Boston Marathon Bombing: Our Collective Destiny

Boston Marathon

All of us were shocked yesterday by the bombing at the Boston Marathon. About 3:00 p.m. two powerful bombs were detonated near the finish line of the annual “Patriots’ Day” event. Three people were killed including an 8-year-old boy. One hundred and forty-four were injured among them a 3-year-old; two were left in critical condition.

Naturally, our hearts go out to all the victims and their families. A day that began in joy and celebration ended in complete tragedy. What can be more painful than losing a loved one – especially a child?

Responses to the disaster will be interesting to observe. It remains to be seen whether U.S. officials will connect the Boston Marathon Bombing with foreign or domestic terrorists or whether it was a criminal act by some insane individual.

In either case, the tragedy brings home to American soil the destruction and terror that U.S. policy inflicts each day on unsuspecting civilians across the world in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere. Pakistani events, Yemeni celebrations that begin in joy and high spirits routinely end in tears and mourning as drones drop from the sky without warning or as doors are kicked in by rampaging American soldiers shouting vile curses.

We must remember that the terrifying explosions, blood, torn flesh, scattered body parts and lives cut off virtually before they’ve begun constitute everyday occurrences at the hands of our criminal government and brutal military.

In fact, next to the havoc, murder, torture and sheer cruelty of U.S. policy in the countries just mentioned, what happened in Boston hardly deserves a mention. (Actually, most of U.S.-caused terror gets no mention in our mainstream press at all.)

What I’m saying is the obvious: U.S. chickens are coming home to roost; Boston is a preview of things to come.
I mean, Marathon-like bombings regardless of the origin of this particular attack will increasingly be part of our own lives until our country comes to its senses and leaves aside its imperial pretensions, international interventions and quick resort to violence as the solution to every problem.

This is because random bombings employing crude improvised devices constitute poor people’s responses to illegal occupation of their countries by American invaders using state-of-the-art weapons from drones to daisy cutters. It’s the last resort — what is possible for the poor and powerless as they attempt to defend themselves from “the most powerful military in the world.”

There is only one way to avoid the fate I’m describing: reject empire. That means living within our means; respecting human rights and international law; abjuring militarism; stopping the torture; closing the secret prisons; remanding drone policy; and ACTUALLY BEING WHO WE CLAIM TO BE IN THE WORLD!

Until we make such reforms, mayhem like that exemplified by the Boston Marathon bombing will continue to represent our collective destiny.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

21 thoughts on “Boston Marathon Bombing: Our Collective Destiny”

  1. I believe the most appropriate response to this tragedy is to reflect sincerely on the perspectives shared in Mike’s entry. Unfortunately, our political leaders and media systems craft a response that does not contain such reflection. In fact, such reflection is viewed as suspect or even criminal. The U.S. military and its allies terrorize and kill civilians daily. Meanwhile, the U.S. public soaks in a marinade that stinks of U.S. exceptionalism and proposes that Bradley Manning needs to be locked behind bars. I agree with Mike: We must urgently change our behavior.

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    1. You’ve put your finger on it, Trevor. It’s that “American Exceptionalism” that is at the root of our nation’s refusal to recognize the evil it is perpetrating in the world. The “official story” we’ve discussed so often together remains powerful. It enables us to lecture other countries on human rights, honest elections, political prisoners, and treatment of women when our own national policy is offensive on all those scores.

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  2. Garbage. Unless you can say you’ve actually been over there fighting those Jihadist, then you are just another Starbucks sipping armchair philosopher.

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    1. Dear Lodni: I believe you’re making my point. If we think your way about “those Jihadists” who evidently deserve to be killed (along with the children who get in the way) by our drones and daisy cutters, isn’t it understandable that they think the same way about “those Christianist killers” and act accordingly? I’m merely appealing for the application of a single standard to Jihadists and Christian Holy Warriors.

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  3. The timing, tone, and central argument of this blog entry strike me as incredibly insenstive to the victims of the Boston Marathon attack. Given the religious slant of this blog, I wonder if the author, (who is a former Catholic priest) can imagine Jesus Christ telling those victims that he feels sorry for them –but they really had it coming. Can he imagine Jesus telling the parents of the 8-year old boy who was killed yesterday, or the scores of people who were maimed and permanently handicapped, that what happened to them really isn’t that bad compared to what their government does to other countries and that their suffering “hardly deserves a mention?” Finally, I would ask the author from which part of the New Testament did he divine that two wrongs make a right?

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    1. BRS: I’m sorry if my tone and content offended. In no way did I mean to say the victims of the bombing “had it coming.” I wanted to point to the double standard at work in our attitudes towards such disasters. When we cause them (on much larger scales than what happened in Boston), our mainstream press finds the killings literally “not worth mentioning,” excusable, and justifiable. Think of Brennan’s statements that the well-documented killing of innocents (including many children) in drone attacks simply have not happened. And isn’t the “two wrongs make a right” logic the foundation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Aren’t we there exacting revenge — in Iraq’s case for crimes that never took place? Are you saying that when poor people (in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen) are attacked by “the most powerful nation in the world” they should be virtuous enough not to defend themselves and respond in kind? Are you saying they should be bigger than we are — “more Christian” “more Islamic” and not respond in kind? Doesn’t that seem hypocritical and manipulative?

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    2. BRS:

      Thankfully, we are experiencing an abundance of support for the victims of the Boston Marathon attacks. I join these voices in expressing sensitivity to those whose lives have been impacted by this unacceptable violence.

      I sense, however, that Mike’s entry invites us to consider another dimension of this and other violent acts…a dimension that I believe runs deeper than our desires to support those from our own culture/country impacted by violence. Mike invites us to apply sensitivity and support to victims of attacks who reside in cultures/countries that are “foreign” or even hostile to our own. Thus, I don’t sense that Mike aimed to offend the individuals impacted by this specific attack, rather he used this event to challenge us to develop and apply sensitivity to all victims of violence. I believe this challenge is of great relevance for U.S. citizens, as we currently maintain several conflicts that have taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians. The Boston Marathon attacks present us with an opportunity to critically reflect on this fact. Doing so might be one way we can honor the victims of this and all violent incidents.

      I share your curiosity about how Jesus relates to this analysis. I sense that our limited knowledge of the historical Jesus lends support to Mike’s position. Jesus took sides…and he did not take the side of empire.

      Looking forward to your thoughts, BRS…

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      1. Thanks, Trevor. Your comment about the historical Jesus is especially relevant to my way of thinking. Taking sides with the poor and oppressed means reminding empire that its tragedies are only pale reflections of the harm it inflicts on the world’s most vulnerable. What empire considers disaster is only the result of karma: What you sow you reap. It’s an inescapable law of the universe. Tragedies like the Marathon Bombing should lead thoughtful people to ask “Is there a connection with our own actions in the world?” That’s simply respecting the teaching of Jesus about cause and effect. However when the question is posed, the response is outrage and denial.

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  4. Mike said: “until our country comes to its senses and leaves aside its imperial pretensions,”… I believed there isn’t such thing as an American imperial pretension; this fallacy is typically an American-ethnocentric perspective… But I do believe there is only Hobbesian condition: “The condition of man . . . is a condition of war of everyone against everyone” -Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan –and it has been like that since the days of cave-man fighting against other cave-man…. No one can dispute the intermingled of Cultural ideological production to justified senseless killing but the US is not responsible for their acts in foreign land. We are merely surviving as nation embedded in the midst of a hostile world, just like the days of the furry guys….

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  5. Lodni and BRS:

    Mike responded to your critiques. What are your reactions to his thoughts? I share Mike’s perspective and cannot think of a more appropriate moment to engage this conversation.

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  6. Mike, my dear friend for 58 years, I agree with a lot of your ideas and commentaries but I totally disagree with the tact taken in this particular blog, e.g., “US chickens are coming home to roost. Boston is a preview of things to come” and “…random bombings employing crude improvised devices constitute poor people’s responses to illegal occupation of their countries by American invaders.”??

    First of all, I think that our response should be both Christian and Ghandian and both of those 2 would respond with total empathy for the victims and theirr families, esp. the 3 killed and those whose limbs were ripped off their bodies. Of course we condemn the killing of the innocents in the Middle East but that doesn’t justify our minimizing the damage done in Boston, NYC on 9-11, killing people from scores of countries, many of whom were poor restaurant and maintenance workers from developing countries or our own homegrown terrorists in Oklahoma City. I would also invoke the man from Assisi, Francis, who prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred let me sow love.”

    Also to say that the bombing in Boston may “constitute poor people’s responses to illegal occupation of their countries by American invaders” presumes that the bomber was attuned to illegal occupations of other countries, and was also poor. We have no idea yet who that person is and, in fact, the govt. today reported that there were 117 incidences of IED’s, improvised explosive devices, in the last 6 months in this country. Who are these people? Racists and pro-gun fanatics? Maybe so. One guy in rural Western PA blew himself up trying to make a bomb and he wasn’t defending his country from invasions by US troops nor were the other people involved in these IED incidents. The IRA in Northern Ireland for years justified their bombings and killing of innocent people until one day they blew up some of their own compatriots and they fell into disrepute.

    I believe we should condemn what the drones are doing but not join that to what happened in Boston where thousands of people were celebrating in a very small, confined area, no small group was targeted but a huge group.

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    1. Dear Larry, I so appreciate your taking the time to write such a thoughtful and heart-felt comment. I agree with so much of what you say here. But my reply to BRS applies here as well. Here’s what I said to him just now:
      Dear BRS,
      My response to the tragedy in Boston did not depend on the identity of the perpetrator. I was merely pointing out that the disaster provides an occasion for reflecting upon the much worse disasters the United States causes each and every day in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya. . . In those places, weddings, funerals, parties and family gatherings are routinely occasions for drone attacks that regularly kill children and wipe out entire families. In Iraq alone the number of civilians killed by the U.S. reaches into the hundreds of thousands. Applying the counting method we use in dealing with enemies (the one sanctioned by Johns Hopkins University), the number reaches more than a million! Virtually no one takes notice in the United States. Often the crimes go completely unreported. Officials like Brennan and Obama deny or minimize the damage. To me that seems worse than “insensitive;” in itself it constitutes an additional criminal act further insulting the grieving families involved. Whether or not the Boston bombing was a direct response to such outrages, it is at the very least a preview of the kind of retaliation we can expect for such heinous, crimes that transgress not only international law but the laws that govern humanity according to every great religious tradition. I agree with Jeremiah Wright: 9/11 was a case of chickens coming home to roost. More are on the way. That’s not defending the retaliation involved. It’s simply pointing out that there are reasons for it. It also points out the foolish impotence of billions spent on drones and nuclear weapons in the face of pressure cookers and nails. If our government obstinately insists on justifying action against terrorism as “war,” well, war is war. If the U.S. attacks civilians (and excuses it as “collateral damage”) it can only expect the same from “the enemy.” Again, that’s not justification; it’s simply the way that war works. It’s why we have to eliminate it as an instrument of foreign policy. That elimination best begins with the most militarized nation in the world – our own.

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  7. To be clear, you wrote: “What I’m saying is the obvious: U.S. chickens are coming home to roost; Boston is a preview of things to come.”

    As you are no doubt aware, the phrase “chickens coming home to roost” was used infamously by Malcolm X after John F. Kennedy’s assassination and by Reverend Jeremiah Wright after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. In both instances the message was clear: what goes around comes around –and we invited this.

    You also wrote,”…the Boston Marathon bombing will continue to represent our collective destiny.”

    So, if you didn’t mean to say that the U.S. and by extension the victims of this attack “had it coming,” then what did you mean?

    You also mentioned Iraq in your response, which is interesting only because the argument you seem to be making is similarly structured to one we all heard right after 9-11. The first thing the “Vulcan” neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration said on 9-11 was, “How can we pin this on Iraq?” That is, how can we exploit this tragedy to our political advantage and preferred course of foreign policy action and worldview? 9-11 was probably related to Saddam Hussein they said. And even if it wasn’t, he’s a bad guy and we should do something about him before the next attack comes “in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

    You argument is similarly illogical. You seem to be saying, even though we don’t yet know why this attack occurred or who is responsible, it was probably a response to our drone program and “imperialist” foreign policy practices. And even if it wasn’t, the drone program (and our foreign policy generally) is bad and we should do something about it. In essence, you’re politicizing this particular attack to justify your preferred course of foreign policy action (abandoning our drone program etc.) and world view –however disconnected from this event.

    At its core, your argument is basically fear-mongering in the opposite direction from Bush: until we stop attacking, we should expect to be attacked. Those kinds of statements seem particularly insensitive and dangerous because they could be easily interpreted as justifying and condoning what people like Timothy McVeigh or whoever was responsible for the attacks in Boston did.

    Now, when we do know what motivated this particular attack, I agree that we should think about whether there was anything we might have done to prevent the perpetrators from embarking on their evil course. We should also be brave and honest enough to ask (as you seem to be trying to do here) if this was some sort of warped response to something we have done in the past or are doing currently. We should also consider whether what we have done or are doing was appropriate or not. However, to ask that question in no way justifies the slaughter of innocents, as you seem to suggest. But, understanding a criminal’s motivations might be part of making such events less likely in the future.

    You wrote in a response to a comment that, “Honest respectful discussion can lead to clarification of thought and to enlightened action.” Having read your previous entries I believe that you mean that, and to be fair, generally practice those principles. In this case though, I’m afraid you’ve badly missed the mark. There is an appropriate time, place, and sensitive way to ask many of the questions you’ve posed in this entry. In my view however, asking them less than 24 hours after the attack in Boston and with incendiary, values-laden terms like “chickens coming home to roost” and “our collective destiny” is not the sensitive, appropriate or thoughtful way to do it. It’s not Christian, it’s not Ghandian or Buddhist; it’s just very insensitive.

    Attacking civilians is never justified, whether it’s done by the U.S. military or terrorists. Having read many of your entries, particularly on the teachings of Jesus Christ, I want to believe that you would agree with that statement. I just would have liked you to focus more on that rather than arguing that this attack was warranted retribution for actions by the American military/government.

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    1. Dear BRS,
      My response to the tragedy in Boston did not depend on the identity of the perpetrator. I was merely pointing out that the disaster provides an occasion for reflecting upon the much worse disasters the United States causes each and every day in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya. . . In those places, weddings, funerals, parties and family gatherings are routinely occasions for drone attacks that regularly kill children and wipe out entire families. In Iraq alone the number of civilians killed by the U.S. reaches into the hundreds of thousands. Applying the counting method we use in dealing with enemies (the one sanctioned by Johns Hopkins University), the number reaches more than a million! Virtually no one takes notice in the United States. Often the crimes go completely unreported. Officials like Brennan and Obama deny or minimize the damage. To me that seems worse than “insensitive;” in itself it constitutes an additional criminal act further insulting the grieving families involved. Whether or not the Boston bombing was a direct response to such outrages, it is at the very least a preview of the kind of retaliation we can expect for such heinous, crimes that transgress not only international law but the laws that govern humanity according to every great religious tradition. I agree with Jeremiah Wright: 9/11 was a case of chickens coming home to roost. More are on the way. That’s not defending the retaliation involved. It’s simply pointing out that there are reasons for it. It also points out the foolish impotence of billions spent on drones and nuclear weapons in the face of pressure cookers and nails. If our government obstinately insists on justifying action against terrorism as “war,” well, war is war. If the U.S. attacks civilians (and excuses it as “collateral damage”) it can only expect the same from “the enemy.” Again, that’s not justification; it’s simply the way that war works. It’s why we have to eliminate it as an instrument of foreign policy. That elimination best begins with the most militarized nation in the world – our own.

      Like

  8. I was going to make a comment but when I logged in I saw this cross fire which kinda suggested Cashman keep the head down until this gets sorted. Typical Irish cute-hoor-ness!
    Sorry Larry and Mike.
    Actually I know you both are on the same side and a lot is based on misunderstanding but it could take some time to work it out. And like Thatcher said I am not for trying.
    But when the smoke clears, as MacArthur said I’ll be back.
    I really wanted to address blowback rather then the Boston murder.
    In the meantime we Irish are closer to Boston than Berlin! I have more relatives there than Aghada!!
    cashman
    I hope this matter is given time to enlighten us a little and a different subject blog does not intervene until we work thru it.

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  9. I spent 30 years as a chaplain in the US Army and served in Afghanistan. The “brutal military” is made up of “the sons and daughters of America.” Youvv vvould be proud to knovv them if you vveren’t so self-righteous and judgemental. . You equate civilian casualties in a combat zone to a deliberate act of terrorism? You have a screvv loose somevvhere.

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    1. My dear friend, I have three words for your consideration: Abu Grahib, Fallujah, Haditha. If the atrocities represented by those place names had been associated, say, with the Chinese or Cuban militaries, what adjective would you use to describe those sons and daughters of simple people? And how would you describe the clergy who give those armies aid and comfort convincing them that God is somehow on their side?

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  10. All of us share Mike’s shock and revulsion at the cowardly attacks made upon civilians at the April Boston Marathon. The perpetrators are being sought by the authorities and when captured as is probable they will be, the full penalty of the law will justly be brought against them.

    That having been said, I wish to congratulate you, Mike, on your sensitive and well thought-out comments on the wider ramifications of this attack: specifically the carnage that the U.S. causes on a constant basis among innocent civilians (in its relentless search for real terrorists a few of whom it kills) in the world as a whole. Your irrefutable statement that “most of U.S.-caused terror gets no mention in our mainstream press at all” has been inexplicably ignored by some of the people criticizing your essay. I very much echo the views of Trevor Poag (echoing Mike) that we need to “develop and apply sensitivity to all victims of violence,” especially “as we currently maintain
    several conflicts that have taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians.”

    Let me offer a few documented statistics, specifically from Pakistan and Afghanistan –passing over Iraq, Yemen and other places where regular U.S. violence is a daily trauma for the inhabitants.

    Regarding Pakistan: Daniel L. Byman of the Brookings Institution (far from a hard left bastion) writes that the drone strikes may have killed “ten or so civilians” for every “mid and ranking Al Qaeda and Taliban leader.” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that between 391-780 civilians were killed out of a total of between 1,658 and 2,597 and that 160 children were among the deaths.” The Bureau also revealed that since President Obama took office at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when going to help the victims and more than 20 civilians were also attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.”

    According to Global Research, over the past four years Obama has authorized attacks in Pakistan which have killed more than 800 innocent civilians and just 22 Al-Qaeda.

    Regarding Afghanistan: The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented 2,754
    civilian deaths in 2012, and 4,805 injuries.

    The few statistics I’ve quoted are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. Any week you can read about civilian casualties caused by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

    The ultimate culprit, of course, is American exceptionalism and hubris in the running of the American Empire. Renowned novelist Gore Vidal wrote presciently shortly before his death that the U.S. is headed pell mell towards an authoritarian government. Are we not already there?

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    1. Skymind, Thanks so much for those sobering statistics. The power of the “ruling group mind” is almost beyond description. As I’ve just mentioned in my reply to Msgr. Thomas Molloy, what would our “leaders” — what would we say — if such facts and numbers were associated with the Chinese or Cuban militaries?

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