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No more hurting people. Peace.

The sad events of yesterday, the bombing of the Boston Marathon, brought back vivid memories of the IRA bombings of London in the 1970s.

As a child growing up in the south of England I was frequently taken to events and exhibitions by my parents. On one such trip when I was 12 we were visiting the Ideal Home Exhibition in the Olympia Exhibition Center on a busy Saturday in March 1976, and there were some 20,000 people in the exhibition hall when an explosion went off.

I was on the second floor near the escalator when the bomb exploded. The noise was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and the screams that followed it haunt me to this day. As soon as the bomb went off, the exhibition staff, knowing something was wrong, moved to evacuate people from the building as quickly as possible via the nearest stairs or escalators, which in my case meant down the escalator to the first floor, and then out by the nearest emergency exit.

I can recall the carnage I saw at the bottom of the escalator as if it only happened yesterday. There were security staff doing their best to try and hide the scene from the exiting guests, but the cries of pain from the bloody victims, some with missing limbs, was inescapable. We only found out later the extent of the devastation – Facebook, Twitter and the Internet didn’t exist then – we had to rely on radio and TV reports and newspapers, but there was international outrage when the world found out that more than 70 people were injured, with a number of the injured losing limbs, but no-one was killed. It could have been a LOT worse though.

The bomb, hidden in a plastic dustbin on the first floor of the complex near an escalator, was placed to cause the maximum number of casualties, and while no-one died, the devastation was real and shocking. This attack was also the last of a run of publicly targeted terror attacks executed by the IRA that spanned three years in the ‘70s – the public outcry and increased security that followed led to a break in their hostilities (or at least the ones that targeted the English public).

Unlike the Boston bombing, the perpetrators of the 1976 attack were quick to claim responsibility for the blast – they were fighting what they believed to be a war of independence, and wanted the world to know it was them.

Dan Lampariello / Reuters

David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe

The Boston bombs were also designed to cause maximum damage to any nearby people. You don’t pack metal balls, bb-gun pellets, and nails into a metal container (believed to be a pressure cooker) that will explode into hundreds of pieces of razor-sharp shrapnel as the explosive charge detonates, and place that in a garbage can close to a crowd of people at the finish-line of one of the world’s premier marathon events if you don’t want to see people get hurt… badly.

This image from a Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security joint bulletin shows the remains of a pressure-cooker bomb that exploded during the Boston Marathon, the FBI says.

The people (or person) that did this knew what they were doing and what the impact would be to those that were around the bomb when it went off. But unlike many terrorist acts planned and executed by organizations with a clear agenda, this one doesn’t quite fit the same profile. The explosive devices used were crude, using readily available items and utilizing a design that can be easily found on the Internet if you know what to look for. Over a day later and there has been no-one claiming responsibility.

The timing of the attack seems to be more than coincidence though. On Patriots’ Day, and at a time when the American Congress is actively debating increased gun controls in the face of recent mass murders from people using more conventional firearms, there are some that are speculating that this is a brutal, bloody, and very real demonstration of one of the arguments that those against increased gun controls frequently use…

The argument goes like this… “If someone is determined to hurt or kill people, they don’t need a gun. There are more effective ways to maim and murder lots of people. Taking away guns won’t stop someone who is bent on mass murder.”

The Boston attack serves as a vivid demonstration of this argument.

Bruce Mendelsoh / AP

Whatever the justification in the mind of the person (or people) responsible, the attack, in the words of President Obama “…was a heinous and cowardly act.” he said. “And given what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism. Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror.”

Quoting Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee… “There are a lot of things that are surrounding this that would give an indication that it may have been a domestic terrorist, but that just can’t be assumed,” and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the bombings don’t appear to be harbingers of “a broader plot.”

Whoever is responsible, there is hope that the many thousands of people who have stepped up to help the investigations by providing their photos and videos of the event might have captured images of the perpetrators, and with the expertise and diligence of the investigative team it is hoped that we don’t have to wait too long to see those responsible for yesterdays horrendous attack get the justice that they deserve.

In the words of one of the three victims killed in yesterday’s attack (Martin Richard, 8)… “No More hurting people. Peace”

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(image shared to Facebook by George Takei)

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – Mahatma Gandhi

John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe

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Who has it right?

Being a citizen of the United Kingdom who lived there for the majority of his life, I often still look to the BBC for unbiased news reports of events around the world.

Tragically, today we were presented with two reports of people attacking multiple school children. One in China, where there are very strict gun controls (and gun ownership by private individuals is illegal), and one in the United States of America (where gun ownership is a constitutional right, and while some ownership controls exist, gun ownership is not illegal).

In the case of the attack in China (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-20723910), the headline is…

“A man with a knife has wounded 22 children – at least two of them seriously – and an adult at a primary school in central China.”

In the case of the latest attack in the United States of America (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-20730717), the headline is…

“A gunman has killed 20 children and six adults at a primary school in the US state of Connecticut, police say.”

Both stories are unthinkable to us, and In both cases the mental stability of the person responsible might be questioned, and in both cases you can argue that a person determined to dish out this kind of mayhem will do what they can with the tools available to them, but the outcomes of the two stories are drastically different, because the person in the United States had easy (and constitutionally defended) access to guns whereas the person in China did not.

You can argue all you like about the constitutional right to carry arms here in the US, but facts are facts – in the US there are 26 families who are suffering a tragic loss because guns were easily available to someone, whereas in China, 23 families still have their loved ones because someone had to resort to less effective weapons because guns were not available to them.

The solution to the problem is not simple though. You can’t just outlaw gun ownership and fix this – there are too many guns out there already for that to work. It is clear however that the time for doing nothing and living with the consequences has passed. I just hope that something is done before we find ourselves posting about yet another mass shooting and lamenting that we have a broken society while being unwilling as a nation to do anything about it.

“England entertain France at Wembley”

Earlier today the BBC sport site headlined “England entertain France at Wembley”. Clearly the French were the only ones being entertained in today’s game! So glad that being over in California has desensitized me to the shambles that is the English national soccer team ….

Their end of game report was titled “Classy France expose poor England” and states “France outplay England at Wembley as goals from Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena earn them a 2-1 win in the friendly international.” and “A late England rally could not disguise a gulf in class and technique as France earned a deserved victory at Wembley.”

Clearly the team has learned nothing from their abysmal 2010 World Cup appearance.