independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Robert Schmuhl: Living in fear and on the edge is the new normal for Americans

Fans are patted down as they enter the TD Garden before the start of an NHL hockey game between the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in Boston

MONDAY was most likely the day for something to happen and the media kept warning about the possibility of a provocative act by North Korea. With the date, April 15, being the birthday of the country's founder, Kim Il-Sung, a celebratory missile launch or display of aggression might mark the occasion and incite the world.

Yet, as it turned out, Monday will be remembered not for what happened at North Korea's bellicose direction but for the deadly and shocking bomb blasts in Boston on that city's beloved holiday.

While the bluster-filled threats of Kim Il-Sung's grandson and lookalike, Kim Jong-Un, captured the headlines in recent weeks, someone else was secretly at work manufacturing a different brand of terror.

Monday's bombing underscores contemporary reality for Americans and others. Foreign adversaries with large militaries and questionable intentions co-exist with people who are operating in the shadows and propelled by dark forces.

The new normal, once again, is to live on edge and in fear.

With what happened in Boston you see the unsettling and lamentable intersection of symbolism and speculation. It was Patriots' Day, commemorating the date in 1775 when rebellion-minded colonists took on the British in the battles at Lexington and Concord to begin America's Revolutionary War.

The Boston Marathon is run each year on Patriots' Day, bringing throngs to the downtown area where the blasts went off. In addition, this year Patriots' Day fell on the same day as Tax Day, the deadline for filing federal taxes.

Was the bomber (or bombers) offering a warning that the blasts signalled the launch of a new, revolutionary war in the US – and against the US?

Was the deed, despicable in the truest sense, an anti-tax or anti-government statement?

At this writing, questions abound. But the methodical placement of the explosives near the marathon's finish line on this special civic occasion suggests there was nothing haphazard to these acts of calculated violence.

A few hours after the blasts, President Barack Obama delivered a short televised address, promising that federal officials would investigate the incident in conjunction with Boston and Massachusetts authorities.

"Make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this," Mr Obama said. "And we will find out who did this; we'll find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice."

Figuring out the "why" is crucial and most important. What's the motivation, besides evil, that drives anyone to do such a thing?

Since September 11, 2001, American presidents have had to monitor and try to keep in check what you might call "regime terror", personified most recently by Kim Jong-Un, and "random terror", the shadowy plotting by loners or cells to make a statement through blood.

North Korea's regime terror now, sadly, competes with a deadly incident such as the one in Boston – and America as a nation returns to being on alert.

Looking over one's shoulder and worrying about a package or bag off to the side will now, once more, become commonplace, part of daily life with elevated threat levels and increased jumpiness.

In this case, however, the tragedy of history doesn't repeat itself as farce but as tragedy.

Viewed objectively, what's been termed the "war on terror" in all its ugly forms is the real successor to the Cold War, and its battlefield encompasses city streets often filled, as in Boston, with unsuspecting innocents.

Robert Schmuhl is professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Irish Independent

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