Society at large, said Ezra Klein of Wonkblog, was in fact the true target of the bombings:
The finish line at a marathon is a small marvel of fellowship. Everyone is there to celebrate how much stronger the runners are than they ever thought they could be. Total strangers line up alongside the route to yell encouragement. Bands play. Some hand out cups of water, Gatorade, even beer. Others dress up in costumes to make the runners smile. The fact that other people can run this far makes us believe we can run that far. It's a happy thought. It makes us all feel a little bit stronger.
Today, the final line of the Boston Marathon is a crime scene. It's a testament to how much more evil human beings can be than we can imagine. The bomb – or at least what we think was a bomb – went off at four hours and nine minutes. As Pacific Standard notes, that's a popular marathon time. It seems likely that the detonation was timed to kill as many people as possible.
But that's not all it was meant to do. It was also meant to be on television. It was meant to be on the front page of every newspaper, to be the top story of every news broadcast. That way it could hurt even the people who weren't there. It could make everyone in the country feels a bit weaker, a bit more vulnerable, a bit more scared.
R.L.G. of Democracy in America noted that despite all the uncertainty surrounding the attack, already the customary swift and silent preparations that come with the inevitable politicization of national tragedy have begun:
In just under 24 hours, we have learned nothing about the Boston bomber or bombers. Yet our ignorance has not stopped the careful positioning among certain groups who seem to be itching to pull their opinions ready-made out of a drawer as soon as a suspect or "person of interest" is named. Anti-government extremist? You can almost feel some on the partisan left desperately hoping it is so. Muslim fanatic? Ditto on the right. You can already hear the faint, moronic ripples of annoyance that Barack Obama did not say the word "terrorism" yesterday.
Yesterday was an obscure state holiday called Patriots' Day in Massachusetts. It was also the deadline for filing tax returns. And later in the week come the anniversaries of the Oklahoma City bombing and the raiding of the compound in Waco, Texas, a holy day in the anti-government nutjob calendar. This has been carefully trailed as potential evidence that the bomber might be an anti-government nutjob.
What a mature, serious and strong society should learn to do is not to overreact, not to trample civil liberties, not to make the wrong arrests through haste. This bombing was vile, but should not occasion a war. The way to stop the cycle of revenge is for one side to have the strength and calm to do right and see justice done, but no more. Justice done properly can be frustratingly slow and boring, as anyone who has actually watched a criminal trial (not a televised drama) can tell you. But justice is done, in the unspectacular fashion that keeps the bad guys from marking up yet another easy grievance. There are, in the end, only so many days in the calendar.