New York City’s obituary has been written many times. The latest declarations of Gotham’s demise harp on the current crop of problems but ignore New York’s ability to survive even the worst the world has to offer.
The current issues confronting NYC are for certain no joke. Our city was the epicenter of the global Coronavirus pandemic and its expansive economic impact and slow recovery continues to force businesses to close. Our vibrant nightlife and renowned theater district have been shuttered for months with no recovery in the near term. On top of that, we’ve seen a resurgence of crime and “quality of life” issues that harken back to the dark times of the 1970s and 1980s, replete with threats to lay off city workers including law enforcement.
It’s gotten to the point where a group of business leaders wrote a letter to New York City’s mayor pleading with him to begin addressing the crime problem and other issues of urban decay. Mayor Bill de Blasio began his first term promising to put a progressive spin on the successes of his predecessors; he will leave office an object of ridicule and a case study in how activist mayors consistently fail New York.
But as bad as New York’s problems are, they pale in comparison to problems that we’ve seen only a few short decades ago.
I first lived in New York City when I was born, and as a baby I lived on Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx near Fordham Road. Not far from where I was living with my parents, landlords were routinely setting fire to their own buildings; cashing in the insurance money was more lucrative than renting apartments and the buildings were insured for more than they would have fetched on the real estate market. A few years later, New York’s Mayor Abe Beam famously appealed to President Gerald Ford for a federal bailout, as New York City was broke. ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead’ was the famous NY Daily News headline documenting his refusal to help.
A little over a century earlier, Union troops were drawn away from the battlefield of Gettysburg by the Draft Riots of 1863, which saw rampaging Irish mobs attack and murder Blacks, even setting fire to an orphanage. Even the most anarchic rioters of the current crime wave have not reached these levels of depravity.
I’ve been mugged and pickpocketed and gone through a year of unemployment to the point of having only a few dollars to my name. I have also played music on a stage that the Ramones made famous, had my family on cable television ringing the stock market’s opening bell, and seen some of the best concerts, plays and movies available to our civilization. New York is where I met my wife and where we raise our children and can show them the cultures of half the world by only traveling a few miles.
While the thought occurs to me to leave New York sometimes, the urge to stay is greater.
After the September 11 attacks, it became unpatriotic to flee the five boroughs in my opinion. It still breaks my heart that we have allowed religious lunatics to remake our skyline. But these failures of leadership do not make New York City less great, only more resilient.
The Roman Empire fell long ago, but Rome is still majestic and magical. New York was a force for the world before America became a reality. New York will survive the current malaise gripping America; it will survive until humanity dies out. New York City will be here forever.
Last Wednesday thousands gathered in Fort Totten Park in Bayside, Queens for a fireworks display. The event had all the makings of potential disaster by modern metrics. Thousands of diverse people crammed into a limited area and jockeying for space to get a good view. A little league soccer team was wrapping up practice as people took their places in the expanse of green field between portable toilets and a row of food trucks. Bounce castles entertained children before the fireworks started and people took what they thought were the best positions to view the show as they waited for the sky to get dark enough.
The fireworks started promptly and a roaring whoop went up from the crowd as fireworks lit up the sky. New Yorkers cheered enthusiastically for this celebration of our War of Independence. When it was over, the crowd made its way out of Fort Totten without incident, or at least any major ones.
From parts of Fort Totten you can see the glitter of the Manhattan skyline and be inspired by the nighttime majesty of the Throgs Neck Bridge lit up. It is a marvel how New York holds itself together while the country seemingly tears itself apart. Gotham is as rife with division as everywhere else: New York City gave us both Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The greatness of New York serves as a microcosm of America. We see all the same issues in New York first, and the city, rightly or wrongly, serves as a template for how the rest of the country can navigate its problems.
The Fourth of July brings us down to Earth, reminds us of how American we are. It is popular to look upon outward signs of patriotism as right-wing or quaint, but if you believe America is for everyone and that patriotism is expansive and great, then join the celebration. The freedom we have was purchased in a bloody war, several actually.
The land we are on we do not claim by divine right. Every inch of America was fought over. We waged war on France, Great Britain (twice), Mexico (twice), Spain and countless Native American nations to get the current borders of the United States. July 4th celebrates the birth of our nation, a hard-fought war for Independence that was in effect our first civil war. When the war started it was not a foregone conclusion that we would win. The patriots who signed their names to the Declaration of Independence knew that the document would serve as their death warrant if the war didn’t go their way.
The Battle of Brooklyn was one of the bloodiest fights in the history of the American Revolution, and the war would have ended had Washington not been able to retreat to Manhattan. The British held New York for most of the war, but the city has signs of the American Revolution everywhere. The first woman who took up arms for America, Margaret Corbin, fought at the Battle of Fort Washington in Manhattan.
Some are fatalistic and see America as it is headed now as intrinsically doomed. There is no cultural coherence to sustain us through these times, they say, and new communities and nations will rise out of what is now a crumbling empire. But New Yorkers have bridged these divides in the crucibles of ambition and creativity. We are strong when we demand truth and strength, and turn to leaders not afraid to speak honestly and make the right enemies. We can do that in America as a whole if we are willing.
Let the American Revolution be our call to action today.
As someone who was rejected by all four major branches of the military in one form or another, I don’t have much authority to preach on about the sacrifices made by our armed services.
I have family and friends who have and continue to serve in the military, and I am very grateful for the sacrifices that they’ve made and for the fact that all I’ve known personally have come back alive and in one piece. I still know people who get deployed and they and their families go through a lot that most of us aren’t willing to go through.
Most citizens don’t serve in the military and are far removed from the everyday toils and struggle of the people who wear the uniform, and that’s a mistake. It’s a mistake to remove the burden of national security from the common person.
This country was forged by common citizens, and the first people who gave their lives to create this country were outlaws using illegal weapons. Nothing could be less American than becoming a slobbering hag enthralled with anyone in a uniform. Memorial Day honors brave men and women who died in service to our country, in or out of uniform.
“Supporting the troops” has becoming such a meaningless phrase that it includes anyone who sticks and American flag on their lawn and stands for the national anthem. I’ve been to baseball games with friends who are commies and refuse to stand for the national anthem and I have family and friends who want to punch those people in the face.
But this is America, and the people who stand for the national anthem do so because they want to, not because they have to. If we force people to stand for our national anthem, we won’t survive as a country and don’t deserve to. I refuse to live in a land where we force our own citizens to salute our flag. Millions of Americans died for our freedom, including the freedom to be a snotty ingrate.
The few people who would desecrate Memorial Day or step on or burn an American flag do so to be offensive, and they are. Do you know what I find more offensive? That military families have had to raise money on their own to pay for their loved ones’ body armor and other supplies. That we insist on wars halfway across the globe while our own borders are porous and that we have generals who think increasing the racial diversity of our military is more important than not having our troops murdered by their own doctors. I don’t like burning the American flag, but people who do offend me a lot less than whoever thought it would be a good idea to pay private contractors twice what our service members make.
None of the actions of our government, nor of the military itself, shrouds or negates the sacrifices made by men and women who fought and died for our country.
It’s unfortunate that such a solemn holiday is the unofficial start of the summer season. I wish I could say I’ll be spending Monday at a veteran’s cemetery putting flags on graves or quietly reflecting on the sacrifices made by our war dead. But I’ll be at a friend’s house eating hot dogs and playing music among a haze of cigar smoke. And I don’t even like summer.
I cannot share in the glory of any military victory, but I experience the benefit of our fallen fighters every day.
And evidence of this sacrifice is all around us. We take the security of our country for granted and laugh at the idea of being invaded by the military of another country. That comfort comes at a very high price. Please remember that.
Memorial Day is a day when millions of Americans pay lip service to people who gave their life in service to our country. It’s happening at a time when the government’s treatment of our veterans has never been worse.
Laying a wreath for the dead is not a substitute for respecting the living. And our veterans have been mistreated in ways that ought to shame a nation that claims to be a serious military power. The current state of neglect of our veterans is about as respectful as taking a piss on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Why are there celebrities making commercials for private charities that care for veterans? Why should any private charity exist to support wounded veterans? Our government accepted full responsibility for the health of our veterans when the veteran signed on the dotted line to join. There should be no issue with veterans getting the things they need.
Yet our TV broadcasts are teeming with entertainers taking to the airwaves to beg couch potatoes for money on Memorial Day weekend to help wounded American veterans.
Ours is supposed to be the most powerful military in the world. Our armed forces operate drones that can send a missile up a camel’s ass two thousand miles away but can’t afford a few shekels to build a wheelchair ramp for a crippled soldier? Am I the only person in TV land who thinks this is horrifying horse shit?
Health care for your soldiers is a basic, like ammunition for rifles, boots and helmets. You wouldn’t send a soldier or Marine into battle without ammunition, you don’t bring them home without the ability to provide health care.
What better way to tell our enemies that the U.S.A. is a paper tiger than to let them see that private charities have to help care for wounded U.S. service members?
And it’s gotten worse. The Bureau of Veterans Affairs was shown to keep secret waiting lists at some of its hospitals to cover up the terrible waiting times for medical care. So upper management knew how bad things were and tried to cover it up rather than fix it.
So while the efforts of the Wounded Warrior Project are noble, such charities shouldn’t exist because they shouldn’t have to. Veterans with serious injuries should have all of their health needs tended to. They shouldn’t have to raise money for wheelchairs or artificial limbs. Those benefits should be a given and not subject to debate.
We have an all-volunteer military and haven’t had a draft since the Vietnam War (although the “stop-loss” programs and activation of inactive reservists during the George W. Bush administration served as a kind of draft, with the lottery restricted to veterans who had already served). So it behooves the government to make good on its promises to veterans. Among the outraged public are potential new recruits. If the military is willing to break its promises to the aged and the infirm, why should a patriotic American want to join. (N.B. – Years ago a family member who was then enlisted in the armed forces described recruiters as “hired liars.”).
So while I hope everyone at least takes a moment to reflect on the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country, we should determine that there won’t have to be private charities tending to the needs of our veterans.