Last week was terrible for our nation, starting with the deadly bombing at the Boston Marathon and continuing with the even deadlier explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. But as often happens when tragedy strikes, Americans showed their best.
Now that the Boston tragedy itself is past, Americans must rise to a new challenge — keeping our society open and free and continuing to welcome immigrants to our shores, despite what we have just witnessed. To do otherwise would be to weaken the United States and what it stands for to a greater extent than any bombing could.
"Boston strong" became more than a mere city motto as people from all around the United States and the world saw the brave way the people in Boston reacted to the attack and came together to comfort each other. One of America's oldest and most storied great cities was a model for Americans, displaying humanity while avoiding overreaction and paranoia.
The country saw good, quick police work by the Boston authorities, the FBI and the suburban Watertown police. One of the two suspects was killed in a shootout and the other captured by Friday evening.
And Americans saw countless heroes in Boston and West: The MIT officer who was gunned down by the suspects. The Watertown officer who battled single-handedly with both suspects. Perhaps most of all, the 11 members of West's volunteer fire department who lost their lives trying to save workers at the plant.
But it was not only first responders who displayed heroism. Runners, fans, regular people of all stripes ran toward the danger after the Boston bombs exploded, right alongside police officers and firefighters. Off-duty doctors and nurses risked their own lives — not knowing if there were more bombs — to save others. Truly it was Americans at their best, coming together to work through tragedy.
Now a different kind of challenge faces the nation.
Already there have been calls from some Congress members to try Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the captured Boston suspect, in military court as an enemy combatant, even though he is a naturalized American citizen and the act he is accused of committing took place on American soil.
And some Congress members have called for halting the effort to reform U.S. immigration policy, because the Boston suspects were immigrants.
Both are overreactions.
The Obama administration will prosecute Tsarnaev in the criminal court system, which is the right call.
The suspect was not immediately read his Miranda rights, under a public safety exemption that allows for gathering information that might prevent further harm to the public. That too was appropriate, but the Miranda rights must apply for the criminal investigation.
America is still a nation of immigrants, and that cannot end because of a couple of alienated bad apples. The Tsarnaev brothers had lived here for years and the younger brother appeared quite assimilated; the older, now dead, brother, not so much. Lessons we eventually learn from their slide to the dark side may need to be incorporated into immigration law and enforcement — and perhaps the way we as a society deal with alienation and mental instability — but the incident should not scuttle the attempt to rationalize our immigration policies.
It's impossible to guard, in a free society, against all evil people and wackos, whether they are the Tsarnaevs or Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
For America and what it stands for to endure, maintaining an essentially free society is paramount.