It was a blood bath: three dead, 176 wounded, 17 in critical condition. In 10 cases physicians have had to amputate limbs. For the victims and their families, Monday was a day of death and devastation. But there's trauma and shock that go further. The Boston bombings were an attack on the collective psyche.
The Boston Marathon had always been a wondrous celebration. The oldest annual marathon in the world (begun in 1897), it averages more than 20,000 registered participants each year, draws half a million spectators, and had become over the decades a joyous occasion of community, history and legend. It was in 1936 on "heart break hill" -- part of the course near Boston College -- that defending champion "Johnny" Kelley overtook "Tarzan" Brown, giving him a pat on the shoulder as he passed. The gesture turned out to be electrifying. Brown rallied, passed Kelly and went on to win, breaking Kelly's heart that year.
We admire tenacity and thrive on inspiration. The Boston Marathon offered this.
In Boston on April 18, 2011, Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai ran the fastest marathon ever (2 hours 3 minutes 2 seconds). Margaret Okayo, also from Kenya, set the women's record in Boston in 2002. And then there's the story of Dick and Rick Hoyt. They've been crowd favourites for three decades. This year the two were competing in their 31st Boston Marathon.
"I'll be 73 in June and Rick is 51," said Dick in an interview last week. "Our times are slowing down, but people don't worry about that now because all people want to do is see us out there competing." Dick pushes his son Rick -- who was born with cerebral palsy -- the 26.2 miles each year in a wheelchair.
So much was blackened in the carnage on Monday. "Dispiriting that the plague has come here," wrote a Boston friend of mine in an email.
Theories already abound about the perpetrator(s). Perhaps this was an act of home-grown terrorism. It was this week in 1995 that anti-government zealot Timothy McVeigh and accomplices killed 168 people by detonating a truck bomb outside a federal building in Oklahoma City. Monday was tax day in the U.S. Perhaps the bombings were the work of an anti-tax fanatic? Or maybe the Boston attacks were the work of Islamic extremists: Monday was Israel Independence Day.
I suspect we'll learn a good deal from the forensic experts who are examining what's left of the explosive devices. Wherever the path leads, the assault was certainly carefully planned and exceptionally diabolical in nature. Think about it; runners who had just finished the marathon, suddenly lying in pools of blood without their legs. One man had his foot blown off.
Why this barbarism?
At the time of the 1991 Gulf War a friend of mine posed the question why Saddam Hussein would engage in the militarily useless act of dumping 11 million barrels of Kuwaiti oil into the sea, causing appalling ecological destruction. Pictures of dying cormorants, covered head to toe and drowning in this thick black stuff, were heart wrenching.
What was Saddam's motive? My friend theorized:
"The answer must be that he believes he can hurt us by sheer vandalism. He seems to recognize there is something in our hearts that aches over the sight of destruction--of fellow humans, especially, but even of other creatures or of the Earth itself. He sees this as a weakness that can be exploited because no similar feeling exists in his heart."
This links to Monday's bombings.
Once the killer(s) have been identified we're likely to hear about this or that motive or grievance. Suddenly explanations will abound. Sometimes, though, perhaps it's simply pure evil that we're talking about it. I'm pretty certain that's what we witnessed in Boston.