Iron-Willed Town, Iron-Willed Lady

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

"Who would you be happiest to find out did it?" an old friend jumpily asked on the phone the day after the Boston Marathon bombing. Considering that he and I have vied since the first Gulf War to see who can sound more banteringly cynical about whatever shock to the heart cable news has just smacked everyone with, I knew that wasn't his true self talking. There are ups and downs to feeling most comfortable around gamy Howard Hawks fans, and most of my male friendships have been about indulging each other's disguises in the full awareness that that's all they are.

Even so, for a change, I wasn't in the mood. After a second or two, I coughed up a negative wish that it wasn't Al-Qaeda or some other Islamist group. Muslims have been demonized enough, blah blah, and can we please change the subject? So we awkwardly shifted back to the latest books and movies, always our neutral ground. Our strange satisfaction about both art forms' increasing irrelevance tallies exactly with our implicitly bitter sense of our own uselessness, which may just prove we're still egotists.

Nonetheless, it was odd and interesting to feel my inner sanctimonious fud—the way I've kept that dork on bread and water in the oubliettes all these years would make the Man in the Iron Mask feel like he'd won the lottery—coming to the fore at long last. For which, oddly and (I hope) interestingly, I blame Margaret Thatcher. Not long before the bombs went off in Boston, the Iron Lady's death had made me reconsider the value of loathing.

Loathe her, I did. As much as any non-Briton could, anyhow. But a couple of days before Boston, I'd gotten myself in hot water on Facebook by posting to the effect that guzzling champagne in Trafalgar Square to celebrate the demise of a long-out-of-power octogenarian with dementia wasn't my cup of tea.

"Now ain't the time for your tears," one FB pal rebuked me, quoting Bob Dylan. Yet who had said anything about tears? Not me. I just didn't see the point of treating her death as divine retribution. If it was, we'll all get retributed sooner or later, including those of us who don't believe in divine anything. To whatever extent I'd been moved by Thatcher's passing—and I was—I'd been moved for the simple reason that even our youth's Wicked Witches are part of our youth and after many a summer dies the swan.

Her funeral yesterday was a massively attended public event that had the authorities concerned about—no, not violence, exactly. Just contumely getting out of hand, for very understandable reasons. Millions of people whose lives were ruined by her cruel reign are still with us and their hind legs are operative. I very much admired most—though not all, since challenging Maggie's womanhood was a bit much—of Glenda Jackson's speech in Parliament reminding us of the human costs of Thatcherism.

The Boston Marathon, on the other hand, was a massively attended public event no one expected to end with anyone's hind legs inoperative. Or with blood on the sidewalk and three (so far) dead. And to belatedly answer my old friend's question, I don't care who did it and no perp's identity could make me feel vindicated in my political prejudices. Blood on the sidewalk is the threat to democracy. Thatcher may have done her best to destroy many things I hold dear, but she was no enemy of civilization. There is a difference.

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