Truman National Security Project

What Can I Do?

By Dan Futrell | 4.24.13
A call to action in response to the Boston Marathon bombing.

In the aftermath of a week of violence and anxiety in Boston, which displayed on the world stage both the worst and the best of humanity, many are asking themselves a single question: “What can I do?”

The first thing we’ll do is support all efforts to aggressively find and stop those who plan to do us harm. This will require significant effort, and is worth every bit of it. Unfortunately, while remaining vigilant and prepared, we must also accept that these attacks may always be possible. Any one of us can find ourselves victim to an ideologically-driven sociopath who believes that indiscriminate destruction proves his point. The anxiety-laden security state necessary to prevent every future attack is not a world we want to live in. So what’s next?

In attempting to answer “What can I do?”, the first place to look is, of course, Boston. Walking the streets there this week, the common response seems to be a defiant embrace of life and community: “I can keep living my life, free of fear. I can refuse to be terrorized. Terrorists won’t win, won’t change my routinewon’t make me fearful as I enjoy sunshine in Boston Common or Dunkin Donuts or a Red Sox game. I will take pleasure in the simple things in life, because screw them.”

This response is underpinned by a denial of the main goal of terrorism – to intimidate and cause fear in pursuit of political goals. But, this response doesn’t change our community for the better.

Another response has been an outpouring of support for the One Fund, created to raise money for those families most affected by the attack. Given the long-lasting medical expenses that will be required to return life as close to normal as possible for numerous amputees, among other expenses, this is absolutely a worthy cause that I and many others have supported with donations.

Donations like this have a direct effect on the lives of the survivors and families. They are much-needed. But again, there is more we can do. We as a community have much more to offer than dollars.

At the core of the bombing and many other acts of violence, like everyday crime in Chicago – where more than double the number of Americans have been killed since 2001 than those killed in Afghanistan over the same period – are young men without hope. Many feel disconnected and are social outcasts. This was a starting point for one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon attack who said in a photo-essay, “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.”

Look closer, and you’ll see the key word: Them. As in “me” versus “them”.

That’s the problem we have to address. The single greatest response we can offer—a response that plays to our American strengths of resilience and community— is to seek out, create, and maintain a connection with this sort of young man.

What can you do? Find a young man who is still seeking out his path, who is defining who he wants to be in the relation to the world around him, and help him through the process. Offer yourself as a mentor, as an advisor, as a coach, as a friend to a young man who has no role model, who maybe doesn’t feel connected socially, and who is left alone to find his place in his community.

While walking the streets of Baghdad as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army, I met young men who believe violence is the best they have to offer the world. They fought because they had no hope for their own future, and no belief that their gifts were greater than violence.

Find these young men – they are all around us, in Boston and in every city in the country – and show them that they belong here and that they can leave their world better than they found it. Isn’t this, after all, what we’re really after when we ask ourselves, “What can I do?”

Dan Futrell, a US Army veteran and two-time recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, is a fellow of the Truman National Security Project and The Mission Continues, and was a 2011 Tillman Military Scholar. He works at a Boston-based nonprofit dedicated to closing the opportunity gap for our nation’s urban youth.