fb-pixel Skip to main content

ThE PERPETRATOR or perpetrators behind the two bombs that exploded within a few seconds of each other near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon are still unknown. But there are working theories. Terrorists often plan their strikes on anniversaries and commemorative dates. Yesterday marked both a patriotic holiday in Massachusetts and Israel Independence Day, which raises the possibility of Islamic terrorism. April 15 is also the deadline for filing federal taxes, which suggests the possibility of homegrown, anti-tax extremists. The pathological possibilities abound at this point.

The Marathon is an uplifting event. It is also a made-for-terrorism event. The presence of live television crews ensures that the evil deed will be broadcast almost immediately throughout the world. Reports indicate that at least three people died as a result of the explosions and more than 120 were injured, some horribly.

The image of the dead and wounded will be burned into the memory of Americans for decades to come. Thousands of spectators had lined the route to celebrate the greatness of the human spirit. Instead they were plunged into the depths of human depravity.

The immediate response by police and public safety personnel appeared fast and skillful. But any event of this type requires the deepest operational analysis. The devices were placed in areas designed to create maximum harm despite the presence of numerous security and event officials. It is also a failure in intelligence. Bomb-sniffing dogs and technological surveillance will always have their limitations. Good intelligence is the most effective protection against large terrorist networks, small cells, and lone wolves alike. Police officials in Boston say they didn’t have a warning.

Marathon Day shows Boston at its most expansive and convivial. Spectators offer cheer and hydration to runners. And the bonhomie doesn’t end along the race route. Commuters on the Red Line were applauding finishers yesterday as they entered subway cars still wrapped in their thermal blankets. Hearty congratulations were extended to a 68-year-old man still dressed in his shorts and marathon jersey. Marathon Day has always been a day of universal acceptance in Boston. No one could have imagined what was taking place on the surface a short distance away.


Perhaps this isn’t the time for sports metaphors. But it is impossible not to think about the ability of marathoners to match strength with exhaustion and hope with despair. Now an entire city will be called on to show the same mettle.


Lawrence Harmon can be reached at harmon@globe.com.