I can't help thinking of the US reaction to the Boston tragedy in light of John Howard's recent description of the feeling in America after the 9/11 attacks (the vast differences in the scale of the two attacks notwithstanding). As I noted after his speech, Howard returned constantly to the psychological shock created by the attack. Howard seemed to find it only natural that America's leaders (and Howard himself) should respond to that shock by invading Iraq.
But as was pointed out on the night, leadership on such occasions calls for the calming of fears, not the stoking of them. Particularly when those fears are vastly out of proportion to the actual threat.
So it was great to hear President Obama state plainly two days ago that 'the American people refuse to be terrorised'. That's exactly the right tone. Don't play into the hands of terrorists by over-reacting to what is a very manageable threat which is actually in decline. Don't be panicked into thinking that nowhere is safe and we're all at the mercy of madmen, because by any reasonable standard our lives are incredibly safe, happy, affluent and free. And above all, don't lash out by using disproportionate force, because your reaction will probably end up costing you vastly more in lives and money than the terrorist attacks themselves ever could.
None of this means that the best counter-terrorist strategy is 'do nothing'. By all means, invest in intelligence and police work to foil attacks before they happen. And be resilient. Part of refusing to be terrorised is showing that attacks cannot keep your country down; it's important to demonstrate that life will go on because your people, government and infrastructure can take a hit and bounce back quickly. That's why it is so encouraging to read that post-9/11 investments in hospital disaster response capability paid off so richly in the aftermath of the Boston attack.
Photo by Flickr user four12.