Letter: All the public hue and cry about Boston is an object lesson

(Editors note:) I got this email from son Mike, letting me know how he felt about the tragedy in Boston. I asked if it was OK to share it . I said it might help someone else who feels the same way. -Jerry Robinson

By Mike Robinson
Update to letter: We now know the bombers came from Chechnya, not the usual suspects. We still favor hope over despair.

Hearing the news on Monday I felt punched by deep sadness, then relieved that nobody I love was harmed.

In slow succession after that, I felt grim anger at the readiness of a demented or politically twisted mind to injure others to teach us some moral or ideological lesson.

What came to mind briefly were conspiracy theories, like

a) Someone who loves guns wants to scare the nation into
blocking our constitutional guarantee to carry weapons.
[Assault weapons do similar damage in their random use.]

b) Someone who sympathizes with Al Qaeda wants to show us
that we all face a risk similar to what citizens of Iraq and
Afghanistan face daily.

c) In Boston, with its deep Irish ties, someone wanted to show
solidarity with his radical Irish history.

d) A foreign student at one of Boston's prestigious universities
went over the edge in resentment for our military presence
in his homeland.

e) A messed up military veteran decided to teach us a lesson
to express his pain over the loss of pals in the Middle East.

f) etc etc (for various other American military actions in past 20 years).

Then I thought of the practical impact: more security imposed in
cities all over the nation: renewed commitment to 2 hour waits at
airports; heightened surveillance of all of us by bonedeep patriots who believe we can only protect democracy by limiting it.

Could our own CIA or FBI have prevented it? Doubtful, unless it
was an orchestrated action committed by a team. More likely it is
the work of a single dissident who believes Americans need to be
wakened from our moral slumber, or pay for our own cruelties at
places like Gitmo and the torture chambers of Baghdad.

So --even if they find him and take him off the streets, the germ of
his vehemence stays alive. It's not fixable. It still moves in the
blood of some Irishmen, almost 400 years after Cromwell. It thrives in the tension between Christians and their enemies in Cyprus, in Kenya, where tribal rivalries still rumble, in Venezuela, in the Gaza
Strip. In some pockets of America, racism lingers.

30 years ago we came home to find our house a mess, pictures
axed, food strewn, a couple of personal items stolen: a jar of pennies
and a tai chi book. The vandals' car, still stranded in our driveway,
led police to them quickly and our items were returned, though the
police department "lost" our handmade pot and we had to buy a new one. That humble incident --while not forgotten-- is the closest we have come to being random victims of random rage.

That's my tiny final theory: the shrinks have a name for it. They call
it "free-floating hostility," associated with Type A's who have short
fuses, get impatient with group process, just want to get on with it,
and often express suppressed rage from childhood by pinning the
blame on others. They thrive on revenge fantasies. If you need a
more personal image: think of the husband who beats his wife or
kids for disagreeing with him on just about anything.

So (if we tolerate the actions of bombers) are we acting like the
victims of domestic violence who divorce the bum then marry
another guy just like him? If we punish the bum and shrink our own
sense of safety by increasing surveillance, are we losing the war
in another way by letting his madness rule our lives? Shall we all
surrender and become Type A?

And finally, if we call ourselves resilient and just get on with our
mellow lives, are we naive? Along that continuum we all fall

I'm with that guy in Kentucky, who said, 50 years ago when Neil
Armstrong walked the moon, "It's all a sham. Just some cardboard
rockets and a cartoon moon." I choose to treat those fanatics
the way I treat bad dreams.

They are real enough--so is my dream. It scares me, and then I
return to my senses. This is not resilience or a resolve to ignore
the hazards of inhumanity. It's human nature to move toward the

It's how we found our way out of the dark...it's how we learned to drop the spears, build the campfires, trust our brothers. There was
nothing to be gained by it. Hostility toward strangers is as old as
our hypothalamus. Fear of invasion filled us when we hid in the caves.

I like it better out here in the open...where (as Roethke once wrote)
I live like other creatures,

"...Under the eye of the great owl watching from the elm-tree,
To live by courtesy of the shrike, the snake, the tom-cat.
I think of the nestling fallen into the deep grass,
The turtle gasping in the dusty rubble of the highway,
The paralytic stunned in the tub, and the water rising,--
All things innocent, hapless, forsaken. "

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