It seems like the alleged bombers - brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - had some serious issues with America, but were genuinely interested in doing the right thing - which of course raises the question why they thought killing ordinary members of the public would be the right thing.
Some recent tweets reported to be from Dzhokhar's twitter account are interesting:
"some people are just misunderstood by the world thus the increase of suicide rates"
"its kind of like we're living in times where good is evil and evil is good"
"they want one thing after another, never satisfied"
"a decade in america already, i want out"
"The value of human life ain't shit nowadays that's tragic"
"There are people that know the truth but stay silent & there are people that speak the truth but we don't hear them cuz they're the minority"
"Evil triumphs when good men do nothing"
Well, these two men did something. It is difficult for Americans to concede that they may have had a point, but consider how many innocent people the American government has killed, directly or indirectly, around the world and within the United States, just within the last 50 years - and the American people have never cared too much until they saw that they could get hurt. It was not Martin Luther King's nonviolence that got black Americans their civil rights - it was the threat of riots and death that convinced the authorities to embrace Martin Luther King's alternative. It was not a cool appeal to reason that led to homosexuality being removed from the list of mental illnesses, it was the Stonewall riots that made others realize that their well-being was at stake. It was not an appeal to fairness that allowed American Indians to reclaim their culture and pride, it was a band of armed Indians at Wounded Knee.
It is a sad fact of life that people will let almost any atrocity be committed in their name indefinitely until they are affected themselves. We Americans like to believe we are different, but history tells us otherwise.
The question that remains is Why? What did these brothers consider worth dying for? Was it Islam, or was it something else? Dzhokhar's tweets suggest it was something more than Islam, something more personal.
Perhaps there is a hint in Tamerlan's arrest for domestic violence. As is well known, in cases of domestic violence where one party is a man, the man is nearly always arrested and prosecuted, regardless of whether he was the aggressor or the victim. Alternately, cultural differences may have led Tamerlan to think of something as acceptable that the authorities considered otherwise. Either way, the consequences of such arrests are often severe and long-lasting, and the disproportional punishments often cause resentment.
It may be some time before we know, if we ever know, why - but when two young men act together like this it is hard to credit it to madness alone - and yet the claims of Islamic extremism seem wanting as well. Perhaps they were deluded, but perhaps they knew something that the rest of us do not - and understood that the only way to get Americans to listen is through violence.
If there is a lesson for us to learn, I wonder whether we will learn it in time.