NEW YORK – “Law enforcement, given a chance, goes hog-wild,” my wife Nancy said. She was talking about one of the consequences of the explosions at the end of the Boston Marathon on April 15. By Friday that week, with the City on a Hill in “lockdown,” photos of black-clad, half-masked, rifle-ready men flooded the Internet.
“Police SWAT teams, sharpshooters and FBI agents descend on an area stretching from Watertown to Cambridge, surrounding buildings,” MSN put it. “Police helicopters buzz overhead and armored vehicles rumble through the streets.”
I didn’t see them at the time, but NPR’s “What It Looked Like From Inside Boston’s Lockdown,” for example, surely showed some tanklike things. I wonder if Bostonians knew their police had militarized to such an extent.
For many, all that must have been a video game run over by gunmen and weapons come true. It was an ironic turn of events for President Barack Obama. Two days after bombs exploded, Obama appeared in the Rose Garden of the White House and said it was “a pretty shameful day.” He didn’t mean the bloody Patriot’s Day in Boston. The Senate had shot down all the measures for gun control.
Ah, guns in America!
Last December, at an elementary school, a 20-year-old wielding a military rifle slaughtered 20 children and six adults. Largely in reaction to it, Obama had made some fuss. None of the proposals to curb gun possession and use, put to the legislative process after being severely winnowed, would have passed muster in most other countries. Yet, all of them failed to garner a sufficient Senate majority.
“Gun-rights” fanatics control this country. They wouldn’t even countenance a “background check.” And one reason they insist on their unfettered rights to own and carry guns, including assault weapons, is the avowed need to protect themselves against any governmental interference with their “freedoms.” You can well imagine how their hearts must have gladdened at the spectacle of heavily armed, menacing government agents prowling the streets of Boston, the Cradle of Liberty.
If that show of force was bewildering, so was the usual media coverage of the bombings and their aftermath. It was so damned predictable. Luckily, however, some observers reacted differently.
“Can the Boston Bombings increase our sympathy for Iraq and Syria, for all such victims?” asked Juan Cole, historian at the University of Michigan. Among his books is “Engaging the Muslim World.”
“Empathy for Boston, from Iraqi children,” an article by Kevin Gosztola was headlined. “Two Iraqi boys express their solidarity with the marathon victims — and offer an example for Americans to follow,” the subtitle said.
The photo that came with it showed two boys with remarkably large eyes holding a handmade poster on which was written “WE MOURN WITH BOSTON” in English on top, in Arabic below.
Wrote Gosztola, a civil liberties blogger for Firedoglake: The day two bombs exploded in Boston, “in the cities of Baghdad, Fallujah and Kirkuk in Iraq, there were ‘serial blasts.’ Fourteen car bombs and three roadside bombs went off. Thirty-three people were killed and over 160 wounded.”
Gosztola brought up Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s characterization of the U.S. as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” It was 46 years ago, at the height of the Vietnam War, and King was discussing “the desperate, rejected and angry young men” in American ghettos.
“The Boston Marathon Bombings, Selective Empathy, and State Worship,” John Glaser headlined his response.
By “selective empathy,” the editor of Antiwar.com meant the fact that “the collective empathy that Americans feel for victims of similar attacks when they are carried out by our own government is virtually zero compared to what is being felt now for Bostonians.”
Sure enough, the front page of the online New York Times on April 17 alone included these headlines: “2 Victims Remembered for Kindness” and “In Grisly Image, a Father Sees His Son.” There was also “Doctors Saved Lives, if Not Legs, in Boston.”
On the same day, the Wall Street Journal had a front-page article with the headline, “The Faces of Tragedy,” with photos of an 8-year-old boy and a 29-year-old woman. The article began: “The face of sorrow had a gap-tooth grin.”
“The Boston Marathon Bombing, Drones and the Meaning of Cowardice,” Barry Lando wrote from Paris. “Cowardice” because, Lando explained, the word has become an epithet in condemning whenever something like this happens domestically. He cited, among others, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis saying: “This cowardly act will not be taken in stride.”
But if you speak of “cowardly,” Lando went on to ask, “What could be more cowardly than for some unknown, unseen, unannounced killer to blow apart and maim innocent men women and children, without any risk to himself?”
The former producer of CBS’ investigative TV program, “60 Minutes,” was referring to Obama’s shameless use of drones and their “pilots” thousands of miles away from the carnage they create. “Over the past few years, U.S. drones have made mincemeat out of an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. At least 200 of them were children.”
“It’s a terrifying situation,” Jennifer Gibson told Lando. Gibson is an American lawyer in London with Reprieve, an organization taking on the “drone war” that can’t be ignored. “There are villages in Pakistan that have drones flying over them 24 hours a day. Sometimes they’ll stay for weeks,” the lawyer said. “It’s terrorizing entire communities.”
I agree with these commentators. Ever since the Persian Gulf War, the first “electronic warfare” that apparently excited a great many American TV viewers, I have always wondered: Would the majority of Americans support — or remain indifferent to — the wars their government constantly wages in far-off lands if their media carried and broadcast photos and videos, day after day, of “shattered bodies, dismembered limbs, severed arteries, frantic aid givers and terrified survivors” (to quote Lando)?
The U.S. media would do no such thing.
On the very day of the Boston bombings, Time carried a series of photos with a “warning”: “Some of the following images are graphic in nature and might be disturbing to some viewers.”
By April 18, the media was already moving toward self-censorship. A headline on the front page of the New York Times that day read: “News Media Weigh Use of Photos of Carnage.”
Hiroaki Sato is a translator and writer in New York. His biography of Yukio Mishima with Naoki Inose, “Persona,” was published last fall.