In 2003, I had this deal with my oldest daughter when she spent five months as an exchange student at Hebrew University in Israel.
If there was any terrorist incident — a shooting or a bombing or anything of that nature — she was to call immediately to let her mother and me know she was OK.
She arrived in Jerusalem in July. On Aug. 19, a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up on a double-length bus filled with adults and children returning from a visit to the Western (Wailing) Wall. It was a powerful explosion, murdering seven kids and 16 adults, and injuring 130, including 40 children.
Our daughter dutifully called. She had been in her room at the university when the atrocity occurred. Even as relief swept over me to hear she was OK, I mourned for all those fathers and mothers whose kids weren’t OK. Then a chill went through me when I heard what my daughter said next.
“Daddy,” she said softly, “I could hear the explosion from my room.”
I couldn’t help but remember those words when I thought about the carnage Monday at the Boston Marathon. The Jerusalem bomb and the ones in Boston were both spiked with ball-bearings with the express purpose of maiming as many innocent people as possible, and neither perpetrator minded at all that children would die or have limbs torn off their little bodies.
For those of us here, the horrific scenes in Boston will be hard, if not impossible, to forget, unless, of course, it happens again ... and again ... and again.
And it will. Maybe in Boston, maybe in New York, maybe in Albuquerque, N.M., or in Dubuque, Iowa. But it will happen.
As long as there are evil people for whom the ends justify their twisted means, there will be “soft targets” such as streets, restaurants, churches, synagogues, supermarkets and shopping malls where a bomb isn’t likely to be detected before it maims or kills as many innocent victims as possible.
Is this truly our inevitable future? Isn’t there anything that can be done?
Well, I suppose we could start training children in kindergarten or first grade to recognize and avoid suspicious packages, and we could take note of — or profile — anyone who might look the least bit uneasy or different. The Department of Homeland Security’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign is a first step in that direction.
“You grow up internalizing this thought that there might be terrorists and attacks anywhere and everywhere,” Yoram Peri, director of the Institute of Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, told USA Today. “You walk differently, you look to the sides, you look for people who might be terrorists, you look for packages. You’re more aware, that’s clear.”
In Israel, where Peri grew up, suicide bombings and explosive devices were a way of life. The explosion my daughter heard was the 100th Palestinian suicide bombing since September 2000.
There are far fewer explosions now in Jerusalem. But relative safety has come at a price, both emotional and financial. An effective, if controversial, wall was erected. Ethnic profiling is the norm, terrorist leaders have been killed, a feeling of fatalism is often prevalent, and everywhere there are private security guards protecting businesses.
“Israelis were willing to pay for that,” Peri said. “Coffee shops asked you to pay an extra Shekel (about 28 American cents) for the guard in your check. It was done voluntarily.”
But even if we were willing to do all that in America, there’s no way we could, given the size of this country and its inexhaustible wealth of “soft targets.”
We live in a time when step-by-step bomb-making instructions are easy to find on the Internet, lethal weapons are readily available, and voracious media coverage guarantees that a delusional non-entity can become infamous or a ragtag terrorist organization can achieve notoriety.
Up to now, terror incidents in the United States have been relatively rare. The reason, I believe, is that when there is an Oklahoma City or an Atlanta Olympics or now, tragically, a Boston, Americans act with revulsion. Terrorists — domestic and foreign — are regarded as the fiends that they are, and not the heroes they envision themselves to be.
Sadly, there will be more Bostons. Surely, we must hunt down and punish the guilty. But the most effective thing we can do to discourage attacks is to continue to give voice to our outrage after every insane act of senseless violence.
We need to show that whatever message those terrorist vermin are trying to send, we’re not listening, and if they think they’re scaring us, they’re wrong.
They’re just making us angry.
Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star in Oneonta, N.Y. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.