In the years following the 9/11 attacks, the Review-Journal editorial board asked a standard question during its meetings with various officials, especially candidates for federal office: Would the Bill of Rights survive another major terrorist strike on American soil?
Tellingly, no one ever provided a convincing answer in the affirmative. No one ever said, “Without question, our precious freedoms will remain intact, no matter where or how terrorists might strike.” Responses ranged from uncertainty to acknowledgement that our unalienable rights — bestowed upon us by our Creator, not our government — would be in peril. Tellingly, the answers and expressions of those officials conveyed grave worry.
They knew what we all knew. Another unspeakable, unprovoked act of violence against innocent people would happen again in this country. It was not a matter of if, but when.
That moment arrived Monday, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, where two bombs exploded about 10 seconds and 100 yards apart. The blasts killed three people and injured about 180, many of them critically. Investigators believe the bombs were built inside pressure cookers loaded with ball bearings, nails and BBs and hidden in backpacks, according to Tuesday reports. The devices worked as intended, causing devastating injuries to dozens of spectators in a scene that resembled a Middle East war zone.
The anguish and anger felt around the world were too familiar. It’s hard to believe it has been 12½ years since the 9/11 attacks. The vigilance Americans have maintained in the aftermath of those strikes has prevented other domestic bombings. Men who tried to blow up commercial airliners with explosives packed into underwear and shoes were subdued by passengers. Bombs intended to kill innocents at a Spokane, Wash., parade and at New York’s Times Square were found and disabled in recent years.
But the next terrorist attack finally has happened, in one of the most terrible ways imaginable: using our freedoms against us. The people who were killed or wounded were gathered in a public place, exercising their right to peaceful assembly, in a setting where everyone was free to stand and cheer or keep moving to another destination. It was a joyous moment, where friends and family members were gathered to see recreational runners fulfill their dreams of finishing the Boston Marathon. No one needed a ticket to watch these athletes. No one was searched or patted down.
Although the Boston Marathon is one of this country’s signature sporting events, such unrestricted public gatherings happen all the time in every town in America. Whether we’re shopping or attending a parade, an outdoor festival or a youth sporting event, we come together and share experiences without government interference, without fear of being searched and questioned simply for going about daily life.
We remain the freest people in the world, which creates infinite opportunities for terrorists bent on causing death and destruction. As impossible as it is to anticipate where, when and how terrorists might strike again, it is not difficult to predict how our elected officials will respond to such attacks: We already know, post-9/11, that they are willing to sacrifice our liberties if they believe we’ll feel safer.
We are more than willing to line up like sheep at our airports and endure physical and electronic searches of ourselves and our possessions to be able to get on an airplane. We let federal agents pull aside grandmothers in wheelchairs and infants sleeping in car seats for pointless pre-flight scrutiny. And we have not risen en masse to protest Patriot Act provisions that give authorities wide latitude to listen to our conversations, monitor our computer usage and financial transactions, execute “sneak and peek” search warrants and track our movements — even when such snooping is far removed from any terrorism investigation.
The 9/11 attacks were carried out by evil men who exploited vulnerabilities in our air travel system, and as a result, catching a flight will never again be as convenient or enjoyable. At least those who don’t want to fly can choose to drive or travel by another means — or choose to not travel at all. Thankfully, Monday’s Boston attack did not claim nearly as many lives as the 9/11 strikes, but the bombings bring far more potential ramifications for our everyday lives. Will we see a greater police presence at public events? Will we see more bomb-sniffing dogs? Will we be forced to endure more security screenings and checkpoints to enter public spaces? Will we allow the Bill of Rights to be torn up if we think it might prevent more senseless carnage?
This is precisely what terrorists seek to accomplish. They want us to be afraid as we go through our routines. They want us avoid the events and activities that define our way of life. They want us to be less free. They know if we lose our liberties, our prosperity will disappear with them.
We must mourn and pray for the victims in Boston. We must salute the brave civilians and emergency responders who rushed to aid the hurt and the dying. We must bring anyone behind this slaughter to justice. And we must remain watchful for the next enemy who would do us harm. But above all else, we must remind our elected and appointed leaders that regardless of how we respond to threats and violence against us, we insist on remaining a free people. Too many Americans have fought and died for our liberty to surrender the slightest bit more.