September 11, 2001, has joined the short list of dates—December 7, 1941; November 22, 1963—that every American is supposed to remember what he was doing when he heard the news. I learned of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center as I was sitting on my screened porch, listening to the newsless propaganda from NPR (I like Bob Edwards, because he is loyal to his hometown of Louisville) and staring out past my seven-foot-high hedges at the yellow school buses that were lining up at the corner.
A few weeks earlier, when the first buses, fresh with new paint, spelled the return of autumn, I had experienced a disturbing aperçu, a flashback, perhaps, to the 60’s, and I saw the line of yellow buses as so many train cars carrying prisoners to a concentration camp, where they would be stripped of their humanity and told to bless the re-educators who destroyed their minds. Every morning, I had the same hallucination, in which the rowdy children were turned into hopeless and world-weary detainees, and every morning I thought to myself: This is how it begins, and within a few years I will be ready to replace Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory.
To preserve what is left of the sanity it is widely assumed I have never had, I started work on a novel in the form of a diary written by a man who has been cursed with the ability to see things as they really are—much as Aeneas, his mortal illusions stripped away by his divine mother, sees the gods at work destroying Troy. The running theme, I thought, would be NPR news, which, every morning and evening, sends out a constant stream of propaganda, teaching college-schooled Americans that everything in their life can be explained as a conspiracy of whites against blacks, reds, yellows, and browns; of straight men against women and homosexuals; of citizens against aliens; and of people who work and produce against the drones who must be compensated with reparations for centuries of exploitation.
The NPR answer to every problem is power to the government: Up with the state, and down with the people! To be fair, it is the same answer given by the networks, the Times and the Post and the little chain papers—pellets of poison sent out daily by Knight-Ridder and Gannett, Inc.—and all the professionals who do the thinking for elected officials who have more important things to do with their time. Do rampaging homosexuals create a plague that costs millions of lives and trillions of dollars? The answer is more value-neutral but government-enforced sex education and more government-guaranteed bathhouse rights. Do Islamic militants bring off the biggest terrorist attack against America in the country’s history? The solution is to increase the rights of Muslims and to crack down on ordinary Americans. Airport security guards cannot be bothered to check out Saudi terrorists—Saudis are not even on a watchlist with other Middle Easterners—they are too busy harassing little old ladies or ripping apart their granddaughters’ teddy bears. It is enough to lead a prudent man to increase his martini ration from one (double) to three . . .
Sinnissippi Crossing is a middle-sized mob town in a Midwestern mob state. Every day, as I drive downtown, I shrink with fear at the site of a Sinnissippi County police car. Am I wearing a seatbelt? Are the tags current? Do I have license, registration, and proof of insurance in the car? Is the city sticker up to date? Other people do not have to worry so much. After all, in a mob town, the facts matter less than connections and money; I, however, have little money, and my reputation as a political troublemaker might earn me 20 years for a speeding ticket. I made the mistake of thinking that the Sinnissippi middle class might be willing to resist the coup d’état imposed on their school system by a federal judge. I was wrong and have been paying the price ever since for my naive faith in the good hearts of Middle Americans. Standing up for justice and equality and opposing racial quotas is now defined as racism by the powers-that-be, including our local daily, the Sinnissippi Star, a dead planet in the albatross galaxy of chain newspapers. The Star ran a top-to-bottom front-page picture of me next to selected quotations from the Ku Klux Klan. This is what we call journalism in America.
I do not like to eat out, since I have been followed by a police car more than once as I came out of a restaurant. One evening, after a dinner at Finnegan’s Wake Irish Pub, my wife and I were harassed for 30 minutes by a paranoid policewoman who asked me to say the alphabet backward and was not amused when I asked her which alphabet. When my wife began getting out of the car to go check on our daughter, whom we were picking up from a movie theater, Officer Denise virtually threatened to shoot her. To this day, I do not know whether Denise Scoubidù (obviously a Rumanian) was after me personally or simply doing her duty as a public intimidator.
Sinnissippi Crossing is only a little worse than other towns in this great state of Kahokia, where the governor is accused of taking bribes in return for the commercial drivers’ licenses he handed out to illiterate and incompetent immigrants when he was secretary of state. It only became an issue when one of his licensees wiped out an entire family. But that is the way of the world, and nothing to complain about. The deeper problem with Kahokia is that even the so-called conservative Republicans in the legislature are always willing to pass any piece of busybody legislation, so long as it is deemed “in the public interest.” A few years ago, they adopted the most insane child-protection law in the world, replacing concern for “keeping the family together” in the previous law with the phrase, “the best interests of the child.” Parents in Kahokia dare not leave a 12-year-old unattended for fear they might face a visitation from the Child Protectors. And just last week, the state’s Solons decided that anyone under the drinking age, in or out of an automobile, who is caught with alcohol will forfeit his driver’s license. This will save lives, they explained. So would public execution or life imprisonment or a billion-dollar fine or mutilation or gang rape or exile or any of a thousand unjust and irrelevant punishments I can think of.
Homeschooling families, in particular, had better watch out. If young Justin or Jason is left alone for an hour while Mommy takes little sister Heather to the doctor, he might decide to raid the family stash of Boone’s Apple Farm Wine. The parents would probably get 20 years, and little Jeremy or Jonathan would lose driving privileges for life. As it is, the conservative Republican governor, Thievin’ Steven (as he is known affectionately), had proposed registration of all homeschooled children with the local school district. When the plan leaked out, he backed off and confined the registration to immunization records—which, as few people seem to realize, amounts to the same thing.
Sinnissippi is an average city in Kahokia, which is dead average for the entire USA, the made-in-Japan replica of the United States that was manufactured in the decades after World War II. Some people know that, after the war, enterprising Japanese manufacturers set up a town called “USA,” which justified them in putting “Made in USA” on their products, but what almost nobody knows is that “USA” (pronounced “You-Say”) slowly replaced the old America. Jack Finney, in his novel, and Don Siegel, in the film version, tried to warn Americans about the danger of the “Pod People” bent on wiping out the last traces of the old America we had known and loved, but the Invasion of the Body Snatchers was denounced as McCarthyist—as if communists, not liberal zombies, were the problem.
“In the aftermath of September 11th” (as every commentary must begin) the Usans knew it was time to strike. Dusting off the plans for total government that they had been keeping on the back shelf for years, they quickly rammed through a series of measures that would have astonished the architects of previous American coups. The President of USA, of course, could not be let in the project. He thought—as did many members of his administration—that America (he did not even know it had been replaced by USA) faced the greatest crisis in its history and needed to take vigorous steps, somewhat short of a declaration of martial law, as if a killer hurricane had wiped out South Florida.
Domestic security—and surveillance—became the nation’s number-one priority. The world’s largest software company, facing severe penalties for monopolistic practices, surrendered all its “virus codes” to the Homeland Security Agency, which was soon renamed, in the shadow Constitution of 2002, the Ministry of the Interior. Ordinary citizens were enlisted in the Civilian Intelligence Corps, which taught them to tap phones and sift through their neighbors’ garbage for illegal fireworks, evidence of alcohol abuse, high credit-card debt, or adulterous affairs that might invite blackmail. All patriotic citizens were asked to cooperate with the CIC by removing curtains and blinds from their windows and cutting down hedges that obscured the view. This last request gave rise to a popular parody that was passed along on the internet before it was shut down:
Oh say, can USA
Take the freedom away
That our ancestors won
At the point of a gun?
You do not have to guess,
’Cause the answer is “yes.”
If you call us dictators
You must be all traitors.
If you want to grow old,
Better do as you’re told.
So let’s all take the pledge
To cut down the hedge.
In USA?those star-spangled banners still wave,
But the land of the free lies cold in the grave.
The fact that Middle Eastern Muslims had done the deeds presented a problem. Muslims were useful to the Usans, because they continued the erosion of every healthy attachment that Americans had ever had—loyalty to country, to Europe, the West, Christianity—and, all over the globe, Muslims were persecuting and murdering Christians. They were among USA’s greatest allies—the greatest, in terms of total numbers. Unfortunately, USA and the Muslims were in a conflict in the Middle East, which helped to bring about the attacks of September 11; in the long run, however, what were a few thousand Americans, when the destruction of Christendom was set in the balance?
Decent Americans were caught off balance. Seeing that leftists were defending the civil rights of real and potential terrorists, they naturally swallowed the Usan line and clamored noisily, each of them offering to be the first to surrender his last civil liberties.
The test case was Johnny Walker Black, “the American Afghan.” (He looked like a cross between a woolly rug and a floppy-eared puppy with a long nose.) Johnny was a dumb California kid, brought up by leftists in a broken home. Searching for something deeper in his life than California’s endless pursuit of more toys, he learned about Islam from an Usan public-school indoctrinator. An extremist, like all young converts, he set out for the ultimate in Islamic societies—Afghanistan under the Taliban—and when USA invaded Afghanistan to retaliate against the great number of Afghans who carried out the terrorist attacks of September 11 (exactly zero), he found himself in arms, potentially fighting for the country of his adoption against the country of his birth.
Usans and Americans alike howled for his blood, though not a shred of evidence turned up to show that he had ever fired a shot against Usan troops. The government, which was unable to make murder or treason charges stick, fixed on the fact that he had seen military service with an enemy of USA. No matter that, when he enlisted, Afghanistan was not at war with USA (to be technical about it, it never was): The mere fact of enlisting in a foreign army was bad enough. No one seemed to remember the thousands and thousands of Americans, mostly ex-military, who had volunteered for brushfire wars around the globe, much less the recently retired officers sent surreptitiously and illegally by the Usan government during President Hefner’s administration to help the Muslims and Croats in Bosnia. The worst violence committed in Europe since the end of World War II—the expulsion and murder of the Krajina Serbs—was, in fact, planned and assisted by these “retired” Usan officers.
Exile would certainly have been an appropriate sentence—and a harsh one, if it meant living in Afghanistan—for a misguided kid. USA (not America) is a country where child-rapists are sent to psychiatric hospitals for a few years before being turned loose to rape again—and kill. None of these arguments were heard in the government-controlled media, and Black would serve a sentence corresponding, appropriately, to the number of years he had already lived. Nationalist Usans complained that he got off too easy, and civil-libertarian intellectuals made no complaint. As one foreign-born professor (Jenkin Phillips) explained to me, “This was no time to shed tears for renegades who took up arms against America.” Thomas More said he would give the benefit of law to the Devil himself; a Brit or Usan today would scarcely grant so much to St. Michael the Archangel, if he drew his sword in an American airport.
In the first year after USA’s emergency call, I traveled to Europe several times, and foreigners and expatriates alike were horrified by the Usan reaction. Not since the days of the Irish “Mafia” President John K. Rumson had an American administration been so prepared to risk world war. But the friend of Sam Giancana had been conveniently removed from office on one of those dates you are supposed to remember what you were doing. I was a college student, reading Greek in the afternoon, partying all night, and sleeping till noon. I had to be told about the tragedy. As a young liberal, I wondered what difference it made to real life, if a crooked president from the Northeast was replaced by a crooked president from Texas. As an aging and obviously paranoid reactionary, I could not help wondering what difference it made to real life if USA won the war on terrorism by eliminating the last pockets of America . . .
I am so allergic to the tall hedges in front of my house that I dare not trim them myself, and there must be some mind-altering resin in the leaves, or perhaps it was the second martini that produced this nightmare. No one in his right mind would even dream such a bizarre fantasy, which I have only shared with my readers as a means of warning them against those who, as our gallant attorney general says, aid the terrorists by complaining about the loss of civil liberties in USA.