Fahrenheit 1984

“How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”

George Orwell, 1984

Like many Americans, I was greatly affected by the events in Massachusetts over the last several days. As an avid runner, I was appalled that America’s greatest marathon was subjected to such atrocities. My heart continues to ache for those who lost loved ones, those who were injured, and those who may never run again. I was angry that American soil had once again been attacked, this time by terrorists too cowardly to die with their own bombs. However, I was equally troubled with what happened after the bombs went off. First, the media was all over this from the start. Now, there are those who argue that the intense media coverage isolated the attackers and shortened the manhunt. However, I contend that the media played a negative roll in the events of the last few days. Consider the false reports issued by major news outliet in the first few hours after the initial attacks: the New York Post reported that 12 people were initially killed in the blast and that a Saudi national had been arrested; the AP reported that cellular coverage in the Boston area had been disrupted to prevent further remote detonations; several sources – including the Times – reported multiple undetonated devices at “undisclosed” locations and the JFK Library; and, in what is in my opinion the most egregious error of the whole mess, BuzzFeed incorrectly identified one of the bombers as Sunil Tripathi (I can only imagine the grief experienced by his family). In short, most media outlets are guilty of fearmongering and adding to the public distress; they have done nothing short of shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre.

In addition, several media outlets known for their left-leaning ideology incorrectly surmised that the bomber would belong to a right-wing extremist group. MNBC’s Chris Matthews said point-blank that “domestic terrorists…tend to be on the far right,” and the same station’s Lawrence O’Donnell claimed that the National Rifle Association was aiding the as-yet unknown terrorist in his escape. On salon.com, David Sirota hoped that “the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” Left-wing extremist Michael Moore claimed that the Tea Party was behind the attacks, while countless other celebrities said that events in Boston meant that the Second Amendment “must go” (as if guns had something to do with placing shrapnel in a pressure cooker and turning into a homemade bomb; I don’t see anyone clamoring to outlaw backpacks, pressure cookers, or cell phones). At least CNN tired to couch their allegations in the form of a question: “Right Wing Extremists To Blame For Explosions?” So far, I am unaware of any of these networks or individuals apologizing for their vile and hate-fueled remarks.

Second, I was disturbed by the actions and reactions of both the government officials in charge of the investigation and the Bostonians affected by those actions. In particular, my distress comes from the decision to declare martial law. Not even in New York City in the wake of 9/11 was martial law declared. Imagine: an unknown killer is on the loose and the response of the authorities is to confine people in their homes, thereby making them sitting targets, and to limit their abilities to defend themselves. I wonder, did anyone in the area affected by the lockdown feel safer knowing the average civilian was limited to a ten-round magazine? If it were me, I’d want to be sure I could blow this terrorist to kingdom come.

However, I was even more shocked by the response of the Bostonians living under lockdown: they accepted it. These Americans willingly sacrificed freedom and personal liberty for peace and security. I would remind my readers of the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Not only did the Bostonians accept it, but the media put a positive spin on it: they successfully convinced the American population that this was a necessary action to achieve a desired end and the willful surrender of constitutional rights was the patriotic and noble thing to do.

Some readers will think me a right-wing lunatic or a conspiracy theorist while in reality I am neither. (My political opinions and voting record will show that I am simply a right-leaning independent who has voted for candidates of varying parties and platforms.) However, I find something in the whole affair that smacks of George Orwell and Ray Bradbury. We saw the news outlets acting as Big Brother monitoring the isolated areas of Boston and broadcasting their general ignorance to the “parlor walls” of the American populace. Americans waited with anticipation next to their televisions, radios, and computers as the search zone was narrowed, reports were issued, and then – finally – Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured.

How soon before we experience the final pages of Fahrenheit 451? How soon before someone commits an act of terrorism, the government issues a lockdown, and – with a desire to keep the peace and quickly calm the fears of America – finds a scapegoat to blame the attacks on (it goes without saying that said scapegoat would be killed “evading authorities”). Remember, this exactly what the government does in Bradbury’s dystopia when it is unable to apprehend Guy Montag.

I applaud the law enforcement personnel for their service. My heartfelt condolences go out to those whose loved ones were killed or injured. Nevertheless, I must remind Americans that Orwell and Bradbury were right: Big Brother is always watching, and the Hound never sleeps.

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