Boston Marathon: War Continues

Finishing a marathon calls for jubilation – hugs from spouses and friends, cold libations, smiles exchanged with fellow finishers all are in order – maybe even explosions. Cannon fire and bugle calls, after all, have celebrated the pre-dawn start of Honolulu’s annual 26.2-mile run; why not end a marathon with them, as well?

Certainly the tired runners nearing the finish of last week’s Boston marathon, the country’s most storied running event, might seem nonplussed at first by an explosion marking the end of their ordeal. But when that 78-year-old runner in red crumpled to the pavement and a second explosion sent white smoke billowing into the afternoon sky, cheers of jubilation turned to screams of horror.

As I write, no one’s claimed credit for the three dead, the limbs severed and the total of 140-plus wounded by the homemade black-powder bombs. No one needs to. All who watched the recorded images of the explosions thought: “al-Qaida! It’s got to be al-Qaida!”

We live in a post-9/11 world. The two hijacked airliners plowing into the towers of the World Trade Center, the third destroying a section of the Pentagon and the fourth plowing into a Pennsylvania field remade our national consciousness.

We were violated, and we violated in return, launching the longest war in our history in Afghanistan and a warrantless, but no less bloody, war in Iraq. Innocent Americans died Sept. 11, 2001, and innocents have died in Afghanistan and Iraq in the years since. We call it, bloodlessly, “collateral damage.”

Since 9/11, our vigilance has kept us from harm. Endless airport scans of our bodies and our baggage and suspicion of an illegally parked car in Times Square have helped. Post-9/11, mentally unstable young men with large-capacity clips in Virginia, Colorado, Arizona and Connecticut have slaughtered more Americans than have Islamic terrorists.

Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 with promises to withdraw American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan; he’s delivered on Iraq, and in 2014 the last Americans will depart Afghanistan.

During his 2012 election campaign, Obama crowed about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. He did it, his supporters argued, with the CIA and well-trained Navy SEALs.

Obama will continue his war on terrorism not with armies, but with pilotless drones hitting targets where those who would do the United States harm are found. When an al-Qaida leader falls, Obama notches his drone.

But too often innocents die with or near those whom we label “evil.” It’s that “collateral damage” again – less bloody than boots-on-the-ground wars, but fertilizer for bitterness and counter-attack nonetheless.

So where are those who would do us harm to be found? Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula thinks they are among us. In its online magazine Inspire, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula published an eight-page article titled “How to Make a Bomb in Your Mom’s Kitchen.” The recipe calls for “iron pipes, pressure cookers, fire extinguishers or empty propane canisters …” Add sugar, black powder from match heads or fireworks, and small nails. Wire it with a timer – and stir, I suppose.

Listen to the intelligence coming out of Boston. It’s all about pressure cookers, nails and black powder.

So the troops will come home, but the war will go on, perhaps indefinitely, fought with drones and pressure-cooker bombs,severing limbs and spilling blood of the innocents.

A note: In last week’s “Mostly Politics,” I wrote that Lawrence Fuchs’s “Hawaii Pono: A Social History” was out of print. It is, but two observant readers inform me that used copies are available through