the best pieces to come out of that traumatic time was by William Langewiesche, who wrote a remarkable piece in three parts for the Atlantic called "American Ground." Langewiesche suggested that the attacks revealed some essential characteristics that were singularly American not least of all this: ordinary people stepping in to do extraordinary things when the moment required it of them. People saw that things needed to be done, and right away, so they just did them. Nobody asked permission and in general it wasn't just accepted but encouraged.
We saw that again at the Boston Marathon Monday. When the bombs exploded, police and medical personnel, just as in New York, rushed directly into danger without the slightest concern for their own safety. Medical professionals in the race reached the end and immediately began to help care for the wounded. People pitched in in whatever way they could, including Steven Spielberg. The legendary director was photographed helping the wounded to ambulances.
Locals almost immediately began to post their phone numbers and e-mails and offered anyone who needed a bed a place to stay.
Like 9/11, the nightmarish scene in Boston erased divisions and brought us to our essential nature as Americans.
For many people, including many who were too young to truly understand 9/11 among them, the photos which have circulated underscore the brutal nature of the attacks like nothing else could: legs blown away, bones exposed, a grieving man lying on the ground holding his fiance's body, a woman covered in blood staring blankly, in total shock.
Stunning and horrifying, quite simply.
The attackers appear to have had a strategy, though it didn't go quite as they imagined: first, at least two bombs didn't go off (there is speculation that the spectrum was jammed as everyone began to call at the same time: a felicitous coincidence if so because it would not have allowed the other bombs to be set off by phone). The Boston Globe reports that there may have been as many as five others.
The bombs which did go off were near the finish line, timed to go off when the biggest mass of runners were due to complete the run. The first may have been intended to frighten people to run into the path of the next.
The police haven't yet revealed the location of the failed bombs, so we don't know yet what exactly the plan was, nor is it clear what happened at the Kennedy Library, where police say a fire or explosion occurred, but cannot yet say whether it was related to the bombs.
Deaths are surprisingly few, though no less agonizing. Among the slain reportedly is an eight-year-old child. Among the witnesses are people from Newtown, invited as special guests. They were brought to Boston as an act of kindness and solidarity, only to be confronted with, if possible, even worse barbarism. First sympathies go to the dead and their loved ones, then the maimed and injured. But there should be a special place in the heart for the folks from Newtown, who were brought to Boston to escape, if only briefly, the hell that visited their little town.
Rather than relief and distraction, they just got amplified mayhem. Surely they deserve better.