Ever since September 11, I have been waiting for a terrorist attack on a major international sporting event. And I remember at the time of 9/11, one of the terrorism experts said: “Don’t expect an attack this year, or next, it could easily be ten or more years down the track when everyone is feeling relaxed about terrorism.”
I suppose I was influenced by the 1975 Thomas Harris novel, Black Sunday, about a plot by terrorists to commit mass murder during a Super Bowl, which was made into a film. It always seemed like fiction until September 11, 2001.
And every time I wait outside of a Swans match at the SCG or ANZ stadium, I wonder what will happen if during a search for booze, they find a bomb instead. Okay, this is a bit far-fetched, but so is an attack on the Boston Marathon, which results in the deaths of spectators, including an 8-year-old boy, and horrific injuries to innocent victims cheering for the runners bringing up the rear in the most famous race of its kind. And to see 78-year-old third-time marathon runner Bill Iffrig knocked down as a result of the blast was also far-fetched (see The Boston Globe photo above and link to his story here: http://bit.ly/109GZi8) But it happened.
Monday was a holiday in Boston, Patriots Day, recalling the part the city played in the American Revolution in the battles of Lexington and Concord and Paul Revere’s ride to Lexington to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock and residents that the British were coming, immortalised in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem:
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,
One, if by land, and two, if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.
And, as often happens on holidays in the US, a sporting event becomes tied in with the celebrations. In this case, the Boston Marathon and the Boston Red Sox baseball team who play in Fenway Park a few blocks from the finishing line at Copley Square. It is the only morning game in the schedule and usually finishes about 2pm – plenty of time for Red Sox fans to walk down to the finishing line to watch the slower runners completing their marathon performance. The Red Sox players and other Boston sporting stars were shocked and devastated when they heard the news. Defensive end for the New England Patriots, Chandler Jones @Chan95Jones, tweeted (the tweets were in The Boston Globe http://www.bostonglobe.com/, which had terrific coverage of the bombing): “It’s crazy because I was supposed to meet one of the runners at the finish line.”
And Shane Victorino @ShaneVictorino of the Boston Red Sox, summed up the feelings of the players and locals:
“Boston is a tough, resilient town and will prevail over this saddening tragedy! #PrayForBoston”
People were calling it Boston’s 9/11, and one of the city’s baseball heroes, Curt Schilling, who helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2004, echoed Victorino’s sentiment: “I was in New York after 9/11 and the one thing that struck me was their sense of pride and the way they responded and reacted to everything … [Bostonians] are a very prideful people. They will dust themselves off … and find a way to rally around this moment like this country always does.”
Going back to my fear of a terrorist attack on a big sporting event like the World Series, Major League Baseball issued a statement: “… Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this horrible occurrence and we are monitoring the situation. The safety of everyone that comes into our ballparks is always our top priority and we will continue to do everything to ensure a safe environment for our fans.”
ESPN broadcast the statement and then threw to a reporter outside the stadium where the Los Angeles Dodgers were playing yesterday and he talked about the long lines behind him where the security staff were checking every bag. He said the LAPD admitted they were “more in presence” than they normally would, but the Dodgers’ management refused to talk about how much security there was. They said: “It is a safe environment.”
So I guess my fears are not that far-fetched after all. It was about 4.30pm on Tuesday that I realised I was getting depressed by watching television and listening to the radio all day … as well as logging in to Twitter and Facebook. On the latter, I heard from my friend Mary who had been to the marathon as a spectator and had a photo of her niece waving to her as she left the starting line. Fortunately, her niece was a mile away from the finishing line when the explosions occurred, but her running partner was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital. There is still no word on the injured runner, but the contrast between the morning happiness and the afternoon tragedy was not lost on Mary. She replied to a friend on Facebook: “The starting line was so incredibly much fun. Can’t believe this has happened.” She also posted the photo below on Facebook with the words: “Let’s never have violence beget violence. Stay strong Boston. You are in our prayers.” Mary, you are in mine. Update: Mary’s back in Vermont raising money for the Boston Marathon victims.
Do I have any solutions? Not really, except in terms of communities coming together to help each other. Shane Victorino and Curt Schilling mentioned it. It happened during 9/11 and the Bali bombings, the recent Queensland and NSW floods, in the Tassie bush fires, to mention just a few. But this happens after the disaster or the terror attack, not before them. Perhaps if people talked to each other before the disasters or tragedies, they could prevent some of them from occurring. Although there was security at the Boston Marathon, there was no way anyone could have prepared for a bomb filled with ball bearings laid at their feet – unless they were expecting it and knew where the bomb would be placed – along a 26.2 mile route.
Boston has been largely open for business today, but parts of it are closed as part of the crime scene. More bags will be searched on public transport and heavily armed police will be out in force.
But like Ground Zero, Copley Square will never be the same; always remembered as a place of terror. But it was also a place of courage. The heroes of the Boston Marathon deserve a memorial … and the words of Massachusetts District Attorney Dan Conley would make a fitting tribute: “Seconds after those bombs went off, we saw civilians running to help the victims right alongside the Boston PD and Boston EMS. In the hours that followed, police and medical personnel from across the region have sent dozens, maybe even hundreds of volunteers to help us here in Boston. That’s what Americans do in times of crisis. We come together and we help one another. Moments like these, terrible as they are, don’t show our weakness, they show our strength.”
Moments like these also remind us, as they did during 9/11, that the world has changed. And from this date forward in Boston, hardly a man (or woman) will be alive who won’t remember this famous day and year – April 15, 2013.