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Confronting the Empire


It’s likely we witnessed a rehearsal last Friday in Boston for the wedding of Be Afraid and Martial Law. Most Bostonians said, “I do.” And if they promised to obey, plenty of ‘villians, ‘ers, and other ‘onians across the US will, as well, while wearing face paint, shouting “USA! USA! USA!” and waving the American flag.

Insert: After writing this article, I read that 91% of voters polled by Fox News “approve of law enforcement’s handling of the Boston bombings.”

Officials urged residents to remain inside their homes. Public transportation was shut down and school activities canceled. A house-to-house search was conducted. Law enforcement teams swarmed neighborhoods. Helicopters hovered.

Imagine what parents said to console their terrified children, “It’s to protect us, to keep us safe. These really are the good guys.”

Later, the Boston Police Department tweeted: “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.”

But someone in full combat gear didn’t discover the suspect. The man who found the alleged bomber was holding a cigarette, not a machine gun—despite the abundance of boots and WMD (wielded by the SWAT teams). When Gov. Deval Patrick lifted the curfew, David Henneberry went outside for a smoke. He saw that a tarp protecting his boat was not as he left it. Henneberry then noticed a strap was cut. Checking closer, he pulled back the tarp and saw a pool of blood and what appeared to be a body.

N.Y. Rep. Peter King called for greater law enforcement focus on the Muslim community.

And during a Senate hearing on immigration, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said:

We are here trying to understand why these events have occurred. It’s hard to understand that there are people in this world that want to do Americans harm, so this hearing is an opportunity to refocus on the issues at hand and the importance of remaining vigilant and secure in our homeland.

Read an excerpt from Barack Obama’s April 18 Boston memorial speech about Martin Richard:

And we’re left with two enduring images of this little boy — forever smiling for his beloved Bruins, and forever expressing a wish he made on a blue poster board: “No more hurting people. Peace.”

And more of the president’s platitudes:

You’ve shown us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion. In the face of those who would visit death upon innocents, we will choose to save and to comfort and to heal. We’ll choose friendship. We’ll choose love.

I bow my head in shame, sickened by the xenophobia. I bow my head in shame, sickened when leaders speak hollow words and weep for America’s dead and maimed, concurrent with our country’s incineration of human beings who live in resource-rich lands. I bow my head in shame, sickened by the devastation, in my name.

Nineteen-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told interrogators that he and his brother became radicalized as a result of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have done nothing in these areas that lifted “up what’s good.” Instead, we have visited “death upon innocents” and expanded “the face of cruelty.” Because our government supports endless war. Because endless war demands more and more enemies. Because endless war is big business. Because endless enemies and endless war institutionalize the surveillance state.

And that wedding, the marriage of Be Afraid and Martial Law? We will be ordered to watch on television the vows to love, honor, and obey ‘til death us do part. Despotism, in sickness and in stealth.

Nothing will reverse this unless we, the people, confront the Empire. Understand the link between the horrors we inflict and hatred for the US, the relation between cause and effect. Embrace humanitarian values rather than the American flag. And think about what we’ve mythologized—a way of life that’s gone or never was.

Missy Beattie can be reached at






Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail:

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