By Raina Lipsitz
I was not a New Yorker on 9/11. I was a coddled college sophomore, ensconced in a nicely appointed dorm room in New Haven, physically and psychologically far enough away from the city I would later call home to get through it all relatively unscathed. Watching images of the planes crashing into the towers and desperate Manhattanites clutching homemade signs, sick with worry for their missing relatives, I felt despair: what kind of world was this? But although I felt sadness, fear, and intermittent furnace blasts of hopelessness, I did not feel rage.
Why not? Partly because New York was not yet “my” city. And partly because rage felt beside the point; the men who’d crashed the planes were dead too. The United States hadn’t yet found and executed the “mastermind,” but, somewhat nonsensically, that didn’t feel as urgent to me as it would have had the actual hijackers escaped unharmed. My politics also made anger unlikely: I wanted the surviving “bad guys” to be caught and tried in court, but I don’t believe in the right of governments to assassinate or execute individual people. And I believed that my government had blood on its hands (which doesn’t mean I think we “deserved” 9/11; merely that I think acts of terror are never justified, whether they consist of U.S. soldiers bombing women and children in foreign villages or a band of extremists flying planes into American buildings).
I am not a Bostonian. But for reasons I don’t fully understand, the Boston marathon bombings—the latest act of terror in an increasingly terrifying world—pushed me past some internal tipping point. For the first time, I felt rage.
I fantasized about being there when the police caught and interrogated the men who did this. I pictured neo-Nazi perpetrators (the least sympathetic kind I could imagine), big, angry, male cops, and an extremely rough interrogation (even in my revenge fantasies, I am rarely the violent one). I thought about how much I’d enjoy watching terror bloom in the eyes of the skin-headed bastards cold-blooded enough to blow up an 8-year-old.
And then, last Friday morning, I saw photos of the suspects (one of whom had already been shot and killed by the police). I saw their faces. And while my rage didn’t disappear, its intensity faded. The suspect they hadn’t caught as of last Friday morning reminds me of my 21-year-old brother (big, bewildered eyes, tousled hair, dark complexion). The suspect they hadn’t yet caught is 19 years old.
19-year-olds can be dangerous. They can be murderers. But they can’t be more than 19 years old. A 19-year-old is a 19-year-old, for better or worse, in rich countries and poor. And an 8-year-old killed by a bomb is an 8-year-old killed by a bomb, whether that bomb was planted by Chechen terrorists in Boston or by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan or Vietnam or Japan. Somebody’s baby is somebody’s baby.
It’s not that I didn’t want the 19-year-old who appears to have planted one of the Boston bombs to be caught. But, having seen his face, I badly wanted him to be caught and tried rather than tortured and killed. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if no 8-year-olds were ever bombed while standing on their streets or playing in their backyards, no matter what country they live in?
It’s hard not to feel that this is a lousy world. But rage doesn’t make it better. Revenge doesn’t make us safer. And hating the people who do things like this doesn’t reduce the number of people who do things like this. Tempering legitimate anger with compassion, which is far more difficult to summon, might help. It’s worth trying.