How does our country respond to an attack or insurrection in Washington? With fences?? Are we that predictable as a nation? As a Boomer Voice, BoomerCafé’s publisher and co-founder David Henderson says that shouldn’t be an issue, but it is. And the photos he shot recently in the nation’s capital drive the point home.
There is such dark symbolism in the tall fences topped with razor wire that now form a perimeter more than a quarter of a mile out from the United States Capitol. Inside the fences, behind concrete barriers, troops with automatic weapons still walk patrol… National Guardsmen and women from around the country.
The other day, I looked at the Capitol building from the Washington Mall and thought about my years working there as a young reporter. The Capitol was then and still is a place of reverence, inspiration, and respect. It’s the legislative seat of the government of America.
As I stood there, looking through the fence, a Marine, out for a walk with his wife, stopped nearby. “It reminds me of Baghdad,” he said to me, remembering his deployment to that war zone. Then, he added, “Baghdad on the Potomac.” I nodded.
Sadly, I thought, that Marine is right. Washington has taken on all the look and feel of a war zone. Life and business in the city was disrupted by the pandemic, but this is, too, is serious, and no one seems to know… and maybe no one can even say… when it might return to a semblance of normal.
The fence was built after the violent invasion of the Capitol on January 6th insurrection by a group of armed militants, and hooligans… a mob inspired by President Trump’s lies about the election. He was impeached for giving them the idea of attacking the Capitol building after months of fiery, partisan rhetoric, and then, when he pumped them up at a rally, earlier that day, in person.
When the attacks of 9-11 occurred nearly 20 years ago, I remember that fences, barricades, and walls went up across Washington and forever limited freedom for all of us. Foreign terrorists caused 9-11. Today’s domestic terrorists might be more threatening and dangerous to our democracy. Fences are not the answer.
The only other time the Capitol was attacked… by British troops in 1812… I doubt our forefathers built a fence around the place afterward. No, they were smarter than that. They set about building a nation.
Fences are offensive, manipulative symbols. Like walls, fences are often built to divide us… to create separation and fear. Fear, division, and separation have no place at the citadel of our nation – the United States Capitol – or anywhere in the heart of America’s democracy.
But, fences have gotten to be so predictable, so expected, so troubling by what they signify. Today in Washington, not only is the Capitol surrounded by fencing but the White House as well. So are a park and several city blocks adjacent to the White House.
The fenced perimeter around the White House extends for a half mile. A half mile!
Even historic Decatur House, built in 1818 and located two blocks north of the White House, is fenced off. Decatur House was a dusty Naval museum where I have fond memories of exploring as a boy and the place where I got married as a man. Today, it’s behind Secret Service barricades.
Nearby Lafayette Square, a once-pristine seven-acre park that dates to the late 1700s, had beautiful walks lined with flowers and benches beneath a canopy of trees. Today, it’s a sad, fenced-off muddy wasteland, strewn haphazardly with temporary trailers and vehicles… all in the name of defense, I guess. Washington has sadly come to this.
And the world watches.
In my view, such fences are an overreaction, a defensive, fearful knee-jerk to cover up incompetence, excuses, finger-pointing, and lack of intelligent planning. Rather than getting smarter about granting permits, screening large groups more carefully, and having adequate staff on hand— in other words, rather than using principles of intelligent security— fences are put up. Fences like those at the many prisons across America.
Big fences and police armed to the teeth in the heart of our nation’s capital make us look like an authoritarian nation, so not-who-we-are-as-Americans.
The world watches.
Yet, it is predictable behavior that happens in the United States when something shocking and sudden happens. Things are locked down and police take command with fierce firepower. They wheel out the fencing. And, it is always after the fact, after the event. ALWAYS.
Following the 9-11 attacks, authorities even locked down Arlington Cemetery, a favorite place in the Washington area, with its winding roads for bicycling and walking. But, it is still restricted, with guards. Nearly 20 years later, I still don’t understand that.
The world watches…
What kind of America do we want the world to see? A land of fences with high-powered automatic weapons deployed to keep the peace? For what purpose? Again, it only masks incompetence and ineptness and a lack of knowing what else to do by so-called “leaders” inside the buildings surrounded by high fences…
And, the world watches…
All photos ©2021 David Henderson.