The 1985 film “Brazil” wasn’t big at the box office. It’s a Kafka-esque comedy set in a futuristic dystopia where the government controls everything and a citizen can get executed because of a computer glitch.
I feel a little ashamed bringing it up in the wake of Monday’s horrific blasts at the Boston Marathon, except that the film has stuck with me for years because of one quirky theme it presents: in this cartoonish future, people have become almost blasé about a rash of public bombings. A restaurant explodes, and those patrons who aren’t injured simply step around the wreckage and move on.
That concept seemed so outrageous to me at the time — even in a fictional context. War is war, but setting off bombs in a civilian setting seemed incomprehensible.
Of course, such is not the case for the British, who by that time had weathered numerous such attacks by the Irish Republican Army and its copycats.
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, London averaged about one IRA attack a year, including one of two bomb blasts 10 years apart at Harrods department store.
Following the first Harrods bombing in 1983, which killed six people, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sent a short note to U.S. President Ronald Reagan, thanking him for sending condolences.
“The public’s reaction has been the same as the government’s,” she wrote, “that the fight against terrorism must go on and be won.”
That particular fight did go on, and was won. The IRA eventually withered into irrelevance.
But Londoners were hit again in 2005, this time by a more nebulous enemy, and with much more deadly impact. Fifty-six people were killed when four suicide bombers detonated their loads in the subway system and on a double-decker bus.
The culprits were homegrown Islamist terrorists, a phenomenon that now plagues almost every Western country, including Canada.
Monday’s carnage in Boston was senseless in so many ways. Three people died and scores more were seriously injured. The shrapnel wounds forced several amputations. The physical and mental toll for some will last a lifetime.
But as Londoners have learned, you can’t let the bombings keep you down. They are frightening, yes. Terrifying. If you haven’t actually lost a loved one or been affected personally, you will, at the very least, lose some sleep.
But in the broader scheme of things, they are absolutely meaningless.
At the Boston Globe on Monday, staff writer Farah Stockman posted her thoughts online.
Sporting events are easy targets, she said. They are large gatherings with media already on hand, ready to switch from sports mode to disaster coverage in an instant.
But, says Stockman, that’s just the way it is. There’s only so much security you can expect.
“We can be vigilant. We can be smart. But we can’t bring the risk of a terrorist attack down to zero,” she wrote. “We’d have to give up too much to do that. We’d have to become a police state. And even that would not be enough.”
Stockman then adopts the sort of stiff upper lip the British have become famous for.
“If we are willing to die in wars to protect our freedom, we must be willing to die right here in Boston.
It was surreal to see half the city conducting business as usual. But there was something inspiring and stubborn about it. Tomorrow, this city is going to get up and live its life. We are not going to let anyone stop us.”
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s
commentary editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.