MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The recent bombing attempt in Times Square serves as a reminder of the vulnerability of U.S. cities to would-be terrorists.
Author James Mauro has written an account of a terrorist bombing in New York City in 1940, and he suggests that the end result is rarely what the terrorists intend.
Mr. JAMES MAURO (Author, "Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World's Fair on the Brink of War"): Our national unemployment rate is hovering around 10 percent. We're involved in two wars on multiple fronts. And we look to a new president who promises us hope and change. If this sounds a little familiar, it may be a good time to remember that history, as the saying goes, repeats itself - even if those reminders include SUVs packed with explosives in Times Square.
This Fourth of July marks the 70th anniversary of a little-known terrorist attack on American soil - a time bomb planted in the British Pavilion at the New York World's Fair of 1939 and 1940. After it was carried to a remote area, two bomb squad detectives, Joe Lynch and Freddie Socha, tried to defuse it. The bomb went off in their faces, killing them instantly. It was a tragedy, but it could have been worse. Police Commissioner Lewis Valentine noted that it was a miracle that hundreds of fairgoers weren't killed.
New York was suffering from bomb fever in those years before World War II. On September 11th, 1938, two huge explosions rocked the fur district along West 29th Street. On June 20, 1940, a pair of time bombs ripped open office buildings on Battery Place and East 12th Street. Bomb threats reached a peak of nearly 400 every week. We like to think of those days as innocent, softened by the selective memory of nostalgia, but prewar New York City was perhaps as dangerous then as it is today when it comes to acts of terrorism.
In the wake of that terrible explosion on the Fourth of July in 1940, safer methods for removing and dismantling bombs were developed, saving untold lives in the process. Yet New York remains a target for terrorists looking to make a statement about global politics. The message changes, the enemies speak different languages, but for those who pack explosives into crowded tourist attractions, the modus operandi is always the same. These things invariably come back to New York, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the wake of the Times Square attempt.
Perhaps a hard look at history will remind us that these acts can never truly have an impact on our city or our country. The political motives behind them have lost their meaning. Their repetition across decades of perceived transgressions worldwide has taken the bite out of them. Detectives Lynch and Socha may have died saving the lives of hundreds of innocent fairgoers, but their greater sacrifice is testament to the knowledge that, in the end, the bomber's message, whatever it may be, ultimately goes undelivered.
BLOCK: James Mauro is the author of "Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World's Fair on the Brink of War." You can read an excerpt at npr.org.
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