These days most people don’t know the difference between sentiment and sentimentality, and even those who do still seem to favour the latter.
Hence the reaction to the tragic death of Martin Richards, the eight-year-old boy killed, along with two others, in the explosion at the finishing line of the Boston marathon.
The papers are full of moving but utterly irrelevant information about little Martin’s disposition (sunny), school record (enviable) and views on world peace (commendable). The implication seems to be that if the boy had been a morose, bellicose underachiever his death would somehow have been less of a tragedy.
Wouldn’t it be nice if acts of random violence only ever affected rapists, child molesters, tax evaders and people who despise sentimentality? Our, and especially the American, press would then – well, not exactly condone such outrages but perhaps be less emetically indignant about them. The feeling would be that justice was done, lamentable as the method of exacting it could have been.
The Boston bombs seem to have been made of pressure cookers packed with nails and ball bearings, designed to kill as many as possible and maim more. Indeed, quite a few limbs, in addition to the three lives, were lost in the explosions.
Displaying his usual perspicacity, President Obama belatedly described the incident as ‘an act of terror’ and vowed to bring the perpetrators of ‘the vile and cowardly act’ to justice. That much was par for the course. In fact, to save valuable presidential time such stock speeches ought to be pre-recorded directly after inauguration: ‘Our thoughts and prayers go to the families…’
What surprised me is that the president also displayed a most regrettable lack of logic. After all, after every mass shooting, most recently the one in Newton, Conn., Obama would immediately call for gun control laws. One such measure, the Toomey-Manchin bill, was defeated in the Senate earlier today, which result Obama described as ‘a pretty shameful day for Washington.’
Fair enough. Barak Hussein is entitled to his opinion, in this instance that the tools used in the perpetration of ‘a vile and cowardly act’ are to blame for it. So far he has been unable to twist enough voting arms to turn this opinion into law, but that mustn’t be allowed to interfere with his principles.
Therefore, to follow exactly the same logic, he ought to propose a ban on pressure cookers, ball bearings, nails – and also possibly on saucepans with tightly fitted lids, coffee makers, blenders and any other kitchen appliances that could conceivably be turned into explosive devices.
He then must find legislators with enough persuasive powers to bring both Houses around. The anti campaign should rally behind a catchy slogan, such as ‘Pressure cookers cost an arm and a leg.’ One can just see photographs of the Boston marathon aftermath with this slogan superimposed. Voting hands would go up as if by themselves.
The tragedy at Boston represents yet another failure of US intelligence and law enforcement. These agencies have, to put it mildly, a spotty record in preventing acts of terrorism at all times. However, lately they’ve also been lulled into indolence by neoconservative war propaganda, with its smug boast that since the invasion or Iraq no acts of terrorism have been committed on US territory.
The response of the US administration and, come to think of it, the press should be much lighter on cheap sentimentality and much heavier on beefing up security and reassessing the country’s strategy in dealing with terrorism.
I don’t know if there are any foreign countries or organisations involved in this new version of the Boston Massacre. But if there are, as seems likely, the response should be swift, merciless and massive punishment – not idiotic and doomed attempts to ‘build’ tribal nations by making them democratic.
That, in my view, is the proper sentiment to be displayed under such circumstances. But when sentimentality gets into the act, sentiment has no chance.