James Holmes

The Minutemen of Boston

“The heartening public response to last week’s events suggests that the defiant Minutemen ethos lives on in Boston.”

"Scorn and defiance; slight regard, contempt, / And any thing that may not misbecome / The mighty sender, doth he prize you at." Since it's the week after Patriot's Day, it's probably heresy not to quote Longfellow or some other patriotic man of letters in response to the Boston bombings. But to me it's Shakespeare, the greatest of Englishmen, who sums up the proper sentiment toward such atrocities. The Bard has the Duke of Exeter deliver this marvelous taunt from Henry V to the Dauphin of France on the eve of Henry's cross-channel offensive. It certainly embodies the attitude of this former denizen of Cambridge and Watertown.

And attitude matters in twilight struggles such as this one. Readers of this site know I'm a follower of the late Rear Admiral J. C. Wylie, who classifies military campaigns as "sequential" or "cumulative." Sequential campaigns unfold from tactical action to tactical action, each leading to the next. You can generally use vectors to plot them on the map or nautical chart. They have destinations. Cumulative campaigns are nonlinear. Plotting them on the map looks like spattering paint everywhere, with each spot depicting a tactical action unrelated to any other action in time or space. The aggregate effect of this scattershot approach is to wear out an adversary — much as Henry Adams observed that the British blockade, a quintessential cumulative campaign, drove the American economy to "exhaustion" during the War of 1812. It leads to no decisive battle or definite end. Morale is crucial when under prolonged assault.

Terrorism is another cumulative mode of warfare, and so is counterterrorism. Counterterror forces can't be everywhere at all times to thwart individual attacks. It would bankrupt the public treasury, and no one would want to live in such a garrison society. That being the case, ordinary people will bear the brunt of the initial response, whether by fighting back — remember the heroism of the passengers of Flight 93, self-made warriors who prevented a third strike on September 11 — or by rendering aid and comfort to victims, or by supplying the authorities with information. Everyone is a potential first responder.

Come to think of it, there is a Patriot's Day tie-in here. "Minutemen" such as Captain John Parker — rank-and-file citizens who took up arms to defend their communities — make a fitting model for societies under siege. Parker led his ragtag force of citizen-soldiers out onto Lexington Green on April 19, 1775 to oppose a Redcoat column marching to seize a weapons cache at Concord. Thus commenced the American Revolution. His statue still adorns the green. (My daughter seems unimpressed when reminded that she learned to walk under Captain Parker's watchful gaze.) The heartening public response to last week's events suggests that the defiant Minutemen ethos lives on in Boston. Let's keep it that way.