Resist the Urge To 'Do Something' After Boston Bombing

We have to fight the urge to believe that new laws or technology will prevent senseless violence like the attack in Boston.

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A police officer wheels an injured boy down Boylston Street as medical workers carry an injured runner after an explosion during the Boston Marathon, April 15, 2013.

"I am willing to trade my life for his. I am smart, and I am willing, and that is all it takes."

These words aren't from police testimony or an intelligence brief. They're from the 1993 film In the Line of Fire. Tragically, they ring as true today as they did in the years before 9/11, before Oklahoma City, before Fort Hood and before Boston.

During this gripping scene, John Malkovich, a former government assassin, is on the phone, explaining to Clint Eastwood, a Secret Service agent, why his plan to take out the president will be successful. Malkovich is clearly insane. He has no interest in self-preservation and every interest in death and destruction.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Boston Marathon bombings.]

This is the problem we face with terrorism and why no amount of protection will ever make us secure. While we can take more precautions (metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs, larger police forces) and expand government surveillance (drones and closed circuit cameras), we cannot prevent crazy people from doing crazy things.

Terrorists, whatever their stated political motivations or past environmental influences, are severely psychologically disturbed individuals. As Gottschalk and Gottschalk found, "regardless of their gender, political, religious, or ethnic affiliation, terrorists share a discernible psychosocial profile that we organize with the concept of 'pathological hatred.'"

What's worse than knowing that we can't always triumph over evil and that it's impossible to eliminate all risk from every life is the realization that trying to do so costs us far more than the billions that are spent each year on homeland security and foreign defense.

[Social Media Reacts to First Reports of Boston Explosions.]

The price of ubiquitous protection is constrained freedom. We shouldn't delude ourselves into believing that a more empowered and expansive federal government can ever make us perfectly safe. Or that it will always operate as a benevolent presence in our society. The answer to Boston is not just "more cameras" and heightened vigilance.

While we wait to learn the identity of the Boston terrorist(s), rather than trying to "do something," we should just stand there. Stand still and mourn the lives lost. Grieve over the pain wrought. Accept the awfulness of this tragedy. Realize that there was no reason.

Because as a survivor of the D.C. snipers, Paul LaRuffa said, "We don't want to live in a country where there ARE no soft targets."

  • Read Penny Lee: Another Tragedy, But More Excuses Not to Act
  • Read Anson Kaye: What I Know About Boston That the Terrorists Never Will
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