WE KEEP OUR FOCUS on local news. Other sources are better able to deliver statewide, national and international reporting and perspective. Then along comes an event that breaks down the barriers of what we define as local. Monday afternoon the geography that separates Columbia County and Boston suddenly disappeared.
We experienced fear, anger, bewilderment, sympathy and connection with our Boston neighbors. As much as these feelings matter, they don’t add much to an understanding of what happened and why. Most of what we know comes from radio, TV and the web, and those media say law enforcement expects to benefit from having so many video recordings of the bomb blasts. But the endless repetition of Twitter and YouTube phone-video clips of the two explosions and their aftermath leave me questioning their value to viewers. After a while they morphed into a numbing cascade of explosions. It quickly began to feel like the video was primarily being used on TV to distract viewers so we wouldn’t notice the monotony of reporters who had no independent information. For a time those same video loops fed public confusion about the overall number of bombs. There may have been good reason for local commercial TV stations in the Capital District to dispatch crews to Boston to report from the scene. If one family member learned from these broadcasts that a loved one survived, perhaps it was worth it. But that doesn’t explain the anchor for a local network affiliate who interviewed a Boston Marathon runner Monday evening while strolling with her along the aisles of a Boston market. The sequence, so transparently staged for the camera, exposed the tawdry competition for ratings, a display that argued for less coverage, not more.
The person or persons responsible for these bombs seems to have chosen carefully where and when to detonate them for maximum attention. Unfortunately that twisted mindset doesn’t exempt small communities with far fewer media outlets from becoming the targets of mass murderers, as Newtown reminds us. For a place like Columbia County, where people still gather in person rather than online for all sorts of good reasons, attacks like the Boston bombs indirectly rob us of more than our sense of security. They threaten the principles of trust on which our community engagement depend. We have to work harder now to maintain those bonds. Otherwise we become strangers to each other and lose our place in the world.
On Monday night I spoke to a healthcare provider at one Boston hospital, who described a grim situation there, particularly so because of the children with horrifying injuries rushed to the emergency department from the marathon finish line. What I heard raised the question again of what depravity leads someone treat children with such disregard. But I had trouble picturing the scene at the hospital because another image kept intruding in my thoughts: the Associated Press photo of 11 Afghan children who died a week earlier in a coalition bombing raid in Kunar province near the Pakistan border.
The circumstances could not have been more different. The Afghan children were caught in the middle of a battle. American forces were under fire. The Taliban suspect our troops and Afghan forces targeted was in the house with the children and was killed too. The troops were doing what our nation asked of them. Afghanistan is at war, and we, here, are at peace. The bomber is just as likely to be a native-born U. S. citizen as a foreign terrorist for all I know. But with all that said, a line of children’s bodies, dead from the intentional violence of adults gives you a window on how others might share our revulsion and outrage when children are the victims.
Trying to equate the evil of a terrorist bomber with the horrific results of a battlefield miscalculation is futile. The point is not to manufacture a calculus of moral equivalence. Think instead about the survival of our species.
I mourn with the people of Boston and its suburbs and resolve to participate in making it, like New York City, a safer, even more attractive city than it already is. Boston is, for now, a local story. But the bigger story, local in the same sense that breathing and eating are local, we’d better turn our attention to what will keep our children–all our children–alive and thriving or we won’t have a future to worry about.