Rob Farley over at LGM makes two key points about the bombings that are worth passing along:
1. Our thoughts are with anyone injured in the bombing.
2. Initial reports are very likely to be wrong; this is inevitable, and does not mean that a conspiracy is afoot.
I’d add a few others about terrorism:
1. The President should not be criticized for not calling, initially, the Boston attack a “terrorist” bombing. As the Washington Post reports, he “was careful not to use the words ‘terror’ or ‘terrorism’ as he spoke at the White House Monday after the deadly bombings, but an administration official said the bombings were being treated as an act of terrorism.”
Although forests have been cleared debating the definition of terrorism, a good definition I use is that terrorism is the intentional targeting of (or threat to target) innocent non-combatant civilians with physical violence for political ends by non-state actors. Given this definition and a lack of anyone apparently claiming public responsibility at the time, the President was likely not sure that this was at attack with political ends as opposed to criminal behavior. Therefore, circumspection and caution was warranted in his speech even as the administration worked to figure out what happened and who was responsible.
2. Given my working definition above, I would argue that the old saying that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is ridiculous. It is never morally acceptable in my view to intentionally target innocent non-combatant civilians with physical violence for political ends. And anyone interested in freedom properly deplores such attacks and anyone engaging in such actions is not a true freedom fighter. Of course, many governments around the world find it advantageous to call insurgents fighting against them terrorists but that doesn’t hold water (the Patriots at Lexington and Concord, for example, were not terrorists by my definition). This case was a pretty pure case of targeting innocents. So if there was a political agenda of any sort behind these attacks, we should properly label the perpetrators terrorists and the appropriate level of government should punish them to the fullest extent of the law (and, of course, if there was not a political agenda behind the attacks, the government should punish the criminals behind it).
3. If the attack was committed by terrorists, we need to remember that law enforcement and public resilience are two of the best means for winning the “global war on terrorism” (yes, I know, we don’t call it that anymore).