The Spectacle Blog

Overstating Martial Law

By on 4.28.13 | 3:15AM

I am in general agreement with Ross that the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon will not lead a total reconsideration of immigration, the war on terrorism, gun control, cultural decline, etc. There will be hemming and hawing but nothing will change in any meaningful way.

However, I think Ross is overstating things when he characterizes the sequence of events that led to the capture of Dhozkhar Tsarnaev as "martial law."

Ross writes, "One wonders why President Obama visited Boston less than 24 hours prior if the situation was so dangerous that hundreds or thousands of people were required to live as if in a police state."

Well, it's quite simple. At the time of Obama's visit, the images of the Tsarnaev had not been released by the FBI. It was after their release that the Tsarnaevs went on their spree. The shelter in place directive only went into effect after the younger Tsarnaev managed to escape the authorities during the confrontation which claimed the life of his older brother.

Given that the authorities knew Tsarnaev was armed with amunition and explosives and could have used them on a bus or train, I think suspending MBTA and asking people to stay home was the only practical thing Governor Patrick could have done. Had Tsarnaev blown up a bus or train, Patrick would have been excoriated for not suspending mass transit and asking people not to report to work. 

By suspending mass transit the authorities maximized the chance of Tsarnaev being contained in Watertown. Yes, I saw images of people running out of their homes with their hands up. But how else were the authorities going to find Tsarnaev in a residential neighborhood without going door to door?

If Ross disagrees with the manner in which the authorities captured Tsarnaev then I ask him what other tactics they should have deployed?

Ross asks, "Would a better armed citizenry have been much less afraid, and would knowledge of a better armed citizenry have deterred the Islamists from any of their heinous, murderous actions?"

I don't think the jihadists take into account the variance in our gun laws from state to state in the planning of a terrorist attack. After all, Osama bin Laden said it was the duty of Muslims to kill Americans wherever they may be found and he did not discern between Americans in blue states and red states. 

But let's suppose a Boston Marathon type terrorist attack occurred in a city with less restrictive gun laws. If the terrorist or terrorists escaped to a residential neighborhood I seriously doubt the authorities would have behaved differently than they did here in Boston. Even if there was a greater likelihood that Tsarnaev would have been shot by a private citizen in such a jurisdiction, the authorities would do everything they could to deter that course of action. They would want to take him in alive because dead men can't talk.

Yet chances are the next terrorist attack in this country will likely be very different from the Boston Marathon and as such would require a different sort of response. Such a response might not require asking people to stay in their homes.

What occurred in Boston on April 19th was in response to a unique and unprecedented set of circumstances and did not constitute the imposition of martial law. 

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