Like many of you, I spent much of Monday afternoon watching and reading coverage of the explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And it occurred to me then, as it did after 9/11, that the primary purpose of terrorism isn’t to kill or maim.
Granted, the deaths and injuries capture our attention, as they did on Monday, when raw video broadcast by television showed bloodied people and blood-stained sidewalks. But I think the chief purpose of terrorism is to create fear, especially fear that causes economic harm.
After 9/11, when planes took down the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon, no one wanted to fly, and commercial airlines were hammered. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, airline traffic dropped at least 30 percent, and despite government intervention designed to prop up the industry, several airlines declared bankruptcy and others laid off workers, according to USA Today.
People didn’t want to fly, and they especially didn’t want to fly to New York City. According to Wikipedia, in the week following 9/11, hotel occupancy fell below 40 percent, and 3,000 employees were laid off.
Tourism is just one aspect of the New York economy; the financial markets are another. Together, they drive the New York economy, and by one account, economic output in New York City declined by more $27 billion in the 15 months after 9/11.
According to the Boston TV station WCVB, the one-day Boston Marathon was expected to pour about $142 million in the local economy. The next marathon is a year away, but it’s reasonable to expect that the 2014 race will draw fewer people and therefore fewer dollars to Boston.
On Monday, it was unclear whether the bombings were the cowardly deeds of domestic or international terrorists. Some TV pundits speculated that it was homegrown terrorists unhappy with their government, but no one was willing to rule out Al Qaeda.
But I don’t know that it matters. Whether foreign or domestic, I think terrorists want not only to kill or maim but also to strike fear in the heart of Americans. The challenge that we as Americans face is to live our lives as usual. If we don’t, our economy suffers, and the terrorists win.