The purpose of terror is to sow panic, interrupt daily life, change and constrain behavior. But, most importantly, terror is designed to shatter people’s faith in the ability of their government to protect them.
And if a government cannot protect its citizens, if it loses the faith of its citizens, it cannot long endure.
In the lexicon of terror, you and I are “soft” targets. We are easily reached, easily killed, easily maimed because we seek normal lives. We do not live in bunkers or move about in armored vehicles.
We do not avoid public streets. We do not shun others. We mix with them, work with them, shop with them, walk the public streets with them.
Our first instinct is not to fear or hate. Our first instinct is to trust that virtually everyone we interact with on a daily basis means us no harm.
We are Americans. We enjoy the blessings of a free society. We believe our government will, in the rare instances it is called upon to do so, either prevent acts of terror or track down, capture, kill or neutralize those who commit terror against us.
There are those, however, who believe that our government itself is carrying out acts of terror.
The “truthers” believe the U.S. government planted bombs in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, to bring the buildings down so we could wage war in the Mideast. (The jets that crashed into the towers, the truthers believe, were merely window dressing.)
Others believe the government also blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, as part of a conspiracy that involved black helicopters, secret evacuations of top conspirators from the buildings and instructions printed on stop signs with invisible ink.
These people are small in number. But I get the feeling their numbers may not necessarily be dwindling.
A short while after the explosions in Boston on Monday, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick held a news conference in the quite proper belief that flooding the situation with truth is the best antidote to panic-inducing lies. Here is one of the first questions he got:
Question: “Why were the loudspeakers telling people in the audience to be calm moments before the bomb went off? Is this another false flag staged attack [i.e., like 9/11) to take our civil liberties ... ?”
Gov. Patrick: “No. Next question.”
The blood was not yet fully dry on the streets, yet the loonies were already at work, spreading the belief that our government exists not to protect us, but to enslave and even kill us.
It is easy to look at the Boston Marathon bombing and believe we are entering a new era of fear. But it is not the first attack we have endured. Two I have already mentioned.
But don’t forget the fear of anthrax sent by mail once gripped this country, and we got through that. We also got through the Unabomber and Columbine and Virginia Tech and Aurora. Newtown and the slaughter of 20 small children we are still struggling with.
Guns and bombs are related. Both are weapons of swift destruction.
Congress is meeting this week to vote on gun control legislation. Even watered-down, even gutted of key provisions, it is in deep trouble.
And I fear the Boston bombings will set back gun control for three reasons:
First, some will say there are laws against bombing, but that didn’t prevent the marathon bombing and, therefore, laws against violence are useless.
Second, some will say we need to arm ourselves against future bombers. (Though this would not have protected anybody in Boston, where there was already a heavy, armed police presence.)
Third, a few will say government is the enemy and we must arm ourselves against the government.
Think that last one is believed only by whackos?
Here is a Ronald Reagan column from the September 1975 issue of Guns & Ammo:
“The gun has been called the great equalizer, meaning that a small person with a gun is equal to a large person, but it is a great equalizer in another way, too. It insures that the people are the equal of their government whenever that government forgets that it is servant and not master of the governed.”
On Tuesday, President Obama said: “The American people refuse to be terrorized.”
I pray he is correct. This is a time for courage and resolve. This is a time for strength.
This is a time for us to turn toward and not against each other. This is a time for us to turn toward and not against our government.
Stand up. Stand strong. Stand together.
Roger Simon is editor of Politico.