Reflections on 5-year an­niver­sary of Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ing

Northern Berks Patriot Item - - OPINION - James Burns James F. Burns is a re­tired pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Florida.

For me, the Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ing was like a hot poker thrust into the smol­der­ing em­bers of a re­cent fire — that then burst back into flame. The race it­self is as Amer­i­can as ap­ple pie, one of those iconic events by which the world knows us — and we know our­selves. These are my reflections on the fifth an­niver­sary of this fa­tal at­tack that jolted me out of re­tire­ment.

I had three links to the Marathon bomb­ing — fam­ily friends who got caught up in the blast, a shared his­tory with the all-time record holder for Marathon wins, and 30 years of writ­ing on ter­ror­ism.

My wife and I used to live in Bos­ton but had left long ago, re­placed, as it were, by one of our sons and a niece who be­came best friends with a neigh­bor named Kris. Kris at­tended our son’s wed­ding and our niece be­came the god­mother of Kris’ hand­i­capped daugh­ter, Kayla. Kris lost her hus­band to a heart at­tack, but she and Kayla con­tin­ued com­pet­ing in the wheel­chair di­vi­sion of marathon races.

In 2013 Kris and Kayla were on the verge of be­com­ing the first mother-daugh­ter duo to com­plete the Bos­ton Marathon in the dis­abled di­vi­sion when the first blast sud­denly bathed Bos­ton in blood and car­nage. Kris’ fi­ancé, Brian, had left the side­walk to as­sist Kris in nav­i­gat­ing a pool of re­porters and was struck in the head by shrap­nel as he reached them. Mirac­u­lously, they all sur­vived.

Kris, Kayla, and Brian’s close call in the Marathon bomb­ing jolted me out of re­tire­ment and into a writer’s rage of anger. We had wel­comed the Tsar­naev broth­ers, Tamer­lan and Dzhokhar, giv­ing them a chance to in­te­grate into our cul­ture and pur­sue the Amer­i­can dream. In­stead, they used low-tech ter­ror­ism, two pres­sure-cooker bombs, to give us an Amer­i­can night­mare.

Us­ing my ex­pe­ri­ences in North­ern Ire­land and fa­mil­iar­ity with Bos­ton, I poured out ar­ti­cle af­ter ar­ti­cle, soon reach­ing 50. But as I delved into the ha­tred that ter­ror­ists, both for­eign and do­mes­tic, had for Amer­ica, see­ing us as a bas­tion of im­pe­ri­al­is­tic ex­ploita­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion, I be­gan to re­ori­ent my writ­ings. I saw how nar­row and un­fairly fo­cused this ha­tred was on a par­tic­u­lar flaw — as they saw it — in our Amer­i­can sys­tem. They were lit­er­ally blow­ing up a tree with­out see­ing the for­est.

While no na­tion is per­fect, my re­flec­tion on our his­tory and my an­ces­tral ex­pe­ri­ences be­gan turn­ing the ter­ror­ists’ ha­tred of Amer­i­can into my own re­newed love for our coun­try — not “our coun­try right or wrong” but our coun­try striv­ing to move for­ward, cor­rect flaws and in­jus­tices, and be that shin­ing city on the hill that could be a bea­con of hope for oth­ers, the torch of lib­erty held high by our iconic Lady Lib­erty statue on Bed­loe’s Is­land. Look up not down.

The young ter­ror­ist has nei­ther the time, pa­tience, nor enough life ex­pe­ri­ences to see a sin­gle per­ceived in­jus­tice in a broader con­text.

I will re­ceive with­er­ing crit­i­cism for in­fer­ring that such young men (and a few women) are hot-headed and make rash de­ci­sions to go out and kill a few peo­ple on the street or at the mall as an out­let for their anger. Those that sur­vive to be­come older re­tired ter­ror­ists — there are many such men in North­ern Ire­land — gen­er­ally re­al­ize that their vi­o­lent meth­ods were not only fu­tile but counter-pro­duc­tive. Yet they had com­mit­ted their life to “the cause” and can­not let go of at least pay­ing lip ser­vice to that great ide­al­is­tic mo­ti­va­tor that robbed them of their youth and oth­ers of their lives.

So I be­gan writ­ing ter­ror­ism ar­ti­cles that were more an­a­lyt­i­cal and more in­fused with Amer­i­can his­tory and tra­di­tions — such as the Bos­ton Marathon which was won seven times by Clarence De­Mar, cousin of my fa­ther’s best friend.

They had all grown up in Madeira, Ohio, ex­em­pli­fy­ing small­town Amer­ica’s con­tri­bu­tion to Amer­i­can great­ness — and to the Bos­ton Marathon.

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