Tragedy at the Boston Marathon

bostonmarathon1Boston, April 17, 2013—Two days later, still stunned by the horrific scene of two bombs scattering the festive crowds cheering runners crossing the finish line of the 117thrunning of the Boston Marathon, residents of the Boston area are left asking, “Why?”

No one has yet stepped forward to claim responsibility. No suspects have been named. Authorities report that no inkling of prior threats had come to their attention beforehand. (Breaking: “Investigators believe they have identified a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing from security video and an official statement was expected later in the day, a law enforcement source said on Wednesday.”—Chicago Tribune)

A twelve-block area of the busy downtown business district
remains closed off as investigators continue to comb the area for evidence and clues.

Evidence is also being collected from the bodies of victims who remain hospitalized, some undergoing multiple surgeries to stem damage and to remove shrapnel. 3 people are reported dead so far—including an 8-year-old child—and 176 injured, at least 17 critically. Many victims lost limbs, or parts of limbs, from the blasts. At least 10 underwent surgical amputations.

Investigators now say they have determined the nature of the home-made weapons used: 1.6-gallon pressure cooker pots with tight-fitting lids, filled with black powder, nails, and metal balls, possibly triggered by electronic fuses. The devices were left on the sidewalk—in the midst of crowds of spectators—hidden inside black nylon duffel bags, and then set off either remotely or by time delay. The lid of one device was found on a rooftop. But the low-lying bombs delivered their greatest force near to the ground, yielding mainly grisly leg injuries.

Patriots’ Day is a state holiday in Massachusetts, commemorating the 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord and “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” marking the beginning of the American Revolutionary War against British colonial rule. While reenactments of the battle in those nearby towns draw many spectators, the centerpiece of the annual celebration is the Boston Marathon.

23,336 runners of all ages from every state and from 72 other countries started the race Monday morning. Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the roadways making up the 26.2-mile course to cheer on the participants. Tens of thousands packed the urban area surrounding the finish line in downtown Boston, many waiting to congratulate friends and family members who successfully complete the grueling run, the crown jewel of competitive long-distance running.

For several years, this writer worked just one block away from the bombing scene, and knows well the air of excitement and jubilation in the press of the immense crowds populating the area around the finish line of the Boston Marathon. While we are still without an explanation for what happened and why, there can be no justification for such a cowardly deed as this.

The first mortal victim of the blasts was identified as 8-year-old Martin Richard, whose photograph has been circulated widely. The photo shows Martin holding a poster he made at school, reading “No more hurting people,” and “Peace.” Martin’s mother remains hospitalized with a brain injury, and his 6-year-old sister lost a leg.

29-year-old Krystle Campbell, the daughter of a member of Local 26 of the UNITE HERE union, was the second person identified.

The third death was that of Lu Lingzi, 23, of Shenyang, China. She was a Boston University graduate student.

bostonmarathon3One widely distributed photo showed 27-year-old Jeff Bauman, both legs wounded beyond repair, being wheeled to the medical tent accompanied by a man in a cowboy hat, Carlos Arredondo. Arredondo is Costa Rican by birth, lost one son in the Iraq War in 2004 and another to a subsequent and related suicide, and has since then become a well-known activist against the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bauman is now recovering from the double amputation.

Arredondo is just one of many who sprang into action immediately to assist those struck down by the initial blast.

Indeed, solidarity with both the injured and with the stranded runners, left shivering and without contact or resources, was immediately forthcoming from onlookers and residents along the marathon’s course.

One runner was quoted by the Boston Globe:

“Very quickly most runners understood the severity of it,” said Gates, who was running her ninth Boston Marathon and 43rd overall marathon. “They were glad we were safe and put themselves in the big picture right away.”

She said she asked a spectator to borrow a cell phone so she could alert family that she was OK.

“I’ve never seen such generosity,” she said. “On the way back I got multiple offers from college students to use their cell phone or asked if I wanted water or coffee.”

And another:

“People in this city have been unbelievable,” said Glenn Sheehan, 50, a runner born in Wakefield and now lives in South Carolina. ‘Let me give you food, let me give you water’—it’s been like that all afternoon.”

Numerous tweets to illustrated some of the outpouring of support:

“Runner just told me he’s been stopped numerous times by Bostonians asking if he needs a bed or a shower.”

“Seconds after the bomb, before the smoke cleared, people were tearing down the barriers to help, to assist, to save.”

“In just under an hour, over 2,000 people have volunteered to take people in if they need help.”

“Due to the generosity of our donors we don’t need blood at this time.—RedCross.”

The Boston Athletic Association’s medical tent, staffed with volunteer medical personnel to minister to exhausted and dehydrated marathoners, was suddenly transformed into a field hospital. Runners who were also doctors and nurses volunteered on the spot, and quickly shifted into action.

The Boston Globe reported:

Roupen Bastajian, a state trooper from Smithfield, R.I., had just finished the race when he heard the explosions.

‘‘I started running toward the blast. And there were people all over the floor,” he said. “We started grabbing tourniquets and started tying legs. A lot of people amputated. … At least 25 to 30 people have at least one leg missing, or an ankle missing, or two legs missing.”

At Massachusetts General Hospital, Alasdair Conn, chief of emergency services, said: “This is something I’ve never seen in my 25 years here … this amount of carnage in the civilian population. This is what we expect from war.”

boston marathon2It was like a war scene, but with an unknown adversary. Speculation has run the gamut here, with right-wing commentators spewing their usual racist garbage, but the predominant sentiment has been not to jump to conclusions, but rather to wait and see what evidence turns up.

In this situation, political authorities have been, in the main, reticent about casting blame. Boston Police Chief Ed Davis made it a point several times in the immediate aftermath Monday evening to debunk false press reports of the arrest of a young Saudi student as a suspect. He was, in fact, a victim of the bombing, and is considered a witness.

President Obama, as well, used very measured terms in his initial address on the bombing, even pointedly avoiding using the terms “terror” and “terrorist.”

One reason for the hesitation to blame a foreign connection is that Patriots’ Day fell on federal tax day this year: the day U.S. income tax payments are due. This date has been a target for right-wing political activity in the past. It is close to the date on which the murderous assault on the Branch Davidian religious cult in Waco, Texas, was ordered by Janet Reno, then-President Bill Clinton’s Attorney General, killing 76 men, women, and children on April 19, 1993. That was marked two years later by the right-wing revenge bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and injuring 680. The suspicion of possible domestic right-wing involvement in the Boston bombing has been heightened in the last 24 hours by the interception of ricin-laced letters addressed to U.S. Senator Richard Wicker and to President Obama. Ricin is a natural poison with no known cure.

Authorities have also stepped up security measures in public transportation and buildings. Boston commuters were advised by Governor Deval Patrick Monday night to expect snap searches of their belongings at any time. One flight from Boston to Chicago was delayed yesterday, as two men were removed for questioning, returned to the flight, and then ejected from the aircraft, reportedly because other passengers were alarmed by their subsequent agitation and their speaking in a foreign language.

But the Monday bombings, in the midst of a massive police presence, illustrate that no amount of regimentation or suspension of civil liberties is capable of preventing this sort of vile act. The means and the knowledge to build and deploy such weapons is freely available. There can never be enough surveillance to prevent further occurences, and never enough cops to monitor us all. And as long as the present social conditions—of tremendous wealth beside abysmal poverty—exist that produce deep alienation, racism, physical abuse, violence, and untreated mental illness, a safe and secure existence for all will remain out of reach.

Ironically, the final mile of the 26.2-mile marathon course was dedicated to the 26 victims of the Newtown, CT, elementary school massacre. As we explained at that time:

People worldwide are profoundly and justifiably saddened and outraged that so many innocent children and teachers have had their lives so senselessly snuffed out. President Obama himself had to hold back tears when speaking to the press about this incident. And yet, incidents of mass violence, rape, torture, and murder are the reality of daily life for millions of people around the planet, a reality that is very often a direct result of Obama’s foreign policy. With this horrific attack, the barbarism that stalks so much of the world has forced its way into the placid, affluent community of Newtown, a small town like so many others around the country. Nowhere is safe as capitalism sinks deeper and deeper into crisis, bringing with it ever more tragic consequences.

It is only the developing and extending the kind of human solidarity shown by many of the people of Boston in the immediate aftermath of this horror that we can eliminate the scourge of terrorism. This means standing together against all and any injustice. This means standing in solidarity with all other victims, worldwide, of the kind of violence we experienced Monday. It means calling to order our government’s use of drone weapons against civilian populations in Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. And this means, most of all, building a Marxist leadership for the working class so that it can utilize its strength to finally liberate humanity from the decaying society that capitalism has delivered us.

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