5. Home Security at Any Crazy Price: What If We Had a 9/11 Every Year for Centuries?
Triptych No. 2
Long before 9/11, I had written early drafts of lyrics for what would become Home Security at Any Crazy Price.
At the time I thought my theme was specific to Russian history, a bit too esoteric for most Americans. It was about how the tsars barred all civil liberties by taking advantage of popular fears from centuries of brutal enemy onslaughts. I planned to paint Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great singing to each other:
Darling Ivan, our Founder (Darling Peter, my Scion),
How fortunate it has been
That the Russian populace is deeply traumatized
‘Cause barbarian onslaughts lay waste their paradise.
Now folks want home security at any crazy price.
Then came 9/11. Many Americans’ response—their sudden willingness to give up personal freedoms if the government could only keep them safe—revealed that a similar dynamic to Russia’s can play out wherever people come under attack and feel profoundly threatened.
Triptych No. 2: Home Security at Any Crazy Price. 36" x 40".
All at once, my planned artwork seemed absolutely current and relevant to the U.S. today. And in fact, it was selected by Nan Rosenthal, newly retired from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, for her 2009 political art exhibit, “Contemporary Confrontations.”
Americans have relaxed a bit since 2001, having experienced no further attacks on the scale of 9/11. We’re no longer as ready to trade our civil liberties for a strong government to protect us from seemingly imminent terror.
But What If…
But what if the U.S. had had repeated assaults every year since 2001, in which thousands of Americans were abducted and killed? And if yearly onslaughts continued indefinitely?
What if we lived in terrain so vulnerable that we had a 9/11 every year for centuries? Then what kind of government would we be willing to tolerate? One that abridged our personal freedoms constantly in order to keep us ever-mobilized and battle-ready? Would we accept our entire society being organized like a military hierarchy, with a single power (a president, a tsar) at the top commanding us into position to survive our unending state of emergency?
What Can Our 9/11 Experience Help Us Fathom About Russia?
Few Americans are aware that Russia was born and forged during centuries of terror—first Mongol occupation, then yearly “harvesting the steppe” of its human beings, sold into slavery.
Historian Brian L. Davies notes in Warfare, State and Society on the Black Sea Steppe, 1500-1700 that in addition to the many large-scale Tatar attacks on Muscovy, small parties of Tatar slavers raided
“almost every summer, capturing servicemen and peasants working in their fields, driving off herds of livestock, burning villages and town suburbs, and ambushing patrols and merchant caravans. Most of these raids were undertaken by . . . a few hundred men yet were able to do a great deal of damage.”
Captives were marched across the steppes to the Ottoman slave markets. In A Precarious Balance, Alan Fisher states, “Often in chains and always on foot, many . . . died en route . . . . Ill or wounded captives were usually killed rather than be allowed to slow the procession.”
In short, Muscovites were traumatized by terror, as were New Yorkers on 9/11. But Russians were terrorized again and again for hundreds of years. They could never relax from a state of military readiness. In short, Muscovites were traumatized by terror, as were New Yorkers on 9/11. But Russians were terrorized again and again for hundreds of years. They could never relax from a state of military readiness. Writes Robert O. Crummey in The Formation of Muscovy, “The ever-present threat from the south and east meant that the rulers of Muscovy had, at all times, to keep their subjects ready for war.”
The tsarist state was military hierarchy writ large. Centers of power independent of the tsar couldn’t be allowed to develop because the military chain of command always had to be in effect society-wide.
Russians’ conception of civil liberties, or lack thereof, was forged in this inferno. Home Security At Any Crazy Price visualizes the impact on civil liberties of the unending threat of attack.
What Can Russia and Our Own Experience of 9/11 Teach Us About Ourselves?
The U.S. experience of terrorism on 9/11 can help us better grasp why Russia developed an autocratic state. A nation that experienced nearly annual attack for centuries could never reduce its military mobilization, so could hardly contemplate allowing civil liberties.
We can also learn from Russia’s experience the terrible consequences of sacrificing civil liberties for security over the long term. Russian history can serve as a cautionary tale for what could happen to us or any nation if its citizens are too ready to trade personal freedoms for powerful government.
View more closeup images of triptych panels here.