This past Friday, large areas of greater Boston were locked down as authorities searched, and eventually located, the 2nd suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15. There was a massive police and federal presence in the city -- an estimated 9000 armed officers. Men -- dressed in black camouflage green, helmeted, visored and often toting ludicrously large weapons -- patrolled the streets, entered homes and kept a nervous eye out for the bad guys. Their vehicles were as large and as intimidating as their gear -- lightning fast flashing patrol cars, and armored troops carriers, assault vehicles and tanks out of an adolescent comic book fantasy.
All of this manpower and firepower, likely a justified expense, was brought to bear on two young men. Very dangerous men, no doubt, who had killed three race watchers, one college cop and who had hijacked a car, led police on a high speed chase and engaged in a shootout on a city street (with bullets and more bombs) that wounded another cop, left one bomber dead and fleeing into the dark lanes of a crowded neighborhood.
Some are beginning to argue that there was a whiff of overkill in the massive response and the shutdown of a major metropolitan area. But given the situation's many frightening unknowns (how many bad guys, how much firepower, what future plans) blanketing the city and its environs with extra protection was prudent.
Meanwhile, two days later in West, Texas, a fertilizer plant caught fire and exploded catastrophically. Ten first responders and four others were killed. Early indications suggest that plant owners had lied to the Environmental Protection Agency about the quantity of highly flammable anhydrous ammonia stored on the premises. They had not been inspected since 1985. The plant was situated near a nursing home and two schools and a housing development.
It's as if the plant was a sneering thumb to the nose at the regulatory state, with its needless and burdensome meddling.
Wouldn't it be interesting if an unregulated fertilizer plant triggered the same response as did the two misguided young men terrorizing Boston?
If an unsafe West Virginia mine was stormed by a SWAT team and the miners evacuated?
If stock brokers bamboozling their clients, depriving thousands of the pensions, had their office doors battered down by teams of gun-bearing tactical troops?
If sweatshops paying slave wages to helpless immigrants had their windows smashed by rescue troops rappelling from hovering helicopters?
Funny that we don't react to all threats the same way. The morality that is based on emotion (protect our children from marauding bad guys!) always overcomes the morality based in our heads (attack the dangers that kill and impoverish the most people!). Given a million years of evolution programming us to repel aggression rather than to understand math, I don't expect to see my scenarios played out on the television anytime soon.
But I can dream, can't I? You can count on it.