Opinion: Boston Bombings must not damage American morale

The Boston Marathon bombings represent a troubling shift from ambitious terrorist attempts on well-secured airliners to domestic attacks that are harder to anticipate and defend against. Viewed in conjunction with high-profile massacres in Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown, these attacks give Americans good reason to feel less safe in public places. The horror of witnessing these events play out in real time can too easily creep into our collective psyche.

This tumult of violence leaves scars even beyond the grieving families and crippled victims. It impacts the innocence and openness of communities across the country. It deters us from reveling in the joy at the finish line of a hard-fought race. It brings suggestions of armed guards in elementary schools. It makes parents scramble for Teflon backpacks, and it keeps elected officials like Gabrielle Giffords from reaching out to their constituents at supermarkets and state fairs. Even as each tragedy brings Americans closer together, it drives us further apart by increasing collective suspicion of Muslims or the mentally ill.

It’s impossible to reclaim the feeling of utter safety the spectators at the Boston Marathon surely felt as they waited for their loved ones to cross the finish line. Moviegoers will shoot nervous glances at the theatre doors, half expecting an armed and masked maniac to emerge. We don’t have to live like this but, thanks to a handful of troubled young men, we will.

There is no case for naiveté, or apathy. Increased security at high-profile events, common-sense gun control measures in congress, and more cooperation and understanding between citizens and the law enforcement officers meant to protect them, will all help prevent tomorrow’s Times Square bomber or would-be shooter. But amid all of these precautions, Americans must try, as hard as it may be, to trust their neighbors, and to send their children off to school without wondering if they will come back alive. At the finish line at next year’s Boston Marathon, the runners should see their families and friends, not grim-faced policemen with AR-15s.

When he addressed the nation after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended in Watertown, President Obama said to the brothers that they had failed in their objective. The scores of innocents who they maimed will walk again, work again, and live fully again. Each of the victims killed, from eight-year old Martin Richard to MIT campus policeman Sean Collier, lived a far more memorable life than either of the deranged pair. The city of Boston shut down, not out of fear, but out of an unshakeable resolve to see justice served. In trying to undermine American society, the bombers succeeded only in affirming what makes it beautiful.

But they will have won some small victory if their sick publicity stunt or political statement leaves as much paranoia as it does mourning. Whatever motivated them to pack pressure cookers with nails and ball bearings, it should not be allowed to make us look over our shoulders, or sleep with one eye open. Only then, can we say with absolute assurance that America has endured, once more triumphing over the hate of our enemies.