Richard Parker: After Boston -- The Banality of Shock and Sentiment

tags: The Nation, Richard Parker, public opinion, Boston Marathon bombing



Richard Parker,a Nation editorial board member, is an Oxford-trained economist who teaches at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He serves as an adviser to Prime Minister Papandreou. He is the biographer of John Kenneth Galbraith.

...My parents lived through the Depression and Second World War; they’d been children in the First World War; and they’d taught us in the Cold War fifties and sixties not to be fearful but to be brave—and quiet about our bravery. When President Kennedy was assassinated, we all wept—but I don’t remember Walter Cronkite offering therapeutic advice to viewers or Lyndon Johnson keening on about “our” suffering and fears.

After the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, there was no maudlin outpouring of “understanding,” no calls for us to hug our children or for our parents to hug us. The Secret Service agents who threw themselves over Kennedy’s slumped body and raced his open limousine to Parkland Hospital, the colleagues of King who cradled him in his last moments on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel or the people who grabbed Sirhan Sirhan and disarmed him in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel weren’t hailed for their “unbelievable courage as first responders,” or held up as icons for veneration. Instead they were respected—quietly respected—for doing what was expected. They had been brave—they knew it, we knew it. That was enough.

Almost everything about the press’s and officialdom’s reactions has struck one false note after another this past week. What happened in Boston was horrific? Really? Hiroshima was horrific; Dresden was horrific; Dachau and Auschwitz, they were horrific.

What happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon was truly terrible, deeply saddening and a loss we all should mourn—three people, undeserving of their fate, were murdered, and 170 more were injured, mangled in some cases like my son’s schoolmate. Yet the death count was one-tenth of 1 percent of the World Trade Center’s on 9/11—or for that matter, at Pearl Harbor on December 7....




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