Suzanne Fields

Between the tragedy over loss of life and limb in Boston and the rejoicing in the certainty that these two young men will not strike again, there's a large space for reflection. Emotion clouds reason, which is why we live by the rule of law.

The producers of movie Westerns knew how to cultivate the baser instincts. The posse caught the culprit and dragged him to the nearest hanging tree with a minimum of ceremony. Thug justice always stirs the adrenaline and animates the nervous system.

But America gave up frontier justice, and now the law rules. An honest argument emerged after the Boston bombing. Some of us thought Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should hear his Miranda rights at once, and some of us wanted the government to declare him an enemy combatant and question him without lawyers. He might have further information about unfolding plots.

Most people thought they had seen the evidence to convict him, but nobody really knew very much in those early hours. Now we know a little more. We can wish him a speedy recovery if only to find out whether he has knowledge to spare us further ill.

We're told the two suspects acted alone, but Sen. Lindsey Graham asks the right question: "How in the world do we know that?" Where did they get the money to carry out their scheme? Where did they get their suicide vests? You can't buy the vests at Target or Wal-Mart.

Now the younger brother has heard his Miranda rights, and soon he'll have a lawyer, if he does not have one already. This is a good teaching moment for the children -- and for the rest of us, as well -- about why the United States and its rule of law make this the exceptional nation, and to watch how democracy puts in place the mechanisms to render justice.

We're in a new and unexplored era of information-gathering, still stumbling about with tools bequeathed through the Internet. They're a decidedly mixed blessing, appealing both to vigilant intelligence and anger-provoked emotion. Photographs of the Brothers Tsarnaev flooded websites, allowing for rapid identification, but the social media further flooded all manner of junk speculation, magnifying animosities and fanning the fires of prejudice, big and small.

How we establish our fact-finding determines what we do about it. One of the glories of our democracy is that we usually move with deliberation through the emotion. How we frame the terrorist potential confronting us matters. Language matters, too. Obfuscation, euphemism and exaggeration disfigure both what we see and how we interpret it.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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