The Boston Marathon bombing is being described as a “cowardly act”, and I am uncomfortable with the adjective. Of course, the hijackers who took over the airplanes on 9/11 on a suicide mission were also described as “cowardly”, and that I really don’t see at all: voluntarily going on a suicide mission is (to my mind) more or less the opposite of cowardly.
In the bombing, cowardly seems more apt: plant a bomb and be far, far away when it explodes and kill people does seem to be cowardly: the bomber runs no risk of being killed or captured (at the time) because s/he’s not present at the explosion. As an example, look at the drone strikes: death delivered from the sky by a person sitting at a desk thousands of miles away. That also seems cowardly, does it not? And yet we avoid characterizing it as such, though we do raise an eyebrow at the idea of these desk pilots getting combat medals as though they had run any risk at all.