BOSTON IS A beautiful, wonderful city. It is special and different in the sense that every American city is special and different: it has things – history, demography, geography, architecture, etc. — that no other American city has. Like other cities, it has many wonderful people. It also has many not-so-wonderful people. Anyone who spent time in parts of Boston during the school segregation fights can attest to the reality that there are some ugly, ugly people in that town.
And while Boston may be all those things and more, it is not unique, not in the sense that many politicians and commentators have been trying to convince us over the past week. That is in how it reacted to the marathon bombings, and in how it will rebound. The bombers, President Obama told us, “picked the wrong city,” as if there is a right or easy city for terrorists to target. Would the bombers have been smarter by choosing Houston or Des Moines or Bismarck — because people there are wimps?
Many, including the president, have told us that Bostonians, because they are Bostonians, will not be deterred; they will pick up the pieces and march – or run – on. Others have raved about how civil and civic-minded Bostonians reacted to the bombings and the dramatic search for the killers. There were no calls for suspension of civil liberties, one writer marveled.
All of that is fine, except that their claim is that how Boston handled this crisis is unique because Boston is unique. And that is paired with the implication that no other city in the world would have done it that way. Which is utter nonsense. Many cities have dealt nobly, and with grander gestures, with similar – or worse – crises. New York, just a few short hours west of Boston, was tested mightily nearly 13 years ago when it was forced to deal with a man-made disaster few imagined possible, involving the deaths of thousands of innocent people. San Francisco, Chicago and Galveston were nearly destroyed by disasters, natural and man-made. West Coast cities have dealt with earthquakes, Midwest cities with tornadoes and flooding and Gulf and Atlantic Coast cities with hurricanes. In all cases, the people of those cities or towns have demonstrated immeasurable courage and resiliency and kindness and charity, and they have rebuilt their cities.
To say that Bostonians, because they are Bostonians and therefore unique and special, will fight back to restore normalcy in their city is to engage in dishonesty. They are fighting back and engaging in extraordinary acts of charity and community-building because they are people, just as people all over the country – and indeed, all over the world – do. Human beings are naturally wired to act in ways that ensures their survival, and if rebuilding, taking care of neighbors, and making certain that the rules of co-existence are observed is what will help ensure their survival, that’s what they will do. Not just in Boston, but everywhere.
I UNDERSTAND THAT in times of tragedy and loss we often feel compelled to stretch the truth a bit in the interest of helping survivors better cope with their grieving and shock over horrendous events. And, yes, I understand the need by many all over this country to reassure Bostonians that things will get better, that life will go on. But we can do that without lying to them and to ourselves. Things will get better, not because Bostonians are unique or stronger or more civic-minded than the rest of us, but because Bostonians are humans — and as humans they will do whatever is necessary to ensure that things will indeed get better. That is what we can and should celebrate and extol.