Reactions to the Boston Marathon bombing have varied, but three stand out for me. First, there is the hand wringing. Reuters published an opinion by Anne Taylor Fleming titled, “With the Boston bombing, fear returns.” Fleming “called a friend as soon as I heard. She is a marathon runner but wasn’t in Boston. ‘I love you,’ I said . . . Don’t run anymore.” Fleming lamented that we Americans had held the false “hope that somehow the law enforcement brigades with all their sophisticated equipment and surveillance were going to be able to keep us safe.”
At the other end of the spectrum is the view that we should not be afraid. Security expert and author Bruce Schneier represents this camp. In an interview by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Schneier counsels, “[i]f you are scared, they win. If you refuse to be scared, they lose.” He believes that Americans should:
[R]efuse to be terrorized. Terrorism is a crime against the mind. What happened in Boston, horrific as it is, is theater to make you scared. That’s the point. The message of terrorist attacks is you’re not safe, and the government can’t protect you — that the existing power structure can’t protect you.
And then there’s Gawker.com, which appears to say it’s okay to be afraid, just don’t show it. In an article titled, “We Are All Cowards Now,” Gawker rightly criticizes our darker reactions, such as fear-baiting, tackling Arab people “at the first sign of trouble,” and using dead children to convince everyone they should be scared. Gawker’s takeaway is:
We can talk about fearlessness in the face of violence all we'd like, but as long as we continue doing the above without question, it’s obvious to everyone, terrorists included, that we are scared as all hell.
But there’s a fourth response, which I say is better: Be the Finger. A bit crude, perhaps, but bear with me a moment. First, I'm not saying make a vulgar gesture at anyone. Nor am I saying that we should not be scared; the concept of “should” has no place in this discussion: what happened in Boston was scary – unquestionably – and we’re going to be scared whether we like it or not. So should we deny it, maybe put on a show of false bravado? Perhaps when assuring our young children, but not to each other, the rest of the world – or ourselves.
It is all right to admit that we have fear; fear is neither weakness nor cowardice.
Then what exactly does it mean to Be the Finger? It means become a symbol by doing what Americans have traditionally done in the face of our history’s greatest horrors: we carry on. General George S. Patton understood this:
Every man is scared in his first battle. If he says he’s not he’s a liar. . . . The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared.
So against those who would bully us, strike terror in our hearts, drive us cowering and bleating to our storm cellars; I say, Be the Finger.
“All right, I understand,” you reply. “But do you need to couch it in such . . . such coarse, ugly words? What’s wrong with ‘don’t tread on me,’ or 'keep a stiff upper lip’?” Those are good words, to be sure; but they do not reflect the sensibilities of this current generation of Americans. And what I’m talking about is more than just slinging slogans. It is about being – by our very presence and participation in the future Boston Marathons of the world – a symbol of defiance and resilience as clear and unmistakable as our national bird.
And that is already happening (once again), as shown by this entry in CNN's iReport titled, "Boston Marathon 2014":
I’m a longtime runner. The morning before the bombs hit I joked about running the Marathon next year with a coworker.
We have work to do, all of us. So be afraid. But Be the Finger.
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