Fiction from the Left
A Modern Folk Tale from the Left
Episode 4: Bandera
(Previously in El Malpaís: In Episode 3 Oskar traversed Cerro Hoya and arrived in the Middle Ages where he confronted both church and state, two institutions which have been the bane of working people for centuries. Determined to continue his vision quest at any cost, Oskar rested overnight with Diego in El Malpaís and tackled Bandera, the third Tubo de Tiempo, the following morning.)
About halfway through Bandera Oskar realized that a map of the lava tubes was forming in his mind. He had just crossed over El Calderon and, recalling the trip through Cerro Hoya, felt all three rivers of fire had flowed in the same general direction—northerly. Were they headed toward a specific destination? Oskar didn’t know but he would keep that question in mind as he continued his vision quest. There was one more time tubeto go after Bandera, the last one to be formed. He might find the answers to all his questions there.
Oskar exited Bandera into a land of foul air and polluted water. Through the smog he could make out the distant skyline of a major metropolis. It was the most conspicuous landmark in sight so he headed towards it. To get there he found himself following a reeking river covered by a thin film of oil that reflected the sunlight in a spectrum of vivid colors. The river was beautiful but deadly—bloated fish and floundering insects floated on the surface and all manner of trash and litter drifted in the poisoned water. Along the river banks scores of drain pipes were adding more waste to the toxic mix.
The land, too, was defiled. Oskar walked through fields of trash and junk along the river bank. In places piles of rusted steel drums and mountains of worn-out tires blocked his path and he had to navigate around them.
On the outskirts of the city the boy passed by camps of displaced people, black, white, and brown, young and old, living in tarpaper shacks and cardboard tents. Oskar spotted a group of children playing stick ball with a tin can but when he stopped to talk with them they ran away.
Approaching the center of the city Oskar’s passage was blocked by a tall chain-link fence topped with strands of barbed wire. The barrier extended from the river on the east to the west as far as the boy could see. Inside the enclosure was the largest factory on earth and obviously the source of much of the air and water pollution that Oskar had seen—towering smokestacks belched out smoke and soot and cavernous drain pipes vomited waste into the river.
The factory complex included numerous piers that extended out into the river to receive barges of coal and iron ore, an electric generating station, steel smelters, and various foundries, forges, and stamping plants. A central assembly building dominating the complex stood three stories high and was almost a mile long. The structure had been built with full-length windows that let in light and allowed a person walking along the fence outside the plant to observe the activities inside, and that’s exactly what Oskar did.
He was amazed by what he saw. Thousands of people were working intently inside the central assembly building. As the objects of their labor moved along they began to take shape.
At first Oskar had no idea what he was watching. At the start of the line steel frames were placed on a moving conveyor and at each station along the way workers installed more components: axles and wheels, engines and transmissions were bolted in place. At the midpoint of the line a metal shell was dropped onto each frame and secured. Further on workers installed seats, doors, bumpers, and trim. At the end of the assembly line the finished automobiles were driven up ramps onto waiting train cars.
Oskar had never see anything like this—what looked to him like horseless wagons were being produced at the rate of one every minute-and-a-half! As he was marveling at the sight before him, a deafening steam whistle blew and all work on the assembly line ceased. Almost instantly the workers disappeared from the factory floor.
Two minutes later the men were streaming out of the building towards the front gate of the factory complex. Oskar moved quickly to intercept them—he had a thousand questions that needed to be answered.
“What are you making in there?” the boy asked the first man he approached.
The worker frowned and walked on.
“How many hours a day do you work?” he asked the next.
That man looked right through Oskar.
“What’s it like working here?”
The worker paused for a minute, looked over his shoulder, and moved away.
“Leave me alone, kid,” he muttered. ”It’s been a long day.”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” a stentorian voice called out.
Oskar turned to face a short, stocky man with hard blue eyes and a bulldog jaw who was coming straight at him. The interrogator was dressed in a suit and bow tie and was wearing a fedora cocked over one eye. He was flanked by two burly men whose hands were concealed beneath their coats.
“Yeah, you!” insisted the man. “What the hell do you think you’re doing.”
“Just talking to these men,” Oskar responded calmly.
“These guys don’t want to talk to you!” the man barked. “What the hell are you, a goddamn labor organizer?”
“I don’t even know what that is,” Oskar shot back.
The interrogator, unused to anyone standing up to him, stopped in his tracks and glowered at the boy.
“Want us to beat the crap out of him Mr. Bennett?” asked one of the thugs producing a bludgeon from beneath his coat.
Oskar stood his ground.
“No,” said the man named Bennett. “Grab him and bring him to my office.”
Harry Bennett’s office was tucked away in the basement of the headquarters building inside the factory complex. He had his hooligans deposit Oskar in a chair. After Bennett moved behind his desk, pulled off his jacket and draped it over his office chair, he removed a .32 caliber revolver from the shoulder holster he was wearing and placed it on the desk in front of him.
“That’ll be all, boys.”
After his men had gone, Bennett sat down, picked up the telephone, and dialed a single digit.
“You might want to come down here, Mr. Ford. I think I nabbed one of them damn labor organizers we’ve been watching out for.”
He hung up and turned to Oskar.
“Kid, you are about to meet Mister Henry Ford, the greatest industrialist in the world. You give him the respect he deserves or I’ll box your ears for you.”
Henry Ford was a dapper man with a thin face and clipped manner. Upon walking in to Bennett’s office, he picked up the revolver, aimed it in Oskar’s direction, and discharged it. The bullet whizzed past the boy’s ear and hit the bull’s eye of a target on the wall behind him.
The gun blast made Oskar blink but he didn’t cringe.
Ford placed the weapon back on the desk and looked at the young man.
“Who is he?”
“We picked him up down by the main gate trying to agitate the workers.”
Ford looked the boy over and judged him a hayseed.
“What’s your name, son?”
“Where are you from?’
“Colorado territory, sir.”
“Were your kin folks involved in the union wars out there?”
“No,” replied Oskar. “My father is a farmer.”
“I thought so,” Ford said. “You come here looking for a job? I’ve got almost 200,000 employees but I can always use one more good hand.”
“No, sir,” responded Oskar. “I’m just traveling through.”
“Bullshit!” interjected Harry Bennett. “You were trespassing on Ford property!”
“I was on the sidewalk outside the factory!” Oskar insisted.
Ford held up a hand to stop the argument.
“What Harry means in his own subtle way,” Ford smiled, “is that I own the whole city. I employ more than 60,000 workers at this factory alone and am singularly responsible for the prosperity of Detroit. What I say goes. What happens on the streets is what I want to happen on the streets.”
Ford, never modest about his accomplishments, continued:
“The Ford Motor Company has produced more wealth than any other company in history. I make a dollar a day profit on every single man who works for me. That amounts to more than 40 million dollars a year—year after year. The political power rooted in that wealth makes me a man to be reckoned with in this city and the nation. And in the world, I might say.”
The industrialist paused for a moment to see if Oskar was impressed and then went on:
“Even during the World Wars, when I had to suspend auto production, the profits continued to pile up. You see, son, war is good for the economy. During the last conflict employment at this plant increased to 75,000 workers. The company manufactured everything from helmets and rifles to jeeps and bombers. In this plant alone we built and armed 8,000 B-24 Liberators, the bomber that defeated Nazi Germany.”
Ford hovered over Oskar:
“You want to know the secret of my success?”
“Sure,” said Oskar. “I’m here to learn everything I can.”
“The guiding principle of Ford Motor Company is me. I control the profits of the enterprise—I decide who gets to work and how much the workers are paid—not the government, not the board of directors, and especially not the workers. I’ll give them enough to pay their bills and buy a Ford car, but not a penny more. The rest of it belongs to me and my heirs. My wealth grows every day and before I’m done I’ll be the richest man on earth.”
Rather satisfied with his exposition Ford nodded to Bennett and turned to Oskar.
“How do you like that?”
The boy thought about it for a minute.
“But what about the people in the camps I saw along the river?” Oskar asked.
“Those people don’t work for me,” Ford said. “They’re no concern of mine.”
“And what about the air and water pollution belching out of your smokestacks and spewing out of your drain pipes?”
Ford waved the question off:
“Pollution is one of the costs of industrialization,” he declared. “If people want the products of manufacturing they have to put up with the byproducts.”
The industrialist expected a response and was not disappointed:
“I don’t think pollution is a cost. I think dumping waste into the environment is a cheap solution to a very serious problem.”
Ford was annoyed:
“You do know that you’re not entitled to an opinion, don’t you son. You’re wasting your time worrying about things that you can’t do anything about. The best thing you can do is get a job and keep your nose to the grindstone. Leave all the decisions to the people who have the power to make things happen.”
He waited for an answer.
“Thank you for your advice, Mr. Ford,” said Oscar. “But I’ll decide for myself what I think and do.”
Bennett stood and picked up his .32.
“What do you want me to do with him, Mr. Ford?”
The industrialist took one last look at Oskar.
“He’s not a labor organizer,” Henry Ford proclaimed as he headed for the door of Bennett’s office. “He’s nobody. Get rid of him.”
Harry Bennett drove Oskar to a deserted section of highway outside of town and stopped the car.
“Get out!” he commanded.
Ford’s man got out himself and walked around the car to face the boy with his revolver in hand.
“Take off,” he said. “If I catch you in this city again I’ll knock every one of your goddamn teeth out of your goddamn head—no questions asked.”
As Oskar walked away, Bennett fired a couple of rounds from his .32 into the ground at the boy’s feet.
Oskar looked back over his shoulder but he didn’t run.
“You got starch, you little bastard,” Bennett called after him. “I’ll give you that.”
(Strategic Air Command)
Oskar was returning to the portal of Bandera when he was shaken to his core by the deafening thunder of a B-52 Stratofortress rising into the air. When the gigantic bomber passed directly over him it completely eclipsed the sun.
Oskar watched the aircraft climb higher in the sky. It was difficult to tell from a distance but he estimated its wingspan to be close to 200 feet.
After it disappeared Oskar climbed a hill and looked in the direction from which the B-52 had come. He was astonished to see more of them—a whole squadron of the bombers lined up side-by-side in the distance.
Oskar had to take a closer look. He approached the security barrier around the airfield without noticing the warning signs and easily scaled the chain-link fence. He carefully avoided the barbed wire on top and dropped nimbly to the ground.
The boy was standing under one of the bombers staring up at it when he was spotted by one of the guards on duty. He was promptly apprehended at gun point and turned over to Sergeant of the Guard Riddle at the central guard shack.
“What were you doing in a restricted area?” the sergeant demanded.
“Just looking around,” replied Oskar.
“Didn’t you see the signs?”
“You did see the fence?”
“Yes. I climbed over it.”
Riddle wasn’t sure about this kid.
“Where I come from fences are for animals,” the boy added.
The sergeant shook his head and took out a report form.
“Tell me your name and where you’re from,” he told Oskar. ”I’m going to have to take you over to SAC headquarters and process you.”
As they drove past the line of B-52s on their way to HQ Riddle noticed that the boy couldn’t take his eyes off the behemoth bombers. They had a wingspan of 185 feet and a tail that towered more than forty feet above the tarmac. The eight jet engines hanging beneath the drooping wings of each aircraft were capable of generating 136,000 pounds of thrust that could propel the plane to speeds of up to 650 miles per hour while carrying 70,000 pounds of bombs.
The bloated bellies of the bombers looked like they were ready to burst open at any second.
“Pretty impressive, huh?” the sergeant asked.
“What are they?”
“B-52 bombers. We call them BUFFs.”
“No,” laughed Riddle. “BUFFs stands for Big Ugly Fat Fuckers. Those bad boys can fly half-way around the world and drop a load of thermonuclear bombs that burn so hot they ignite the atmosphere.”
Oskar turned to Riddle with a furrowed brow.
“Set the sky on fire?”
“Yeah,” the sergeant murmur realizing what he had just said, “Set the sky on fire.”
“What’s that goddamn civilian doing in here, sergeant?” The question came from General Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay a pioneer of strategic bombing during World War II and the head of the US Strategic Air Command (SAC). The general, a stocky, full-faced, black-haired man, was speaking around a big cigar sticking out of the corner of his mouth.
“We caught him on the flight line, sir,” said Sergeant Riddle. “He was standing near one of the BUFFs.”
“Did he have a camera?”
“We didn’t find anything on him, sir.”
LeMay chewed thoughtfully on his cigar while he studied the boy.
“What do you think, sergeant? A clodhopper or a spy?”
“I think he’s a clodhopper, sir. He says where he comes from fences are for animals.”
“Let’s find out who he is,” said the general. “Give me your report and take him to the War Room. I’ll be down as soon as I have him checked out.”
Sergeant Riddle handed over the report and escorted Oskar down the hall to an elevator flanked by armed guards. Once inside the elevator they descended three stories underground to a nuclear bunker protected by three-foot thick concrete walls and eighteen-inch thick steel blast doors. The War Room was dominated by a large conference table and six, sixteen-foot display screens. On one of the screens was a map of the Soviet Union covered with a rash of miniature red flags.
Sergeant Riddle was as impressed as Oskar was. They were both staring at the map when the Riddle finally broke the silence:
“You’re the first civilian that I’ve ever heard of being allowed in the War Room. Of course the president and his advisors have been here and some congressmen, but I mean, you know, you’re probably the first common citizen. This is the first time I’ve been in here myself and I have a top secrete security clearance.”
Riddle looked around the room and then at Oskar.
”I think you’re in deep shit,” the sergeant said.
General LeMay stalked into the War Room thirty minutes later with a fresh cigar in his mouth and a thin dossier in his hand. He opened the folder, tossed it on the conference table, and pointed at it with a stubby, tobacco-stained finger.
“I had a background check run on you, son,” the general informed Oskar.” You have no history. According to the FBI you don’t even exist. Can you explain that?”
“I’m from another time and place, sir. Nobody keeps records on people where I come from.”
General LeMay wasn’t listening—he tapped on Oskar’s dossier and said:
Oskar met the general’s glare.
“I don’t know what the draft is, sir.”
“The draft is a law,” snarled the general chewing on his stogie, “that allows every able-bodied man in the country to be conscripted for military duty. A draft-dodger is not only a criminal in this country but, in my mind, the lowest form of life on earth!”
When Oskar didn’t respond, LeMay continued ranting:
“I know you’re a goddamn draft-dodger and I think you’re a spy and I can’t take any chances where the future of this country is at stake. You see, son, there is a Cold War raging in the world today. The New American Empire that emerged out of World War II must be defended at all costs. During the war we reduced the Third Reich to ruins and obliterated the Empire of Japan, but now the Soviet Union is challenging America’s newly established hegemony. Any nation that threatens the New American Empire or stands in its way will be bombed back to the Stone Age ii.”
General LeMay swept his meaty hand around the War Room.
“You, gentlemen, are standing in the very heart of the New American Empire iii.”
LeMay pointed to the map of the Soviet Union.
“What you see there is Emergency War Plan 1-49,” he continued. “We are prepared to drop 133 atomic bombs—our entire stockpile of nuclear weapons iv —on 70 Soviet cities over a 30 day period. The entire infrastructure of that enemy will be reduced to rubble and the survivors—if there are any—will find themselves living in the Stone Age like the Germans and Japanese did.”
LeMay clamped down on his cigar and jutted his jaw forward.
Oskar and Sergeant Riddle were both stunned.
LeMay approached the two young men standing in the center of the War Room and leaned close to the boy’s face:
“There is no middle ground—it’s us or them. If you want to prove which side you’re on, son, do what the sergeant here and most of our young men have done—become a soldier of the New American Empire.”
Sergeant Riddle took a deep breath and stared straight ahead.
Oscar didn’t need any time to decide: “I won’t be a soldier of this or any other empire.”
The general stepped back, picked up the file, and handed it to Riddle.
“Get him out of here,” he growled to the sergeant. “We can’t hold a goddamn civilian. Turn him over to the FBI. They know what to do with draft-dodgers and spies.”
As Riddle started towards the door with Oskar General LeMay warned him:
“And you, sergeant….”
Riddle looked back.
“You’d best forget everything you saw and heard in the War Room.”
“Yes, sir, General!”
Sergeant Riddle and his prisoner rode in silence during the trip to the FBI office in the city. Approaching the city limits Riddle abruptly turned the jeep to the west and headed up into the mountains.
“Where are you taking me?” Oskar demanded, remembering his ride with Harry Bennett.
After a few miles, Riddle turned on to a side road, stopped the jeep, got out, and walked around the vehicle.
“Out of the jeep now!” Riddle ordered.
Oskar stepped out and faced the sergeant.
“Hit me and run,” Riddle told the boy.
“Man, they’re going to lock you up and throw away the key! Hit me as hard as you can and run like hell. I’ll tell them you assaulted me and escaped.”
Oskar hesitated for a minute and then doubled up his fist and hit the sergeant square on the chin.
Riddle staggered backward but remained on his feet.
“Hit me again!” he urged. “Harder!”
This time Oscar knocked Sergeant Riddle off his feet and took off running towards the mountains.
He never looked back.
Ever faithful Diego was waiting for Oskar back in El Malpaís when the boy emerged from Bandera.
“Oh, Diego!” Oskar said breathlessly. “I’ve been to the future! Men will learn how to fly and how to…“ he paused to catch his breath, ”how to set the sky on fire!”
Copyright © 2016 by Richard D. Vogel
Permission to copy granted
i Today young men 18 years of age only have to register for the draft (Registration for the draft could include all 18 year old women soon.). In the mid-20th century most working class males who were physically suitable were drafted for two years active duty and four years inactive duty. At midcentury conscripts formed the core of the American Empire’s army.
ii LeMay repeated this threat against North Vietnam at the height of that war after it had already been done to Germany, Japan, and Korea. More recently Iraq and Afghanistan were “bombed back to the stone age”. The threat of strategic bombing still hovers over the world.
iii The call for US hegemony of the world based on military might was reiterated near the end of the 20th century in The Project for a New American. The US foreign policy of might makes right continues today.
iv At the height of the Cold War in the 1960s there were over 30,000 weapons in the US nuclear stockpile. Currently the inventory of the US nuclear stockpile is down to 4,571 war heads but this number is misleading because of the exponential increase in the destructive power of modern nuclear weapons.