Skip to main content

In the face of terror, keep calm

By David Rothkopf, Special to CNN
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Tue April 16, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Rothkopf: Boston blasts remind us of our vulnerability and fragility of state of mind
  • He says first duties: Care for victims, assess threat. Then, keep cool; this a lesson of 9/11
  • He says too-quick response to terror can compound its effects, encourage terrorists
  • Rothkopf: We've been here before. Crucial to stay calm, rational, maintain order

Editor's note: David Rothkopf writes regularly for CNN.com. He is CEO and editor-at-large of the FP Group, publishers of Foreign Policy magazine, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

(CNN) -- The horrific bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday reminds us of both our physical vulnerability and the fragility of our peace of mind. Even as we grieve for the victims and worry about friends and family in the vicinity, because these were bombings -- clearly an act of terror on someone's part -- they shake us. We are touched to the core as we have been by 9/11.

Old familiar questions that have been tamped down for years re-emerge.

How do we make ourselves safe? Can we? And of course, we ask: Who? Why?

David Rothkopf
David Rothkopf

For us, the first duty in the wake of the Boston attacks is to make sure that no additional related threats remain. At the same time, we must care for those injured in the attacks and the families of those who lost their lives. But 9/11 taught us one more thing. We must care for ourselves, for the truth. We must fight to retain our equilibrium and our cool.

Earlier this month at a Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, police discussed an approach that law enforcement has encouraged in recent years in the event of attacks like mass shootings: Often the right thing to do is to take action, rather than run away. This makes some sense, particularly if there is a visible perpetrator to pursue or victims to aid.

But in the moments after an attack, we need to remember, too, that reflection and careful, fact-based analysis is more important than reflexive acts that appear to respond to but only compound the terror and, ultimately, the costs of the attack.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



In the hours immediately after the Boston attacks, there were the understandable, prudent reactions. New York and Washington entered heightened states of alert. Friends and families texted and called one another asking whether their loved ones should leave Boston. No doubt others organizing public events in the next few weeks or months began to rethink their security precautions. President Obama's brief, measured remarks expressing sympathy for the victims, resolve to seek justice and a commitment to providing full federal support for state and local authorities was a perfect example of an appropriate response.

Terror attack disrupts Boston Marathon
Obama statement on Boston terror attack
An injured man is loaded into an ambulance after two bombs went off near the finish line of the fabled Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15. For the latest details, read CNN's developing news story. An injured man is loaded into an ambulance after two bombs went off near the finish line of the fabled Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15. For the latest details, read CNN's developing news story.
Deadly attack at Boston Marathon
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Deadly attack at Boston Marathon Photos: Deadly attack at Boston Marathon
First responder: Flashback to Iraq

But elsewhere it was fevered. The Twitterverse exploded with graphic images and rumors and reactions and over-reactions. It captured the hysteria of a crowd, the diverse mix of healthy and unhealthy reactions, almost as a photograph would: a high resolution picture of the state of mind of countless bystanders and interested parties.

Reading the tweets and the first stories, hearing of ground stoppages at airports and security moves at the White House, it was all too easy to remember the mood in the wake of 9/11, a moment in history when justified horror fed panic. But this was translated into a crackdown on civil liberties, an unnecessary war — and some very dark days for the United States.

Tragedies like these call for swift response from police and emergency workers, not to mention Homeland Security officials. But experience tells us that the ultimate accessories to the terrorist are the innocent and well-intentioned who spread and exaggerate the terror. Just as we should track down perpetrators, we should also remember that if we remain calm and rational, we can minimize the effectiveness of these acts and in so doing make them less attractive for terrorists to undertake.

This is how people in countries plagued with violence, like Israel, have long handled attacks. Be resolute about security, intelligence and enforcement. But place equal emphasis on maintaining order and ensuring the minimum possible disruption of daily life.

With more than 100 casualties reported at the time of this writing, it is easy to let anguish fuel anger and worse. Sadly, we have been here before. It is time we used past lessons to ensure that we respond today and in the future better than we have in the past—with equal parts of both purpose and perspective, with as much focus on maintaining life as usual as in dealing with its cruel disruption.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Rothkopf.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT