Growing-up in the Age of Terror

The world is in danger. It is up to superhero, Iron Man, also known as Tony Stark, to save the day. Stark knows he has to find his nemesis, The Mandarin, and kill him and all of his henchmen to save innocent civilians from wrath and terrorism. The problem: Stark’s Iron Man suit has been destroyed. Stark locates a hardware store where he finds all different kinds of seemingly harmless materials that, but show the audience what they can really do when combined. Sneaking in to The Mandarin’s headquarter, Stark uses his homemade weapons to take out every last henchman located on site.

While most people watching this movie probably thought this particular scene was awesome and heroic, I was thinking something quite different. As Tony Stark shopped for the materials he was going to use to create his cool gadgets and weapons, I could only think about the messages this scene was sending to its viewers: that it’s easy to walk into this store, buy some seemingly trivial items, and create weapons to harm others.

This one scene from Iron Man 3 led me to reflect on the events on April 15th, the Boston Marathon Bombings. Perpetrators and terrorists, Tamerlan Sarnaev and Dzhokar Tsarnaev were only ages 26 and 19 respectively when they decided to take the lives of others into their own hands and unleash a world of terror on the city of Boston. The Tsarnaev brothers used homemade devices such as pressure cooker bombs and other improvised explosive devices as their main way of harming the people at the marathon. The brothers made these devices in the privacy of their own homes, and what’s more disturbing is that they most likely did it with ease and a little help from a resource known as the Internet.

What these two men did was unforgivable and their actions came from a disturbed and sick place; but our reaction to the constant media coverage of the manhunt was also quite disturbing. During the unfolding of the search for the Tsarnaev brothers, the coverage was constant and felt like a sort of action movie. Americans around the country were glued to their television sets with the hopes of seeing the Tsarnaev brothers captured or even killed. I talked to many people that day and a heard a range of proposals regarding the punishment for these men: from imprisoning them, to torturing them, to killing them—everyone seemed to have their own personal vendetta and ideas about justice. Sure these brothers are terrorists and they did something unforgivable, but our ability to watch them being hunted down or imagine them being tortured or killed still says something about our culture and its nasty affair with violence. Should we feel guilty about wishing a horrible death upon someone?

Once Dzhokar Tsarnaev was captured, anger was then put onto those who were related to him or knew him. People’s lives have been threatened and there have even been murders of innocent Muslim men who were in no way connected to the bombings, solely because they shared the Tsarnaev brothers’ religion. It seems that even we, the victims of this event, are capable of taking lives or envisioning this process with ease.

The Tsarnaev brothers aren’t the only people to create homemade weapons and use them on innocent people. Just this past month I’ve read two stories about teens creating bombs to harm innocent people. Fifteen-year-old Michael Boggan, from Australia, was the victim of a small bomb disguised as a golf ball, which blew off most of his fingers. His attackers were some boys he thought were his friends. Boggan’s mom speculates that her son’s autism—that is, his difference from his supposed friends—was  the reason for setting off this homemade bomb. In Houston, Texas, teens were caught throwing “acid bombs” at a porch of an innocent neighbor who didn’t even recognize the perpetrators. These boys were trying to harm someone they had no connection to whatsoever simply for entertainment. Both of these attacks were unjustified, and both were credited to the making of a homemade bomb.

Out of curiosity, I searched on Google, “how to make a pressure cooker bomb” (the kind used by the Tsarnaev brothers) to see just how easy it is to access the information to create the explosive. In my search I got thousands of hits, from instructions, to the history of pressure cooker bombs, and many diagrams of the components of this bomb. It was alarming to see how much information I received with so little effort.

Since the tragic events of 9/11/2001, we are all living in a new era commonly called “the age of terror.” Because my generation has been growing up during this time, we know nothing else. Terrorism is all around us and has become the norm. My mom often tells me how sorry she feels for my generation because we are developing in a culture deeply influenced by violence, terror, and the loss of many freedoms due to the need to protect ourselves. Our society has been changed by our fear, and the safety precautions that come as a response to heartless people who inflict terror.

Dana Hall is no exception. Every year of my high school career has started with a mandatory lockdown simulation, a way for the Dana community to prepare for some sort of attack or threat. This year, my senior year, has been different. Following the Boston Marathon bombings, the School added more lockdown drills and increased our technology resources to improve communication throughout the campus, during possible threats. I am not saying that these precautions are in any way bad; they are merely a response to the violence around all of us, and their intention is to keep everyone at Dana safe. What is unfortunate about the price of keeping people safe is the amount of fear we also gain, and the freedoms we lose at the expense of someone else’s insanity.

At the end of Iron Man 3, Tony Stark saves the day by killing the villain, and we, as the audience, leave the theater feeling relieved and happy. (We may even feel the heartache of knowing we can never have the gorgeous Robert Downey Jr. for ourselves.) What we don’t feel is sorrow. We, as a culture, don’t reflect on the violence and lives thoughtlessly taken, or fear the amount of blood spilled on both sides. Sure, it’s all special effects and fiction, but shouldn’t we feel something? Our lack of fear is something we should fear the most. It only takes one person to see these images and emulate their violence to destroy entire lives, families, and communities.

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