Bostonians are being described as especially tough by both the media and Bostonians themselves in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. It is hard to make the case that the residents of an entire city are tougher than all other cities in the face of evil — the two bombings during the running of the Boston Marathon.
The toughness case rests largely on two happenings: the many residents who came out to cheer and applaud the first responders and law enforcement officers; and the mass singing of the National Anthem at sporting events. Lusty singing of the National Anthem was a feature of sporting events in the immediate wake of 9/11 and the line which drew the most boisterous reaction was: “and the bombs bursting in air.” A large majority of Americans wanted Afghanistan bombed for harboring terrorists. Mass singing of our jingoistic and militaristic National Anthem doesn’t denote toughness, not, certainly, the right kind of toughness. A year from now, Bostonians will probably be singing the National Anthem in the same manner they did before the bombings and their attitude toward protective forces will likely be no different than it was pre-bombings.
A look back at history shows that the “Southie” section of Boston was the focal point among northern states in resisting public school integration. Certainly, a large number of Bostonians did not show toughness in the face of the evil of educational segregation.
Raising this issue of toughness to the national level, a belief in American toughness is contradicted by what strong majorities of U.S. citizens allow to happen. Before the invasion of Iraq, various polls showed just a little over one-third of respondents supporting an invasion only if the UN Security Council sanctioned an invasion, or a large coalition had been put together to wage war. Yet, immediately after Iraq was invaded, with neither condition satisfied, about three-quarters or more of poll respondents supported the invasion. This phenomenom occurs every time the U.S. goes to war but the before and after polling gap on Iraq may have been more pronounced than usual.
One national poll found that 57 percent of respondents supported bombing Iran, despite the dire consequences likely to result from such an action.
In regard to firearms control, except for a ban on handguns, most proposed restrictions on firearms have found majority support in polling done over many years. Enhanced background checks before a firearms sale can be completed have been supported by about 9 out of ten respondents in recent polling. In regard to going to war and controlling firearms, the American people haven’t been tough enough in demanding that their country not participate in increasing the levels of violence.
I believe that too many issues get framed in the context of toughness, when the context should be wisdom. It is not wise for the United States to so often be involved in wars against nations that have not attacked it. It is not wise to continue the proliferation of firearms and not limit their destructive potential. Wisdom should aso attend how the general publiic perceives governmental spending. Polled Americans commonly say that they want the national government to sharply cut spending, yet when polled on specific programs, majorities don’t want them cut. A recent poll, for example, on about a dozen and a half programs or program areas, found that majorities wanted to cut spending only in regard to foreign aid — and that was a plurality, not a majority response. Foreign aid constitutes a tiny percentage of the federal budget.
If getting tough means being wise, then Americans need to be tougher and more reason-based in demanding their elected representatives chart wholly new directions for the nation.