Post-9/11, doesn’t it seem as though all American experience is blending into a single experience whose label is “your safety”? Which means, in practical terms, you get poked, prodded, searched, and surveilled wherever you go.
The other day, I went to the ballpark to see my team, the Mets, play the Florida Marlins. It’s always a shock these days to make your way into the team’s new stadium, Citi Field (named, charmingly enough, after one of the financial institutions that took us down in 2008 and somehow came up smelling like roses). No more is it just tickets at the turnstile. What’s involved now is that peek into your backpack or bag, followed by the full-scale search of you, body wand and all.
I always have the urge to shout: I’m here for a ballgame, not the Global War on Terror! Instead, of course, I just lift my arms and let myself be wanded. It’s like an eternal reminder that, for Americans, 9/11 did change everything -- and for the more intrusive at that. Once inside, past all the restaurants and clubs, memorabilia shops and sports-clothing stores that now add up to the baseball (basemall?) experience, it turns out you haven’t left America’s wars behind.
In about the fourth inning of this particular humdrum game, only modestly attended on a Monday night, the looming Jumbotron in the outfield (where I was sitting) suddenly flashed a shot of an Iraq War veteran in the stands. Caught in the camera’s eye, he stood up to wave, bringing the sparse crowd to its feet cheering. Then, former Mets great Tom Seaver came on screen making a pitch for vets, which he concluded this way: “They’ve made their sacrifice. Now, it’s time for us to do the same.”
And then, of course, everybody sat down, went back to hotdogs and peanuts, and the game proceeded. As Andrew Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, points out in a particularly striking way in his piece “Ballpark Liturgy: America’s New Civic Religion,” it’s no mistake that pleas like Seaver’s end in mid-air on nothing whatsoever. Like the Bud Lite being sold all over that stadium, sacrifice-lite is being sold all over America when it comes to wars that most of us are almost completely detached from (until the bills start coming in). Sacrifice-lite turns out to have less body and isn’t filling, but nobody’s about to complain. Not in America.