It’s been three weeks since the bombings in Boston and we know a lot more now about how it happened than we did in the hours after that horrific event.
What has amazed a lot of people in the bombing’s aftermath was the strong sense of resilience displayed by the people of Boston. It began the moment of the bombings when Bostonians ran toward the danger to help those who had been wounded. And in television interviews in the hours and days after the bombings, many Bostonians echoed the theme that they would never give in to the fear of terrorism.
Can you imagine any other American city standing as stoic and defiant? Would Atlanta citizens have run toward danger to help victims? Would people in Los Angeles have sounded so defiant against terrorism?
Hardly. The Atlanta chamber would have probably called on the national media to ignore the bombing because it might hurt the city’s PR “brand.” In Los Angeles, many would have immediately looked for a movie deal.
But Boston is a different kind of American city. Between 2002-2009, I spent a lot of time in Boston and got to know the city and its culture fairly well. I’ve walked the area of the bombs many times, visited just about every historic site in the city and listened to its residents talk about everything from baseball (Red Sox fans really are fanatics) to their own city politics.
From that experience, the defiance shown in the aftermath of the bombings came as no surprise to me. Boston is perhaps the most defiant city in America. It is a place that although liberal in its politics, has a strong streak of independence and rugged individualism.
The reasons for that are rooted in the city’s history and culture. Boston is one of the nation’s oldest cities, founded around 1630 by Puritans. In those early years, only the strongest and most self-reliant survived the harsh environment.
As a city by the sea, Boston also had a strong fishing culture that drew in men who were by their nature self-reliant and unafraid of facing the sea for weeks, sometimes years at a time.
By the time of the American Revolution, Boston had become a hotbed of anti-British sentiment. The more the British attempted to subdue the city and its rebellious culture, the more defiant Bostonians became. The Tea Party, the Boston Massacre and eventually the shots at nearby Lexington and Concord all came from the strong will of the Boston people.
That cultural heritage is still evident today. It is a city that doesn’t suffer bullies, be they the British in 1776 or terrorists in 2013. Bostonians hate being bullied.
The other aspect of this Boston culture is that it is perhaps the most highly educated city in America. That’s in part because Boston is the home of public education in the nation. Today, the city has over 65 colleges and universities in the Greater Boston Area.
Of course, not everyone in Boston goes to college. But even the average blue-collar worker with a high school degree in Boston appears to be better educated than many college graduates from other areas of the country. Boston’s culture values education and although defiant, it is not xenophobic.
Another noticeable thing about the people of Boston is that they take pride in both their town and themselves. If you watched the TV news after police captured suspect #2, there were thousands of people on the street cheering as law enforcement left the Watertown area.
What was really striking about those images is how poised the people were. They didn’t wear pants hanging down below their crack; they didn’t jeer and taunt or get out of control. Bubba wasn’t standing shirtless on the corner with a beer in his hand. It wasn’t an excuse for a wild street party of thugs, either. The people were calm and thankful. They weren’t there to put themselves on display to the television cameras.
And when interviewed by the various television networks that night, the area’s citizens were articulate and respectful in their comments. They spoke thoughtfully in spite of the tremendous emotional turmoil they had just been through.
Such a culture doesn’t happen by accident. It is the result of deeply ingrained values that have been passed down for generations in the Boston and New England area. We think of the West as being the nation’s place of rugged individualism and in some ways it is. But New England is the real cradle of individualism and home of the stereotypical “rugged American.”
In the days after the bombing events, Americans felt a strong empathy for Boston and what it had suffered. Like the killing of President Kennedy and the 9-11 attacks, we all shared in the collective experience of witnessing the attack in Boston and its aftermath. The bombings may have happened in Boston, but they were really aimed at the entire country, an attempt to create fear.
“Boston Strong” is more than just the rallying cry of a city overcoming tragedy — it is the echo of our national roots, a glimpse into our own past and the values of freedom and defiance that gave birth to this nation over 200 years ago. And the irony is, by choosing Boston to make their attack, the bombers highlighted the very strengths of the American character they sought to erode.
Today, we are all Bostonians.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of the Barrow Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.