04-15-2013: On the Futility of Terror

This wasn’t just an attack against the Boston Marathon. It was an attack against the American public and our democratic use of the streets. We have used our public roadways for annual parades, protest marches, presidential inaugurations, marathons, and all manner of other events. The roads belong to us, and their use represents an important part of our free and democratic tradition-- Amby Burfoot, Runner's World

Patriots Day is a holiday only celebrated in Massachusetts, which commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord and the start of the American Revolution. We Bostonians are quite proud of our city's role in the foundation of American democracy, but given the extent to which that celebration takes a back seat, you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole thing was just an excuse for us to have the day off so that we can watch the Boston Marathon. Boston being what it is, if the holiday hadn't existed already, we'd probably have invented it.

The race was founded in 1897, inspired by the success of an event held at the first modern Olympics. For distance runners around the globe, Boston is the marathon. Tell a marathoner anywhere in the world about making it over Heartbreak Hill, and odds are about even they'll know what you're talking about. Here, Marathon Monday is without any doubt the finest day on the calendar for sports fans. A Sox game begins at Fenway at the odd time of 11:05 so that when the game-- which is often memorable in its own right-- is over, the fans can leave the stadium and watch people finish the race. And they do.

It may seem somewhat odd that we let the day commemorating the Shots Heard Round the World be overshadowed by sport, but I'm as proud of that as anything else about the day. The state motto of Massachusetts is Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem, or "by the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty. Having won the war and achieved liberty, the celebration of armed resistance becomes a footnote to another Bostonian acheivement felt the world over, this one placed firmly in the category of peace. An international sporting event devoid of the pseudo-nationalism of team sports or the actual nationalism that creeps into the Olympics.

Ezra Klien speaks to this in a blog post titled, "If you are losing faith in humanity, go out and watch a marathon"

I've never run the Boston Marathon, but both my parents have, and I grew up watching it every year around the 20 mile marker with family. In a town that eats, drinks, breathes, sleeps, shits and fucks sports-- sometimes to the point of are-you-seriously-chanting-Yankees-Suck-at-a-game-against-the-Royals embarrassment-- the Marathon is a unique experience: a sporting event where everyone in the crowd stands in full-throated support of everyone in the race, whether they be from Boston, New York, Kansas City, or Kenya. The fact that nobody from Massachusetts has won it for over 30 years hasn't put a damper on our enthusiasm for it; all those who run the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boylston Street are Bostonians as far as we're concerned. And the feeling, for some, is mutual; three time winner Cosmas Ndeti of Kenya went so far as to name his son Boston. Uta Pippig, who won it three times for Germany, became a US citizen in 2004 and now sits on the board of directors for MIT's AgeLab.

The race is an hours-long-miles-wide outdoor party where distance between spectator and participant is at some spots in the course reduced to the vanishing point. High-fives, cups of water, and words of encouragement are dispensed, more often than not from one stranger to another. When my mother ran Boston, there was nothing stopping me running alongside her to show support as she passed by. By the same token, there would have been nothing to stop me from ruining Ndeti's record-setting performance in '94, but that shit just doesn't happen. Who would fuck with the Boston Marathon?


Three people lost their lives yesterday, one of whom was only eight years old. Many lost limbs, and close to two hundred were injured. More still were struck with terror at having witnessed the violence firsthand, or robbed of the fruit of their months-long labor of devotion by the actions of someone who very likely has no clue what those athletes put themselves through to get to where they were. As such, I'm going to try to keep the narcissism to the bare minimum, but I can't help but take it personally. Marathon Monday is a part of my identity, and Copley Square is one of my favorite haunts. Those hurt were my people. Lacking any information about the piece of human filth who saw fit to visit carnage upon what I consider to be a piece of myself, I've felt the urge to add to the ugliness. To yell at the friend of mine who commented that they were doing the "hip" thing by posting to Facebook that they were alright. To personally hound and shame everyone who tweeted about the attack with the hashtag #BostonMassacre. To hitchhike down to Texas, beat the ever-loving shit out of Alex Jones and tell him that Michael Moore sent me.

As always seems to happen in times such as these, my rage was quelled by the extent to which our better angels were on display. The people who ran towards the blast when it wasn't at all clear what was going on, save for the fact that others were in need. The runners who crossed the finish line without breaking pace and continued on for two miles to the hospitals so that they could give blood after running their asses off for over four hours. The volunteers, EMTs, trauma surgeons et al who kept far more people alive than could have reasonably been expected. The ordinary citizens who offered up their homes to those displaced by the attack. The local businesses which bid anyone come and eat, drink, charge their phones and pay only if they could. The runners everywhere who vowed to return the next year. In their actions and more, Boston responded to tragedy in a spirit befitting a holiday which commemorates the bravery of those who decided long ago that they would not allow their lives to be controlled by others through violence.

All of which is to say that regardless of who placed those bombs, why they did it, or who else might have been involved, I can tell you that the story of April 15th, 2013 is the story of the futility of terrorism. Not because I share the certainty of some that those involved will meet justice; at this point, that cannot be known. But a community does not withstand terror by punishing its perpetrators. We withstand terror by refusing to be terrorized. By not allowing a freak occurrence inflicted upon us by cowards and thugs to change us or the way we live our lives. Terrorism is rare, it is difficult, and it is the work of inferior minds. Its success relies entirely upon our own co-operation. We can learn from these events, and make strategic corrections where they reveal gaps in our security. But in a year's time, we will have another marathon, and we must not consume ourselves with rendering it impervious to terror. We would surely fall short of the mark, and in so doing sacrifice the communion between athlete and fan that makes Marathon Monday a treasure of life in Boston. The quality which we cannot bestow upon our public gatherings is one which we must instill in ourselves. And when we do that, the world will know us to be the victors.

Everything I'm hearing suggests that we're going to get the response right this time. I plan on doing my part to make sure we do.

Our institutions did not become great by following a path of timidity and cowardice. And we can only hope that, when pummeled, as the Boston Marathon was today, they will rise again, stronger than ever.-- Burfoot


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