Lockdown: Becoming Prisoners of Our Own Fear

04/16/2013 09:38 am ET Updated Jun 16, 2013
A man who ran in the Boston Marathon looks down a closed-off Boylston Street April 16, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts, in the
A man who ran in the Boston Marathon looks down a closed-off Boylston Street April 16, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts, in the aftermath of two explosions that struck near the finish line of the Boston Marathon April 15. A massive probe was underway Tuesday after two bombs struck the Boston Marathon, killing at least three and wounding more than 100. Monday's blasts near the finishing line raised fears of a terrorist attack more than a decade after nearly 3,000 people were killed in suicide airliner strikes on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. US President Barack Obama went on national television to warn against 'jumping to conclusions' but a senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said such an attack was 'clearly an act of terror.' AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday's attacks at the Boston Marathon were horrific. We are right to be outraged. But what we must not become is prisoners of our own fear. "Fear is the mind-killer," as Frank Herbert wrote in Dune.

What increasingly concerns me is our knee-jerk recourse to "lock down." You've probably heard the term. We "lock down" our schools when someone sees a potential threat lurking near school grounds. We "lock down" the streets of Boston after the bombs go off. We think we're being prudent in doing so, and so we are.

I don't object to prudent measures of enhanced security. I object to the word "lockdown." It's what you do in a prison to control violent prisoners during riots.

America is not a prison, and American citizens are not prisoners. In uncertain times, in times when we must confront the ugly face of wanton violence, we need to be vigilant, we need to be tough, we need to take responsibility for ourselves and our fears.

What we don't need is a lockdown America. For if our reaction to every act of violence is to "lock down" our public areas while deploying armored cars to the streets, the bad people have already won.

Astore writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at wjastore@gmail.com.