Two Kinds of the Same Bomb

This week has been marked by horrific explosions: two in Boston and one in West, Texas, where last night a fertilizer plant caught fire and then erupted, obliterating everything in a five-block radius. One might jump to differentiate the explosions by intent; the Boston bombs were set on purpose and the West explosion was a tragic accident. Yet, despite all efforts to categorize them differently, they really should be seen as similar manifestations of the same violent culture.

The reporters covering the explosion in West couldn’t help but point out that the chemicals in the plant were the very same used to make bombs (and several witnesses described the blast as “just like a bomb going off’’). Indeed, the fertilizer plant was in effect a giant bomb, just as man-made as the pressure cookers in the backpacks on Boylston Street.

The intent, it must be realized, of both bomb makers is also similar. The people who attacked the Marathon felt some ideological cause (or maybe just chaos or misanthropy) was worth sacrificing human life, as did those who built the fertilizer plant.

Are we to act as if the people producing ammonium nitrate don’t know it’s dangerous? (The Department of Homeland Security website has a whole page devoted to it, and, not surprisingly, this kind of thing has happened before, in Texas for that matter, via the Monsanto Chemical Company.) And even if the building doesn’t blow up, why is it so close to schools and houses, and why are we putting said chemicals in our soil in the first place?

The only difference really is that in Boston the victims were targeted and their injury was the point of the act, whereas in West the casualties are bystanders, part of what are called externalities: the negative effects factored in to the ongoing business transaction. In either case, though, people are killed by bombs. And in both cases, we see the results of a violent culture that has no regard for human or nonhuman life. In that respect both acts should be equally condemned as attacks on public safety.


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