On the morning of July 7, upon first hearing about the London subway and bus attacks, a thought occurred to me: Maybe we’d be better off if we surrendered to the terrorists, gave them everything they want and then hoped for the best.
I recognized this was a Really Bad Thought, the kind that sometimes pops into my head when I see a cute baby. (Hmmm … take a bite out of skull?) Or when I look down at my adorable cat Scoopie. (Cook for dinner? Throw across the room? Take bite out of skull?) Often I can’t get through a prayer without thinking about something very inappropriate or cursing the Lord. Nothing to be ashamed of.
Was this thought about the terrorists so over the top?
That evening I met Doris Madonna, a middle-aged former receptionist who bakes cakes now. She was roller-skating around some Rastafarians by the Central Park band shell.
“I would never surrender, and I don’t believe that any New Yorker or anyone in America should ever surrender to terrorists,” she said. “It’s like giving up on your life. That is a feel-good scenario you have—but it isn’t logical, because when you’re dealing with terrorists, they don’t have that feel-good attitude. They will just kill for the sheer pleasure of killing.”
She said she was a very big George W. Bush fan.
“I wish that there were more people in New York who were,” she said. “I happen to think that he became President at a time when our country needed George Bush to be President, and I don’t believe that anyone else could have done a better job.”
A bearded guy was sitting on a bench. He smelled like he’d been there for a while and looked kind of like a terrorist. His name was Ben; he said he was a 36-year-old “sojourner” from upstate. Ben didn’t buy my idea of surrendering.
“You have to understand what they want,” he said. “They want death—death to this country.”
Might we be better off under Islamic rule?
“Well, I hate to quote Star Trek, but: ‘Jim, are you insane?’”
I kind of ran away.
I walked to the outdoor bar at Bryant Park where young people drink.
“We’re not going to lose the war,” said Bob Belli, a 28-year-old father who works in sales. “That’s the whole thing. Even if the perception is we didn’t win because we lost thousands of casualties, at the end of the day—10, 15, 20 years—the more we push them back into their holes, kill them, get rid of their leaders, the better off it’s going to be for the rest of the world. Simple as that.”
But might we be better off giving up?
“I would imagine people who think that read The New York Times every day, that they’re ignorant, and they listen to Katie Couric in the morning.”
Three women nearby thought we should stay the course.
“Fuck the terrorists!”
“The Taliban wouldn’t know what the fuck to do with America!”
“Are you Al Qaeda? Are you really a cop?”
Nearby was Margaret Copeland, a 19-year-old actress who recently wrote and appeared in a one-woman Off Broadway show, My Fake IDs.
“I could imagine somebody making that argument and being like, ‘Let’s make friends,’” she said. “Honestly, how can we make friends with them? People say we’re a bully, but, like, how can we make friends with someone who’s, like, conniving behind our backs?”
She suggested I go to St. Marks Place.
There, I spotted a young woman with a nose ring who looked like a potential revolutionary. She was walking her black-and-white cat.
“No way—I think we need to go after the terrorists and stop dicking around,” she said. The cat looked like it agreed.
“It would be like losing everything you believe in, everything you stand for,” a South African tourist told me. “It’s like giving yourself over to aliens.”
“Surrendering or compromising?” asked Dan from Cleveland, who said he was 21 and homeless. “Surrendering? Absolutely not.”
I gave him a dollar bill.
“Maybe I would make that argument if I knew more about what the terrorists were about,” he said. “Right now, all I see is that they care about killing people—but I know deep down they stand for more than that. I can imagine it would work out. A lot of us Americans are stubborn and don’t want to give in to anything. We’re probably one of the most stubborn countries.”
I sat down for a drink at Baldo Vino down the street. Behind the bar, there were little pictures of Muammar el-Qaddafi and a Hamas-like terrorist in a mask. Robert Hart was the 32-year-old bartender. He said he was also an artist and musician.
“I come from the last hippie movement: the rave scene,” he said. “Humanity as we know it is going to die anyway; we’re all in a no-win situation at this point. I just live every day trying to be happy. War doesn’t solve everything. It’s a swinging-dick contest; it’s all about oil and attitude. The Bush family and the terrorists all have the same attitude. The Bush family is a terrorist. We’re crying about 47 people who died over there, but how many people does America kill every day?
“We need a Gandhi, we need a new John Lennon—we need to learn to imagine again,” he said.
What did he think of the terrorists?
“I actually understand their point,” he said. “They’ve lost their children, their mothers, their fathers, so what do they care if they kill a hundred innocent people—because they’ve watched 100,000 innocent people die.”
He was open to the idea of surrendering—“if that means I don’t have to worry about being blown up on the subway,” he said. “If I can do what I’m doing here right now, everyday. To be honest with you, I live in Manhattan, and I feel like I don’t belong to America anyway. And I feel like I surrender every day.”
Two men at the other end of the restaurant began singing in Arabic and playing acoustic guitars.
“How do you think most drugs get in the country?” he said. “All the oil wells. Oil wells don’t go through customs. And who has the most oil wells on the coast? Texas and Florida. And where do the Bush family run? They run Florida and Texas. Bush is an idiot …. They made this happen. The Enron reports were in those buildings, man!”
Jeremy Blake, 35, a doorman at bars, said, “I would not use the phrase surrender—I would use the phrase talk with. Everyone is afraid of the word negotiate. I think the way things are now, we need to sit down and talk with the individuals who are behind terrorist organizations, find out why they are anti-U.S.”
At the Hi Fi bar, I met a drunken young woman who said she was 20. She didn’t think we should surrender.
“I don’t think it’s fair to start a war, then say, ‘Oh, I’m bored with this’ or ‘It’s not working out,’ and we pull out,” she said.
The next morning, I thought: “Well, the fact is, we’re not winning. It’s over and I’m ready to surrender.” What is it—three out of every three Pakistanis are psyched about the London bombings? Something tells me this is not going to be the American Century, Part 2. I think we may have even lost the war on 9/11. I still can’t look at a plane or the skyline without getting depressed. I used to think 9/11 would fade in memory, maybe even feel quaint one day, but now I know I’m traumatized forever.
Practically every time I step outside, I’m prepared to say goodbye to three of my limbs, maybe even my head. I just know that right now there’s some unemployable pissed-off loser in Brooklyn turning himself into Travis Bickle Mohammed.
This is no way to live. Let’s give the terrorists everything they want, get out of their way, let them run things for a while. Let them team up with all the MoveOn.org dopes and those creepy dudes in the Che Guevara T-shirts.
Maybe life under radical Islam would be good for me. I need some discipline. Got up at noon today, then proceeded to do absolutely nothing except take a bath. I could use something to believe in besides the TV show 24 and the health benefits of extra-virgin olive oil. It’s hard to argue with those who say the West is decadent and immoral and deserves a major comeuppance.
Thankfully, I’ve always got my other side to balance things out, the side that says: “Screw you terrorists, silly people! Seriously, what is your problem? Just grow up, get a job and stop complaining.”
That night, I had dinner at a Spanish place. At the counter, a dude was eating some paella. I asked him if we should surrender to the terrorists. “It depends on who they put on the Supreme Court,” he said.
Guy is a 38-year-old man living in New York City who has had several successful long-term relationships. You may send your questions in to DearGuy@observer.com.
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