Protecting Us: Could We Just Be in Danger Instead?

When Rashid Ali Fata Bakh took out the Golden Gate Bridge by ramming it with a tanker, he did not regard himself as an agent of social change. He believed he was simply doing the will of God who, as Ali understood it, did not like infidels or suspension bridges.

The attack provoked America’s its accustomed response to terrorism. President Bush attended a mosque and announced his intention of converting. He did this to avoid giving the impression that Islamic terrorism bore any connection to Islam.

Morbid tolerance flourished. Across the nation the intellectually shiftless lunged into action. The National Education Association urged that school children be instructed in the evils of white patriarchy. Grade schools began knitting prayer rugs. Telebimbos rattled on for weeks, psychologists certified the obvious, and therapists validated feelings in ungrammatical English.

The President enunciated the philosophical foundation of this virility, saying, “A nation that is not confident in its bridges is not free to cross water. We will never yield to the Tankers of Terror. There is a price to pay for everything and whatever it is, Americans everywhere are united in unity.”

Nobody knew what this meant, least of all Bush. A technical glitch had occurred at the studio. It was perhaps the first time that policy had been set by teleprompter failure. It didn’t seem to matter.

Federal bridge-inspectors were hurriedly hired, largely from bus stations, and housed on all bridges. Most were surly urban aboriginals and functionally illiterate, but the president insisted that the bridge force look like America. TRW got a contract for 37,000 drive-thru film-safe non-mutagenic x-ray machines with explosives detectors.

Skeptics pointed out that only a few dozen bridges were in water navigable by tankers. No one listened. Meanwhile bridge traffic was searched by hand, resulting in the confiscation of several tons of nail clippers. There followed a seven percent drop in GNP as eighteen-wheelers backed up for weeks.

In West Virginia near Bluefield, Joe-Hog Tiller lived on a hard-scrabble farm consisting of twenty acres of vertical rock. He was called Joe-Hog because he’d get drunk and try to ride a massive boar-hog he kept in his back yard. Joe-Hog was a big man, so it was an even match, but it puzzled the boar greatly. Just beyond his front yard was a tiny rill crossed by an old stone bridge.

He sat on his front porch, sipping a glass of local liquor, and watched as federal construction crews put in barracks, an inspection booth, and a concrete pad for the non-mutagenic film-safe x-ray machine.

“Don’t make no damn sense,” said Joe-Hog “Creek ain’t but three feet wide. Got no water ‘cept when it rains.”

FBI agents overheard this, noted his name, and began a background investigation of Joe-Hog. An official of the newly federalized bridge police told the press, “Our mandate is to protect bridges against the Tankers of Terror. Whether they are in danger is irrelevant. In law-enforcement, purpose is no substitute for thoroughness.”

Thanks to Joe-Hog, Congress began hearings on a bill to broaden the Patriotic Waterways Act to include gullies. “The Tankers of Terror will strike where we least expect it,” said the head of the new agency. “Where would you less expect a tanker than in a dry gulch in West Virginia?” The logic was irrefutable.

The President agreed, having just approved plans for the minaret being added to the White House. “We cannot leave America’s waterways unprotected merely because there is no water in them. Dry rivers are rivers too.” Everyone agreed that it was no end presidential, conveying undirected resolve without meaning anything.

Progress came on other fronts. Rashid Ali Fata Bakh was arrested in Paris with his brother Saladin. This caused confusion in the Southern United States, where Saladin Fata Bakh was mistaken for a menu item. The suggestion was made that with a little corn bread, it might be all right and, if not, you could sell it to Yankees. Both Fata Bakhs fought extradition on the grounds of freedom of religious expression. The State Department backed off and ordered several thousand copies of the Koran for Embassy libraries.

The United States, roused by the attack, struck back hard. The Pentagon assembled a force of aircraft carriers, heavy bombers, and cruise missiles, and sent them to destroy three mud huts spotted in the mountains of Yemen. “We are sending a message to the Axes of Evil and the Tankers of Terrorism,” the President told the nation, apparently confusing the Navy with Western Union. ‘We will destroy all terrorists in?you know. That place over there. Yemen. Whether there are any or not.” On hearing this, the Chinese evacuated their embassy in Sanaa.

Meanwhile the FBI arrested Joe-Hog and interrogated him for thirty-seven hours. Asked why by the press, a spokesman for the bureau said, “He’s a person of interest.”

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing. It just has a nice rhythm to it.”

The reporter muttered to himself that the spokesman had an IQ smaller than J. Edgar Hoover’s dress size and stomped off.

Left-wing critics in the press pointed out that the Golden Gate had been destroyed by a tanker going under it, so why were the bridge police searching cars going over bridges? For that matter, had a Tanker of Terror, or any other kind, been spotted going over a bridge? A spokesman for the NTSB responded that since most bridges didn’t have tankers going under them, it was impossible to inspect them. Cars however were available. “In real-life police work, you have to use what you have,” he said.

Similarly, since the guilty terrorists were in Paris, supervising the new Islamic Studies program at the Embassy, law-enforcement had to make do with available suspects. On the afternoon of the following Wednesday, twenty-three federal agents descended on the trailer of Joe-Hog’s girlfriend, Even-Dozen Throckmorton, usually called E.D. She got her name from having twelve toes, a consequence of the state’s habit of festive inbreeding. When the agents left, her trailer was wrecked-contents of drawers on the floor, backs ripped of pictures. “It was awful,” opined a neighbor. “It looked like a bachelor lived there.”

E.D. filed an insurance claim, attributing the wreckage to tornado damage, and got a new trailer with the proceeds. Joe-Hog commented, “We oughta just send those feddle boys to search Iraq. Wouldn’t be nothin’ left.” E.D. booked surgery to have her excess toes removed. It didn’t pay, she said, to be an interesting person.

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