Boston police patrol near the finish line of the Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Updated: May 20, 2013 7:48PM
In trying to understand the human journey, historians discern “ages” of mankind. In his nearly a dozen “The Story of Civilization” books, Will Durant wrote of “The Age of Faith” and “The Age of Reason Begins.” Page Smith started his series of books on U.S. history with a two-volume set declaring “A New Age Now Begins.” Will future historians look back on our days and see an “Age of Terror”?
For all the shock and outrage arising out of the Boston bombings, there was also a depressing familiarity. We’d seen it before, and more than once, in truth many times. The images of bloodied victims, of panicked survivors running from the destruction, of first-responders and brave individuals charging into danger to help the wounded. The sounds of screams and crying, the wailing sirens of ambulances and law enforcement vehicles. The denunciations of the terrorists as cowards. The inspiring voices declaring we are resilient and this attack will not change our lives. The vows to bring the miscreants to justice.
And it’s been going on for decades. Forty years ago, Palestinian gunmen charged a Rome airport and a Pan Am jetliner, killing 32 people. In 1985, Arab terrorists hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean, shot 69-year-old Leon Klinghoffer and pushed him in his wheelchair into the sea in front of his wife. The first World Trade Center attack came in 1993. Two years later home-grown terrorist Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children under the age of 6, in the worst terror attack on American soil before the 3,000 deaths in the 9/11 attacks. After that came London, Madrid, Mumbai. During the last decade, Israel endured years of terrorist attacks ranging from suicide bombings to lynchings. Places as far-flung as Bali and Bulgaria have suffered terrorism.
Not that terrorism is new. Anarchists turned to the “propaganda of the deed” with guns and bombs in the 19th century. The Ku Klux Klan spread terror through horrific lynchings and others acts during the Jim Crow era. Hijackings of commercial jetliners began in the 1960s with the early destination of Cuba.
Terror is the tactic of the weak. Be it monsters like McVeigh with his grievances against the federal government. Or Islamist radicals like al-Qaida at war with the West and modernity but unable to muster the numbers or the resources to challenge the United States on the battlefield. Or the likes of Bill Ayers who gagged on the silver spoon born in his mouth and sought revenge against American society.
Terrorism turns the technology that enriches our lives against us. Jetliners that transport us to wonderful locales around the globe became guided missiles on Sept. 11, 2001. Explosives used to mine minerals vital to our smart phones are essential to the terrorists. A household product as simple as a pressure cooker was warped into a bomb in Boston.
Yet, technology may help catch the Boston killers. Police pored over thousands, maybe millions, of images from cellphones and other devices. The surveillance cameras that have popped up all over Chicago may be, for all the Big Brother fears, a warning to would-be terrorists that they can’t escape detection.
Terrorism has turned a trip through the airport into a degrading nightmare. We may yet see those sometimes humiliating security measures expanded to other places.
The biggest technological threat comes from the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the fear that a rogue state such as North Korea, which has them, or Iran, which wants them, might turn over an atomic bomb to terrorists. A terrorist-delivered mushroom cloud over one of the world’s glittering cities would seal our epoch as the Age of Terror.