Guys With Guns
By A.D. Freudenheim

30 March 2003

About a week ago I got off the subway at 96th Street and Broadway and, as I walked towards the turnstiles, saw two camouflaged soldiers carrying M16 rifles loitering off to the side, watching the crowd. After the attacks of 11 September 2001, some number of National Guard troops were deployed in and around New York, to help protect the City from further attacks; in the several weeks since the U.S. raised the terror alert status to High, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of military personnel serving protective duty in the City. Where previously these soldiers had been assigned only to bolster security at airports, in the major train stations and other ports of entry, the new deployments have apparently been given a broader assignment, and they have turned up in more random places like the subway, as well as near museums and other places of public interest.

Anyone who has traveled to other countries with consistent problems of civil unrest - for example, Israel, Turkey, some countries in Africa, or even now-vanished Cold War hot spots like East Berlin - knows that soldiers are often pressed into civilian protective duty. Moreover, when I have visited places like this my overwhelming feeling has been sadness that such high levels of force are needed to keep a very basic kind of peace - rather than disturbed, upset, or fearful of their presence. I cannot claim to have been calmed by seeing well-armed soldiers, but neither did they ever seem terribly out of place.

Here at home it is a different story altogether, and seeing large guys with large guns in the subway does not make me feel more secure. As much as I know that these troops are there to protect me, I do not feel safer; as much as their deployment is intended to deter terrorist attacks, I cannot help but doubt that they truly do so. After all, look at Israel, where the mere presence of soldiers does not appear to have discouraged suicide bombers from completing missions, although it may affect how and when they blow themselves up and, as a result, reduce the number of casualties. (But this is all speculative.)

More to the point: there is no evidence to suggest that had, there been soldiers deployed at the Boston or Washington airports, the terrorists who hijacked airplanes on 11 September 2001 would have been either discouraged or caught; it seems they were well aware of the risks, and it was because of inadequate security and screening technologies (which allowed them to bring knives on to the plane) that they were not caught. Nor is there any reason to think that, had soldiers been milling around the World Trade Center on that morning, they would have had any ability to bring down one of these airplanes before they crashed into a building. And, of course, the third building that was attacked was the Pentagon, the home of the U.S. military and exactly the place where one might even have expected some defenses against attacks from the air – and yet no such defenses seemed to exist.

Instead the active presence of the military in law enforcement roles within civilian society is the worst kind of reminder of the war we are fighting some six thousand miles away; of the sense not only that we New Yorkers could be targets for future attacks, but more importantly of the kind of society I am fearful we could become on a long-term basis. (After all, Iraq is also among those countries that uses its military to force compliance from its citizens.) As if the U.S. is not militaristic enough; as if we do not already have more guns - legal and illegal, and held by those charged with protecting us but also by those who would or could do us harm – than any other nation on earth. Now, we have to deploy more people with more guns just to protect us from an abstract threat we cannot see and cannot predict. No, the presence of active-duty soldiers in New York does not make me feel better. If anything, the real motivation behind such a widespread distribution of soldiers seems to be intended to do exactly what none of us want to believe: to instill fear among us, because a fearful population becomes a population more easily controlled.

Contemplate the following: if every person re-evaluates each action not out of moral considerations but because of the fear that they will be caught, isn’t this the exact opposite of a free and open society? Are the soldiers there to make sure that people do not litter in the subway? No, of course not. But what if I do? Or what if two people are engaged in an argument, not violently but just loudly; will these soldiers become concerned, perhaps even agitated, over what threat this might represent to them or to others? As scary as the police can be, they are (one hopes) specifically trained in managing a civilian population and in controlling their use of force; can the same be said of soldiers carrying M-16s? Doesn’t introducing a gun into a situation automatically increase the likelihood that the gun will be used?

I agree wholeheartedly with making every effort to stop terrorists from entering the country, with the need to protect our borders, search foreign cargo ships, and take other reasonable measures to thwart terrorist attacks. However, if the price of doing so is that we must change the nature of our freedom, the scope of our liberties, and turn into a nation where our democracy is maintained by the military - rather than where the military serves the will of democracy – then I can say clearly and loudly: the price is too high.

Copyright 2003, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.