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Our Views: Heroes and ‘losers’

Shock of attacks becoming too common, but acts of bravery always provide hope

POSTED: April 21, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Yet another act of random violence has left us gasping for air in shock and horror.

We have been through this so many times in such a short period. Mass shootings at Columbine, Fort Hood, Aurora, Tucson, Virginia Tech and Newtown. Bombings in Oklahoma City and the Atlanta Olympics. And of course, the Sept. 11 attacks that changed the world.

Our short lull from such horror since the December school massacre in Connecticut was shattered Monday by twin bomb blasts near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The attack left three people dead and more than 180 injured, some horribly maimed by what appeared to be homemade pipe bomb-type explosives packed into pressure cookers.

This has become a disturbingly familiar routine. First comes breaking news headlines that interrupt an otherwise serene spring day. The early reports as the casualties mount, then the search for the culprits. The spattering of information from TV news networks, some right, some wrong, as each scrambles to be first. Later, grieving families, candlelight vigils, a president’s words of comfort. Nerves on edge leading to false alarms as police descend on every backpack or package left unattended. Then the vow to carry on as before, as if we can even remember what “before” felt like.

It gets to the point where our shock reflex no longer goes off as it should. While we share the pain and horror such incidents inflict on our fellow humans, every new occurrence leaves us just a little less stunned than the one before. The senses can only take so much outrage before they numbly react to the news with less ardor each time.

And those senses are dulled further as tragic news piles up through the week: envelopes full of ricin intercepted in Washington; much of a city leveled by a Texas fertilizer plant blast. Then we awake Friday to learn of the violent confrontation in pursuit of the Boston suspects.

It leaves us asking, “what’s next?” and sadly, there’s always a response.

With each horrible event comes the rush to find some way to “prevent” such carnage from recurring. Yet laws can’t block every type of weapon or means of violence dispensed by twisted maniacs with no respect for human life. Guns, bombs, knives, a truckload of fertilizer, box cutters, a hijacked airplane — it doesn’t matter what the implement is as long as some psychotic mind wants to use it to inflict fear and pain.

What needs to be the focus — impossible to prevent, but at least to try and understand better — is the virus of hatred that leads men to commit such acts.

In some cases, it’s political, driven by a cause that leads its followers over a cliff of zealotry. The belief that good and evil are defined by the flag you wave is distilled into jihad, extremism and violence. That could have been the case with these brothers in Boston, though we’ll learn more over time. It also goes for the McVeighs, Rudolphs and others whose loathing of government leads them to destroy innocent civilians to make a point.

How has society spawned such creatures? Islamist extremists have their own agenda, a cult that leads some to strap bombs to themselves and walk into a public square. Others fit a common profile: Loners isolated from society, self-absorbed with their intellectual prowess. Technology becomes their haven, the thrill of violent conquest filling the hole in their empty lives.

Other factors cited for such behavior are an economy that leaves many jobless, desperate and hopeless; disintegration of the family and its support structure; and anti-social behavior fueled by the Internet and violent video games.

The Boston suspects, accurately called “losers” by their uncle, appear to be foreigners who felt alienated in their adopted country and turned against it.

Whether any of these or a combination of them all, we clearly have a deadly 21st century confluence of psychotic tendencies wed with opportunity and information. Which means we may only see the tip of a very large, very terrible iceberg.

But amid that bleak thought, we can take solace in this: With every horrible incident that takes lives senselessly, we see other people rising to the occasion and showing the best of mankind.

We saw it in New York’s first responders who rushed into the burning twin towers to try and rescue those trapped above. We saw it in teachers who risked their own lives to protect students under siege.

We saw it again in Boston, as rescuers and bystanders headed to the aid of the injured after the blasts, not knowing if more improvised deathtraps were waiting. Among those was Dr. Allan Panter of Gainesville, in Boston as his wife, Theresa, competed in the race (read their story today on page 1A). Then came the hard-nosed law officers of the Boston area who caught the suspects Friday.

The heroes still outnumber the demons among us. And while we can’t stop evil narcissists from taking lives, we can ride on the shoulders of the brave ones who rush to the scene, and in doing so keep these acts from driving us to despair.

It’s hard, very hard. It would be easy to throw up our hands some day and let the scoundrels win. Yet we can’t give them the satisfaction. The odds are still in our favor — for every innocent life they take, thousands more will stand against them.

And when their turn comes to leave this world, no one will light a candle or lay a flower to mark their worthless existence.


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