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This Is What Patriotism Is For

I can’t pretend to know even a fraction of the fear and helplessness that lie in the wake of a disaster like this. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to have my peace of mind shattered in an instant, to walk around my city not knowing if I will find a bomb waiting around the corner. I hope I never know these things. But having a personal connection to Boston, slight though it may be, makes this just a little more real for me.

I have relatives who have gone to college in Boston; I have relatives who live there. I lived in Boston once, for my fourth grade year. The first sports teams I rooted for were the Red Sox and the Patriots. In April of that year, I watched the Boston marathon near our house in Newton— a neighborhood where an unexploded device was found shortly after the bombing. That was my neighborhood once. It has no grand, national importance; it is not a great symbol, the way the Twin Towers were. It does not offer itself up as a natural target. Attempting to strike random areas of Boston (the marathon not included) seems to say: “You are not safe anywhere, not even in your own homes.”

To me, that is the most devastating aspect of this tragedy: the targets seem chosen more out of wild vitriol than cold calculation. Yes, this happened on Patriot’s Day (and Tax Day). Yes the Boston Marathon is an American icon. But the field of runners is conspicuously international; the Boston Marathon is just one race on a worldwide circuit. Even the primary targets, the spectators, were there for reasons personal rather than patriotic. In my mind, this must be the result of true madness, true unpredictability, and that terrifies me.

This kind of feeling is self-perpetuating. It isolates and it sows distrust. That is no accident; acts of terror are meant to hit the psyche hard enough to break its resolve. It is vital, as the physical dust settles in the aftermath, that we remember the battle is a mental one. The true absurdity of fighting a war on terror with bullets is that it can only be won with brains.) If we allow ourselves to become cynical and adopt defeatism, then we lose.

This is exactly what patriotism is for. It is a safety net as important as Social Security, but it protects us psychologically instead of physically. The ideals of freedom, liberty, and equality—as vague and unfulfilled as they are—provide a positive focal point at a time when we desperately need one. This is not to say I am blindly pro-American. But right now is no time to level critiques at American culture. Right now, we need something to keep our heads up, a sort of ideological glue that can keep our country together.

Written by Ezer Smith’13



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