Sunday, April 21, 2013

CSI: Boston - the Conclusion

This is a story that just won't quit, and one that no storywriter could come up with. 

As I predicted, the visual evidence produced the identity of the alleged perpetrators very quickly, then after a short commercial break (and a few false leads:  the New York Post canard, the convenience story robbery red herring), came the exciting final half-hour of the show.  For some reason--were they "made" as the wanted suspects?--they (allegedly) killed an M.I.T. security officer sitting in his car.  This brought down the storm; the senior (alleged) evildoer Tamerlan was dramatically brought down and taken out, but young Dzokhar escaped.

Then came a day of intense drama, the area on lockdown, teams of officers going door to door to find him. The search proved fruitless and the Governor came out and told everyone they could come out.  Within minutes, it seemed, young Tsarnaev was spotted by an alert citizen just outside the zone of the house-to-house search, hiding in a boat.

Now comes the real drama of the movie--and we know it will be a movie, maybe several of them--as Tsarnaev huddled in the boat, bleeding severely.  The flashbacks--how did he get into this? Why did he ever agree to it?  Should he go out in a hail of bullets or face the music?  Punctuated by the occasional flashbomb to distract him and bring us back to the story.

Yes, he was at least partially responsible for several deaths, injuries to many, inconvenience to millions.  Yes, the malice of the style of the attack--going after the families watching the game, non-competitive finishers four hours into the race, loading the bombs with b-b's, ball bearings, and nails--undermines the empathy we might otherwise feel for the 19-year-old "good guy" (as those who knew him described him).

Still, it's not a simple story at all.  Flashback to Chechen in the 1990's.  After the fall of the Soviet Union this region of Russia proper, a perennial headache with its Islamic majority and rebellious warrior tradition, wanted out.  The Russians, stung by the collapse of the weak coalition of formerly Soviet Republics, were having none of it.  The repression was horrendous--both to the Chechens and to the Russians.  Think of the US Civil War if it were just South Carolina that seceded.   The postwar governance has been equally repugnant to both:  to Russians, duty in the Chechen capital is literally "menacing"*.  The Chechen suppression has its side effects leaking into neighboring areas, into Moscow itself--it's a wound that won't heal.

Why did this blood feud end up coming to our shores? This is one of the big questions we will seek.  The Tsarnaevs were granted asylum by the US; the younger one recently became a citizen, and his older brother might have done so, except that the Russians tracked down his suspicious behavior and their inquiries put a hold on the process.   Maybe this was Tamerlan's motive--some kind of paranoid response to frustrated ambition?

The next episode for Tsarnaev will be the "Law and Order" one.  The over-under on Dzokhar is 25-to-life.  The Feds will dangle the threat of a death sentence if they need to, but I don't think they must.  He will be willing to cooperate, I think, having seen all too clearly how serious of a fix he's got himself into.  As a public real-life crime drama, this far exceeds O.J. for both importance and interest level.  It's not 9/11, but I would compare it to the Patty Hearst/Symbionese Liberation Army story of the '70's for its complexity and multiple story lines.  

More broadly, Sen. Charles Grassley crassly tried to bring this story into the immigration legislation game, which is still in its early innings; his ploy has been coldly rejected by most.  Instead, it only points out how important it is to evaluate prospective immigrants (and do it better!)  Next will be the tie-in to the gun reform issue; how did they get their guns?  Of course, the counter will be that, however they got the guns, it was the bombs, which caused the greatest damage ("guns don't kill people--pressure cookers kill people"), and they used nothing that needed anything more than a couple of visits to the hardware, grocery, and toy supply stores.

Finally, there are the stories of Boston, of Watertown, of the state of Massachusetts, of the participants in the Marathon and their families, of the many victims from all walks of life and their perspectives about the incident drama.  We must give them all our support in dealing with this brief, but traumatic, experience and its enduring consequences.

*A Russian-speaking colleague gave me the translation of the literal meaning of the Russian word "grozhny", which is also the name of the Chechen capital. The Russians have spent lavishly to rebuild the city after destroying it and purging any rebellious citizens, which is one reason why the Tsarnaevs grew up mostly in nearby Dagestan.

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