I wrote two columns for the Globe in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. The first — which I later read aloud on Australian radio — was about the jarring task of telling a child what happened. The second was about the quest to understand why a young man – not much older than a child – could do something like this.
Why do so many people want to understand Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? To find within him some speck of humanity?
That’s not an accusation; it’s a statement of fact. In the weeks since the Boston Marathon bombings — in columns, in tweets, in hushed and guilty conversations — there has been a widespread urge to get inside the suspect’s head, to imagine him somehow brainwashed, bullied, regretful. Not everyone feels this way, of course. But it’s not hard to view Tsarnaev differently from the 9/11 bombers, or from Jared Lee Loughner or Adam Lanza, two other young men who committed mass murder in recent months.
Those men, the common narrative goes, were sick. Distant. Separate. Tsarnaev was different. Before the mayhem, he seemed to be one of us.
This is a pressing mystery of the bombings, and the fact that we’re hunting for answers doesn’t mean we’re going soft. It doesn’t mean we aren’t angry.
It has to do with unanswered questions, both general and specific, and the hope that somehow, answers could prevent further attacks. How do small numbers of young men grow radicalized? How do they lose their humanity? How do they evolve from boys — with friends, parents, social lives — to killers?
Read the rest of the column here.