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Monday, September 11, 2006

For whom the bell tolls 

I was visiting Philadelphia a couple of weeks back. Great town. Lot’s of historic sites, lush greenery, pretzels second to none, and of course scores of Quakers. Oh those crazy religious sects and their oatmeal.

The one thing that rattled me, and this may be fitting seeing how today marks the fifth anniversary of the United States evoking realpolitik foreign policy and Orwellian domestic policy because they’re scared of their own shadow, was my visit to the Liberty Bell.

The Liberty Bell, this sad looking chime, is a sacred relic of the birth of the American nation. It really didn’t do a lot in its day, but well crafted histories incorporated this thing into the official story of America. Before 9/11 the liberty bell was merely an icon. Now, five years into this psychobabble of the war on terror, this bell is one of the top marked potential terrorist sites in the continental U.S. So they say.

Oh yes! Come visit the Liberty Bell. But before you do, be sure to empty your purses, take off your belt, empty your pockets, carry no bottled water, remove your shoes, and don’t make jokes about this process. Before you get to The Bell, you go through an ad hoc airport style security check point; and the routine of harassment begins. This is how Americans know that the government is keeping them safe, by telling them to remove their personal attire, as if it were gym time in Kindergarten.

Is it just me, or is the irony enough to choke an elephant? This Bell, symbol of revolution (despite the fact it was a wealthy white man’s revolution), spirited icon of freedom, now demands that the governing state reduce you to non-existence by forcing you to remove your clothes and accessories from your person. This Bell, emblem for the constitution, which clearly says, "A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed" now demands that not a single arm be brought near it, be it a Colt pistol or a bottle of Coca Cola. Sure less guns and less sugar water is probably a good thing. But it is this bell that gives every American man (sorry women, you weren’t in the program in the 1700s) a fundamental right, more fundamental than healthcare even, to bear arms and fend off harassing governors, but now this security farce castrates this bold and fearless message. How un-American.

All the hype about bombs bursting in the air, and rocket’s red glare really comes crashing down when you see the sad and scared little Liberty Bell today. It, along with all of the “glorious attributes” for which it represents, cowers behind the indefatigable defence of homeland security; safe and sound from all of the bearded bomb throwers. Even more dismal is the utter complacency of every American to visit the Bell or board a plane. No one protests or even dares to murmur a complaint. “You’re seeing America at its worst,” my friend told me. Indeed, this place born of a narrow spirit of revolution (again, mostly to secure tax benefits for the elite) may just grow completely senile from utter pacification.

Ben Franklin, while helping to draft the constitution, gazed on George Washington’s chair and saw a half sun. Franklin asked whether that sun was rising or setting, and also whether if his new country, like that sun, was in the dawn or the dusk. Ben concluded that he saw a morning. I’m wondering now, only five years into the war on terror, 20+ years into the war on drugs, and over 200 years into the war against everyone else, if that sun is finally setting. Because if this Bell, that supposedly called people to it to bear arms, now asks that people put their guns away, I think that this time the U.S. may have truly lost complete sense of itself.


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