The bombs at the Boston Marathon were designed to maim and kill, and they did. Three people died within the first moments of the blast. More than a hundred and seventy people were injured. They had their limbs blown off, vital arteries severed, bones fractured, flesh torn open by shrapnel or scorched by the blasts’ heat. Yet it now appears that every one of the wounded alive when rescuers reached them will survive.
Medically speaking, this is no small accomplishment. We’ve seen bombs like this in the battlefields of the Middle East, but rarely in cities like Boston. In the past century of wartime conflict, explosive devices have escalated to become the predominant cause of military casualties. Among American personnel wounded in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have accounted for three-quarters of injuries; gunshot wounds for just twenty per cent. It has been an historic accomplishment for military medical units to bring case-fatality rates from such injuries down from twenty-five per cent in previous conflicts to ten per cent today. And according to data from the Israeli National Trauma Registry, explosives used in terror attacks have tended to be three times deadlier than those used in war—because civilians don’t have armor, because victims span a wider range of age and health, and because preparedness tends to be less systematic. Nonetheless, in Boston, they survived.