Terror or Tragedy?

Published April 18, 2013

In a nation that officially – officially, mind you, at the highest levels of government – can no longer distinguish between an act of terror and an act of workplace violence (the Fort Hood shootings) or a spontaneous celebration and a terrorist plot on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks (Benghazi), it is important to distinguish between the words “terrorism” and “tragedy” in the context of the Boston Marathon Massacre.

A hurricane, a plague, a tornado, or a famine is a tragedy – even if, like the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, it is ultimately the predictable result of human conduct.  An earthquake that takes human lives is a tragedy, as likewise a tsunami that does the same.

A pressure cooker stuffed with explosives, nails, and ball bearings set to explode as thousands of lightly clad runners finishing a twenty-six mile road race in front of friends and family is an act of terrorism.  This is especially true of such an attack that takes place on Patriot’s Day in Boston, a home of the American revolution, on the day that U. S. federal and state personal income tax returns are due.

In contrast to the Benghazi and Ft. Hood attacks, this time the administration relatively quickly acknowledged the attack for what it is.  Although the word “terror” first came from a White House spokesperson, the President himself was soon on board.

Presumably no one outside the administration – and plausibly no one within it – yet knows who may be behind the attack.  This may lead cynics to suspect that early intelligence does not suggest that the attack came from al Qaeda, Iranian, or Taliban-trained Islamic extremists, or official sources might be either blaming a YouTube video or exclaiming in defiance “at this point, what difference can it possibly make?”

At this point the fairest answer, which the media should acknowledge, is that we simply don’t know.

But whether the miscreants behind this mayhem are members of al Qaeda or Sinn Fein, Hamas or Hezbollah, the Weathermen or the Aryan Nation, the administration has, to its credit, already labeled this a terrorist act and not just a “tragedy.”

The attack remains, of course, a tragedy for the runners, the race, and the City of Boston, and most especially for those who were wounded or killed and their family and friends.

But the first step, as they say, in solving a problem is to call it by its right name.