Anyone who has spent the night in Manhattan knows that the sirens never cease. The city sounds as if it's under constant siege. The guttural moan of NYPD's rumbler siren, engineered to penetrate windows and bodies alike, presents as if it were designed to herald the apocalypse. It's not unlike the echo of the A10 Gatling gun, one of the most feared weapons in the U.S. arsenal.* The Wednesday before Thanksgiving was no exception. In a hotel room seventeen stories above Times Square, the howl of the city competed for attention with the Bloomberg Business report on television. Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren was touting the superstore's annual Thanksgiving Day Parade as his company's "gift to America," an event that I had brought my family from our home in rural Vermont to see. Some of my friends thought I was nuts. "Don't you know that ISIS wants to attack the parade?" After the "soft target" Paris attacks two weeks earlier, New York City did, indeed, increase its security. The Sunday before the parade "hundreds of emergency responders simulated a subway terror attack"which included an 'attacker' wearing a suicide vest." On Thanksgiving eve, President Obama gave a National Security speech where, after stating that the U.S. had conducted over "800 airestrikes on ISIL" he said:
As Americans travel this weekend to be with their loved ones, I want them to know that our counterterrorism, intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement professionals at every level are working overtime. They are continually monitoring threats at home and abroad, continually evaluating our security posture. They're constantly working to protect all of us.
As my family and I stood at the corner of 5th Avenue and 51st Street the next morning, the first vehicle in the parade, just in front of the famous Macy's star balloons, was a large black van, its side doors open to frame "soldiers" perched with automatic weapons at the ready. They looked like they belonged in the doorway of one of the many choppers hovering overhead rather than condemned to four wheels on the ground. The juxtaposition of this image, more than anything I have experienced, brought home a statement made to me three years ago by James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, that post 9/11 America has "degenerated into an empire nation with a warfare garrison state."
It would be foolish, of course, to believe that Thursday's three million spectators - a million more souls than attend the Hajj in Mecca - were risk free, but it is not foolish to attempt to understand the nature of that risk. Before the parade I was interviewed at Grand Central Station by a local news reporter who wanted to know if the extra security in New York made me feel safe. "Sure," I answered, "but I would feel safer if the United States had a better foreign policy." The reporter, an attractive young man, refused to take the bait - if, indeed, he knew I was baiting him at all. Gesturing toward the three soldiers standing thirty feet away he all but pleaded, "But do you feel safer?"
One cannot walk around Manhattan without imagining the heartbreak of September eleventh. The names of the dead etched in steel that border the cascading waterfalls of the 9/11 Memorial is a testament of mourning that is palpable. But, at the same time, I could not help but feel empathy for the thousands of Syrian refugees seeking safe harbor as I walked my family through the Great Hall at Ellis Island. Walling in the "homeland" while bombing a distant continent is not an act of reason, but an act of empire. The United States' response to al-Qaeda has all of humanity hurtling toward perpetual suffering.** Only in an empire that neglects to recognize the millions of lives lost due to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria, could Macy's CEO Terry Lundren get away with declaring that America needs the Macy's parade now "more than ever" without acknowledging that this "gift to America" exists to raise stock prices.
Don't get me wrong, my family and I loved watching the parade and roaming around the streets of New York. We found New Yorkers friendly to a fault! And though the city was teeming with uniforms and guns, Black Friday shoppers were free to move about unencumbered. And I mean all shoppers, including the middle-aged Muslim woman I passed carrying a Victoria's Secret bag. New York! A potpourri of images within the heart of empire.
*You can compare the Rumbler to the A10 by accessing the two links below:
*Lest you think this is hyperbole, imagine the state of the world if the "Paris attacks" were carried out in an American city, a scenario that is not unlikely.