When tragedy strikes as it did Monday, we naturally ask why. We often do this in the retroactive sense, wondering: “Why was this allowed to happen?”
That is, “Why weren’t the proper precautions taken to ensure this wouldn’t happen?” From 9/11, to Aurora, to Monday’s nauseating horror, respectively, we question, “Why were they allowed to board the plane?” and “Why was someone with a mental illness allowed access to a gun?” and “Why was security so porous at the country’s most prominent marathon?” So we call for stricter airport regulations and universal background checks and more comprehensive security. And these are great questions and appropriate solutions, but the harsh reality is that these retroactive fixes are just that — retroactive.
The apparent randomness of Monday’s attack is a stark reminder that proponents of terror and destruction will continue to search for and pick out our most vulnerable venues. And while we’ve done much to deter such attacks, deterrence isn’t prevention. For every thousand plots, say 999 fail — the dire fact remains that one succeeds. And that one could be as unspeakably calamitous as any before it. So maybe, in addition to countering terrorism retroactively, we should consider doing so proactively as well.
I believe our proactive solution can be found by asking “why” in the proactive sense. Why is it that these monsters are driven to kill so arbitrarily and massively?
It is not enough to conjecture that they are somehow static killing machines and that we are powerless to curtail whatever joy they take in killing innocent people? Terrorists seek terror. They crave notoriety. They revel in the panic-induced fear that washes over people as they realize how gravely susceptible they truly are and how little control they have to stop it.
It is not my opinion that we ought to become numb to tragedy. Nor do I believe that we should treat it as an inevitability as we treat, say, tax season as an inevitability. Rather, I argue that we’re to mourn and grieve as ever and that we find solace not in the firestorm of rage and revengefulness that our enemies so hope to provoke but instead in the peaceful solemnity that blossoms as we forge on, unhindered in virtue, while the opposition lingers futilely, waiting for the hate and terror that refuses to materialize.
In accordance with the work of our troops abroad as well as our regulations at home, this sort of proactive anti-terrorism may very well bring us that much closer to rendering the question, “Why do terrorists do what they do?” unanswerable, for both innocents and terrorists alike.