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On Feeling the Pain of a Bombing Victim

The pain inflicted by the Boston terror bomber or bombers is greater than anything non-victims can ever feel themselves.

Louis Rene Beres

Louis Rene Beres

For the victims, there is no anesthesia strong enough to dull the accumulated pain. But for the observers, however unwitting, the victims’ pain must always remain more or less “anesthetized.”

Most assuredly, though the insistent denial of mortality remains humankind’s most brazenly primal preoccupation, all things must still move in the midst of death. However egregious a specific terrorist bombing attack, the pain of the victims is necessarily kept at a “safe distance” from the audience. The basic horror of that pain is necessarily and permanently blunted by the unalterable shortcomings of language.

Inevitably, though this may not even seem possible after Boston, terrorist bombers will turn out to be much worse than they may first have appeared. Whatever their motives, stated or unstated, and wherever they might choose to discharge their ritualistic harms, they freely commit to a steady sequence of evils from which there is never any authentic hope of escape.

The pain inflicted by the Boston terror bomber or bombers is greater than anything non-victims can ever feel themselves, no matter how close the human connections, or how deep the individual inclinations to empathy. In the end, this generally neglected fact is more important than any other. In the end, any affected child’s cry of despair will be instantly more revealing and urgent than even the most eloquent proclamations of law, or the most subtle calculations of science.

Always, whenever we try to better understand the core meanings of terror-bombing attacks, flowing human tears will reveal deeper kinds of understanding than the most compelling examples of counter-terrorism or the most impressively learned smiles.

About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.


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