Even when police assault a position, they operate from a core value or ethos of protection. Their opponents, on the other hand, operate from a core value of indifference to the safety of innocents, including the police. Operating from the higher moral plane is a tactical disadvantage. In a police state that does not respect liberty and dignity the authorities can behave like belligerents. But in a democratic society police are trained to protect safety and civil liberties even while assaulting. This is why two men with explosives and heavy firearms can hurt so many police officers. Police take into highest consideration everyone’s safety: innocent third parties, suspects and, always third, their own. They will not just crush the bad guys and shrug off how much harm might be created. In every armed engagement the ethos’ duel.
Ethos is a Greek word meaning “character” that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. The ethos of PO Sean Collier and PO Richard Donohue and their community is protect first and protect always. The killers who murdered PO Collier and nearly murdered PO Donohue last night and this morning at MIT and in Watertown took immoral advantage. I suspect but I can’t divine what the Tsarnaev ethos is, but in practice it would be seem to be to kill and maim in furtherance of some cause and then kill as many people as they need to kill to stay at large.
I know that police and others will learn a great deal from the marathon Marathon incident about how to prevent future attacks and how to take desperadoes with as little harm as possible to innocents, including the police, and suspects.
The biggest lesson of all may be the full and complex majesty of the policing excellence now on display in Watertown, MA.