Tragedy–and recognizing tragedy as tragedy

Someone on Facebook wrote, apparently not publicly,

I got caught up in the news again about Boston. I saw a photo of SWAT members holding Dzhokar Tsarnaev down some time after his capture. The image of his shirt pulled up to his chest exposing his soft, hairless, 19 year old’s belly is an image that caused a flurry of emotions/ideas to well up in me. He looked so soft, so weak, so tender, and so young surrounded by all these men dressed in tactical gear and carrying cold black weapons. This child, acted out a path of madness. It is cosmologically starling that this is the face of evil acts in our time. What is this story we are all living in?

Apart from a widely published presumption of guilt, s/he’s right. My mother was watching live coverage on television that included Tsarnaev’s capture. The neighbors cheered—as if any of this was something to celebrate. But no, three people are dead and at least 170 injured—some maimed—as pressure cookers rigged with shrapnel exploded sixteen seconds apart near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.[1] A story loaded with the all-too-typical shocked family and friends, denying that the brothers could have done it, mentioned that the younger, Dzhokhar, could be manipulated by the older, Tamerlan.[2]

Dzhokhar, a handsome teenager with a wry yearbook smile, was liked and respected by his classmates at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where celebrities likeBen Affleck andMatt Damon had walked the halls before him. A classmate remembered how elated he seemed on the night of the senior prom. Wearing a black tuxedo and a red bow tie, he was with a date among 40 students who met at a private home before the event to have their photos taken, recalled Sierra Schwartz, 20. . . .

For Tamerlan, life seemed more difficult.[3]

It is far too likely that we, that is, those of us who do not satisfy ourselves with the narrative that Tamerlan is dead and Dzhokar has been captured, will be left to wonder: “What no one who knew them could say was why the young men, immigrants of Chechen heritage, would set off bombs among innocent people.”[4] Assuming Dzhokar is found guilty, he will likely spend many years in prison. That is nothing to celebrate either, for prison, at least in and of itself, cannot make a person better.[5]

That’s why I think so highly of that posting on Facebook. Nobody will be brought back to life by what happens now. No one will get their legs back. No one who has been injured will be uninjured. A lot of human beings were hurt—some killed—and no amount of official retribution will reverse the harm. It sounds trite to say: Yes, certainly it would have been better if the bombing had not happened. But are we seriously looking into the causes of this event? Are we seriously looking at preventing something like this from ever happening again? Or are we really just accepting it as one more episode in an unending stream of violence in a violent society?

  1. [1]Katharine Q. Seelye, Eric Schmitt, and Scott Shane, “Boston Bombs Were Loaded to Maim,” New York Times, April 16, 2013,
  2. [2]Erica Goode and Serge F. Kovaleski, “Boy at Home in U.S., Swayed by One Who Wasn’t,” New York Times, April 19, 2013,
  3. [3]Goode and Kovaleski, “Boy at Home in U.S.”
  4. [4]Goode and Kovaleski, “Boy at Home in U.S.”
  5. [5]Fielding Dawson, No Man’s Land (Sebastopol, CA: Times Change, 2000); Peter Kropotkin, “Prisons and Their Moral Influence on Prisoners,” in The Essential Kropotkin, eds. Emile Capouya and Keitha Tompkins (New York: Liveright, 1975); Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (New York: Random House, 2008).

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