May 28, 2001
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Once upon a time, a wise ruler decided something must be done for the
benefit of his people.
He had just discovered that millions of citizens were ingesting a very dangerous substance that endangered their health.
He immediately banned the substance, warning that its heavy fat content was a major cause of heart disease and obesity, it was filled with suspected carcinogenics that were even more dangerous when it was charbroiled, and addicts would go to almost any lengths to get access to it, thus endangering the public.
Possession or distribution of hamburgers became a felony.
Overnight the dimensions of the problem became apparent. Millions of people were addicted to burgers and many found it impossible to quit cold turkey. Clinics sprang up by the hundreds to help addicts help themselves. But there weren't enough of them to help all who sought help, and many simply couldn't afford the cost.
The ruler's advisors allocated money to aid a few of those who couldn't afford the clinics. But they didn't allocate nearly enough. The demand wasn't the real problem, they believed. What was needed was a program that prevented the production and distribution of the dangerous burgers.
They declared a War on Hamburgers and funded it lavishly.
Criminals were to be dealt with harshly. Possession of a hamburger could bring a prison sentence for up to three years. Distributors of hamburgers faced decades-long prison sentences, and third-time offenders were given life in prison without parole. The hamburger lords at the highest level could be given the death sentence. But few at that level were ever caught.
The prisons began filling with hamburger addicts. There were so many of them that the ruler and his advisors decreed that the government couldn't keep up and private prisons were authorized. As soon as a new private prison was built, the owners lobbied for prisoners to fill it, and the law enforcers obligingly rounded up new addicts.
Most of the prisoners came from a dark-skinned group of citizens who had long been looked upon with suspicion. While the dark skinners made up only 15 percent of the population, they made up nearly 50 percent of the prison population. Critics of the War on Burgers -- there were a few such misguided souls -- claimed it was because the dark skinners were specifically targeted. There were stories that illegal hamburgers were frequently served in parties in the city of the ruler without any scrutiny by the law enforcers. But parties in the dark skinned areas were frequently raided and any partygoer possessing a hamburger was immediately arrested while the cameras of the ruler's media captured every depraved detail.
Hamburgers were produced in numerous backward countries and smuggled into the country of the ruler. Border patrols were stepped up and the ruler's armies became involved. Troops were sent to the offending countries to stop the dangerous traffic at the source. Cattle farms were sprayed from the air with chemicals that killed the animals that were the souce of the burgers.
The War on Hamburgers became an all-consuming enterprise. The ruler and his advisors all strove to be seen as Tough on Crime, providing more and more money for the anti-burger effort and eliminating pesky rules that interfered. The once revered Citizen's Bill of Rights was scrapped as an unnecessary hindrance to the righteous war on burgers.
Law enforcers were delighted with a new law that gave them the right to confiscate any property that might be connected to the distribution of burgers. Proof wasn't necessary, only suspicion, and law enforcers soon acquired countless restaurants, cars and airplanes.
Businessmen discovered that the War on Hamburgers could be used to enhance the bottom line. They sold warplanes and surveillance equipment, built prisons, provided private armies for secret wars in burger producer countries.
Nearly everyone but the prison inmate addicts was happy with the moral and profitable War on Hamburgers.
But there was some disquiet.
In a few places, citizens voted to allow some sick people hamburgers. Others voted for laws that stopped imprisoning people for simple hamburger possession but allowed them to enter clinics instead. The doubts about the War on Hamburgers grew.
The turning point came when one of the ruler's fighter jets shot down a suspected burger-runner's small plane. The wreckage revealed that the occupants, a young woman and her infant daughter, were not smugglers but were, in fact, vegetarians.
A loud cry went up in the land. Enough! the people cried. Hamburgers aren't anywhere near as dangerous as the War on Hamburgers. Give us back our burgers and let us decide whether we will eat them or not.
After much anguish, the ruler bowed to their wishes.
Hamburgers were made legal again.
Deck Deckert has spent nearly two decades as copy editor, wire editor and news editor at several metropolitan newspapers, including the Miami Herald and Miami News, before becoming a freelance writer. His articles and stories on everything from alligator farming to UFOs have appeared in numerous U.S. publications. He has written two young adult novels under a pen name, and co-authored a novel about the NATO war on Yugoslavia, Letters from the Fire, with Alma Hromic, a woman he had met in an Internet discussion group. Deckert and Hromic were married six months ago and are writing a book about their experience with Internet romance, Cyberdance.
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