Heather Hurlburt is the executive director of the National Security Network in Washington, D.C. Heather previously served in the Clinton administration as speechwriter to the president, and as speechwriter and policy planning staff for Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher. Follow her on Twitter at @NatSecHeather.
Forgive the metaphor, but the process of sorting out, living through, mourning and exacting justice for a terror attack is more than a little bit like ... a marathon. You came through Monday with flying colors, in a new personal best. But remember, this was only mile one.
Let's review. We don't know who planted those explosive devices, but, as former West Point academic Brian Fishman reminds us, we know what those who resort to terror's indiscriminate violence want:
Terrorists kill for two basic reasons: They want to disrupt and destroy institutions or symbols of a political order they despise and they want to intimidate people not touched by the attack directly. For years, bombs have been the most useful tool to achieve both goals: They were the best way to kill a large number of people and get a lot of media attention.
So how did our symbols fare today? Boston Marathon – finished, with runners knocked over, getting up to complete the course, and pledging they'd be back. First responders – government's first representatives at any crisis – ran like heroes into the smoke, and received kudos, on tax day no less, for their work on our behalf.
And as for our national institutions, the unity and determination emanating from President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner almost made one nostalgic. It is true that sales of "Boston Sucks" baseball shirts are taking a hit, but the economy overall is not.Our hearts go out to every person injured or killed, every family that has suffered a loss. And yet the bombs killed fewer people than guns, automobiles or saturated fats in America today. Terrorists in Iraq killed 10 times as many people today as the Boston murderer(s) managed to do.
My fellow Americans, our hearts are broken, but the state of our union is strong. Maybe stronger than it was yesterday, before we saw those pictures of our fellow-citizens running from the race to the fallen.
So what about sowing fear and division among the rest of us, terrorists' other goal?
Americans of every political stripe have been calling out speculation and scapegoating as fast as it happens. Bostonians of every faith and race have come together to mourn their losses and celebrate their heroes. Maybe the attacker or attackers, whomever they are, didn't know Boston's difficult history of race and religious relations, maybe they did – but for those of us who do, this unity is especially beautiful to see.
That's pretty good for mile one. But we have so many hard miles ahead. Not turning on each other, or our institutions, or our own freedoms, whatever the truth behind these terrible attacks proves to be… can we keep it up?