Of all the responses to this week’s tragedy in Boston, perhaps the most cogent came from The Onion, a cerebrally satirical news publication. The article, titled “This What World Like Now,” is written with mock quotes from people resigned to living “in a time and place where expecting the worst and feeling slightly afraid of what awful thing will happen next is the default state of being.”
It’s easy to deny this sensibility, to think that the heinous acts that seem to appear ever more frequently on our TVs and in our newspapers are random and isolated. Yet that very frequency becomes more unsettling with each new tragedy, as the world suddenly seems a little scarier than it did before.
It might almost have been comforting if this week’s attack had fit the patterns we’ve become accustomed to, because at least then the enemy would be known. Three of the biggest tragedies of 2012 involved gun violence perpetrated by a lone male with possible mental instability.
Now, the names Trayvon Martin, Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., have become bywords for the horrific results of America’s pervasive and permissive gun culture. Tuesday was the sixth anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech, which was a nearly direct consequence of Virginia’s dangerously lax laws on gun control.
However, with the Boston Marathon attacks, we’ve entered unfamiliar territory once again. Bombings with homemade devices are an almost everyday phenomenon in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. But for Americans, bombings are rare enough to jar us when they happen.
Since 1996, when Timothy McVeigh struck a federal office building in Oklahoma City, Okla., and the 1996 Summer Olympics were disrupted, there had not been a successful major bombing attack in the United States.
Now we wait fearfully for answers, for understanding and for peace. It’s a wait most of us haven’t had to make since Sept. 11, 2001.
Some have already said that it was only a matter of time. The plots of recent films such as “The Dark Knight Rises” and novels such as “Incendiary” featured terrorist attacks on sporting events.
But do we really want to live with the expectation that every public event, building and person is a target for terrorism? Isn’t that the whole goal of terrorism? Are tragedies really occurring more often, or is it just the media, the government and/or I?
Leave it to The Onion to answer at least one of my rhetorical questions. With a headline Wednesday, The Onion said in 16 words what it took me 400 to say, and summed up how a lot of us feel now: “Flag In Front Of Post Office Can Hardly Remember A Time It Wasn’t Flying Half-Staff.”