Launch

The alert in the silo went off.

The duty officers, Lieutenants Kestrel and Taggart, looked up at the light. Kestrel reached for his key. Taggart hesitated.

Kestrel put his key into his station and turned it. He looked over at Taggart, who was still looking at the light.

“Let’s go, Taggart. We’ve got the order.”

Taggart didn’t budge.

“Come on, Taggart, we got the go order.”

Taggart kept looking at the light. “Why?”

“Doesn’t matter. Light goes on, we turn the keys, press the buttons, launch the missile. We’ve done this before. We do it now.”

“But those were drills.”

“We didn’t know at the time. We launched and found out later. Time to do our duty again. You need to get your key, Taggart.”

“But…” Taggart looked back at Kestrel. “What if this one… is… real?”

“Makes no difference.”

“It could mean the whole world is destroyed.”

“No one lives forever, Taggart. Get your key.”

“This missile we’re supposed to launch. Where is it going to go? How many people will it kill?”

“Don’t know, doesn’t matter. We have orders.”

“I can’t be a murderer.”

Kestrel drew his sidearm. “Lieutenant Taggart, I am ordering you to comply. You know full well what can happen next if you do not.”

“Why didn’t you threaten me sooner? You don’t want to kill, either, do you?”

“Not you, I don’t. But I will, if I have to, in order to complete the mission.”

Taggart looked back at the alert. “Complete the mission… then what? What’s your endgame beyond that?”

“Probably die, if it’s real war and not a drill. And I will meet my maker and account for this launch without remorse.”

“And if it is a drill? And you shoot me?”

“Lieutenant Taggart, I am currently of the opinion that this is not a drill, as I have pointed my weapon at you. Drill protocol would be to suspend the exercise in the case of a reliability failure on the part of one or more participants. The alert is still on, and I do believe that this is the real thing. Produce your key – slowly – Taggart.”

“All right. I’ll get my key.” Taggart slowly reached into his shirt to produce his key.

“Now insert it.”

Taggart held his key above the lock in the console. Kestrel had a good argument. This could very well be the real thing. Missiles already on their way to the USA, complete destruction of… how many cities? Taggart remembered looking at a list of US cities by population. Texarkana was number 1000, population 37,225.

There were over 4400 Russian warheads. 4480, best estimate. What if each one was going to a city, in order of population? Number 4480 by population was a tie between Colby, Kansas and Connell, Washington, both population 5388. Highwood, Illinois had a population of 5387. One less person, and it’s not even in the running to get directly nuked. And how would a targeting officer choose between Colby and Connell? Would it make a difference after 62 and a half million people in the USA were already killed in the largest 100 cities?

So maybe Colby and Connell were off the hook, since missiles had to meet their marks on bases and European cities. Nobody would have to flip a coin to decide which one would take a direct hit and which one would deal with the aftermath. There was also the law of diminishing returns: the next 100 cities would net another 30 million casualties and the next 100 after that, maybe another 10 million, maybe 11. Where to stop? Number 300 is Flint, Michigan, population 99,002. 301 is San Angelo, Texas, population 98,975, a difference of 27 people. To Taggart, that seemed as arbitrary a difference as one.

About a third of the US population in just 300 cities, of population 99,000 or more… and there were quite probably missiles to spare after that.

And the US has its missiles, along with China, France, England, India, Pakistan, and Israel. Maybe even North Korea could lob off one or two, just to join in on the historical moment when humanity decided that there should be no more history. 4800 in the USA; between 200 and 300 each for China, France, and England; 110 in India; 120 in Pakistan, and; 80 in Israel. North Korea had less than 10. Just over 10,000 for the world, much reduced from the peak of 64,000 in 1986 – today’s number was the lowest since the 8200 in 1958.

1958… 7300 of those warheads were in the USA, and we were terrified of the 860 in Russia. Today, a few thousand less in the USA, a few thousand more in Russia, and everyone seemed to be used to the terror by now. And the top 1000 cities in the world by population reached all the way down to Rasht, Iran, population 519,418. Total population in those cities came out to 1.2 billion. Even if the next thousand were all population 500,000, that would only be another half a billion – those diminishing returns, again.

And yet, those 10,000 missiles all had a target, superfluous though it may be. Some targets had 2 or 3 missiles for them, just in case there was a misfire or other malfunction.

“Come on, Taggart. I need you to put that key in there.”

Taggart’s thoughts continued to rush through his mind: the facts, the figures… surprisingly few feelings. Taggart realized that lack of feelings and figured it must be shock. If it had been a minute since the alert came on, then the missiles heading toward the USA were already 6 minutes into their flight… unless this was a first strike, which meant those Russian missiles would be launching in 9. The sub-launched missiles needed only ten minutes to get to their targets. The ground-launched would need about half an hour. Bombers would reach their destinations in 7 to 9 hours, looking for targets that escaped destruction via missile.

Electromagnetic pulses would wipe out communications for most people outside the silo. That could wind up being their only warning that something was about to happen. Within 2 hours, about 5% of the land surface area of the involved nations would be on fire, predominantly in areas associated with cities over, what? 99,000 population? 50,000 population? Maybe three-fourths of the world’s manufacturing was about to be destroyed. Smoke from those fires would drop the global temperature like an outbreak of massive volcanoes.

Within 12 hours, there would be no effective government left in the combatant nations. Hospitals would be cruel jokes. Radiation from the fallout would be delivering lethal particles onto the exodus of survivors to the rural hinterlands. In about five days, the temperature would be down about 13 degrees Fahrenheit. In about two weeks, radiation sickness would be raging among surviving populations. Epidemics and crop failures would follow. World population would drop by about 20% after the first few months. Things would get worse as global agriculture collapses due to a lack of pesticides and other chemicals most farmers were dependent upon. Another 20% of the global population would die within a year.

And then?

Mankind would recover, more or less. Maybe the die-off would continue until the world population was down to pre-industrial revolution levels, maybe it would level off in the 50-60% range and then grow again.

This missile’s potential casualties would hardly make a difference in the total, one way or another. Another missile would likely do the job of this missile, if it failed to launch. His participation in this mission was completely meaningless, succeed or fail, from an overall military perspective. One warhead of 10,000 failing to launch would be merged with the other 10-15% that failed to launch, for whatever reason. What difference would it be if only 39.9999375% of the global population died instead of 40%?

And so, Taggart asked himself if he could face God and state that it was right to launch that missile and, in so doing, be accountable for the deaths of whoever it slew. Just because they were going to die was no reason to be their executioner instead of some other person.

Speaking of executioners, Taggart looked at the weapon in Kestrel’s hand. Then Taggart looked within himself and placed his key on the table in front of him. It was too big to swallow and there was no place to throw it, but there was no way he was going to put his key to use.

Maybe another thirty seconds had passed. Maybe 10. Judging by the hardening resolve in Kestrel’s eyes, Taggart knew that he likely didn’t have long to live.

But Taggart also knew that, when the time came, he could walk peacefully into the light.

A Discussion of the “Confederate Flag”

What most people call the Confederate Flag is actually an elongated version of the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, which itself would have been an interesting footnote in Confederate history were it not for the use of that flag as a symbol promoting the Lost Cause movement and, later, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. I explore the facts and mythology surrounding the flag in this video. If you enjoyed it, be sure to like it, share it, and subscribe to my channel.

The End Is Near!

Of course, the title needs some qualification. “End” can mean a lot of things, thanks to its multiple meanings. In this case, I mean the end phase of the run of Western Civilization. As for “near”, speaking of processes such as these can mean anywhere from 50 to 500 years, depending on the breaks. Sorry if anyone wanted an immediate, everything goes all at once scenario, but that’s not historically probable. These civilization things tend to lurch towards their finish, not hit the wall and then vanish. When a historian or archaeologist says “suddenly”, he usually means, “over the course of decades”.

Classic Mayan civilization, took 100 years or so to grind to a halt, and it’s not like the Mayans vanished off the face of the earth. They just started their Postclassic period, which saw the population centers shift northward and change their architectural styles. The Romans didn’t suddenly cancel their empire in 476: the thing had been falling apart since the reign of Commodus, back around 190. 476, by the way, was just a date set for the Western Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire wasn’t totally wiped out until 1453, although it had been in definite decline since around 1050-1100. These “end of civilization” things take time.

But they do happen, and the onset of decline is typified by a convergence of crises. The 20th Century was one of the worst ever for Western Civilization: two horrific global wars, a global economic depression, and massive erosion of traditional values and virtues. The 21st Century started off with a global economic depression that got papered over by central banks in a desperate effort to contain its potential damage. The result of that has led to major upheavals in Europe among nations economically trapped by their Euro membership. Tensions run very high between the West and its rivals in Russia and China, with both those powers eager to pick away at the edges of the West and expand their spheres of influence.

Even the key ideal of The West, that our aspirations are unbounded, is challenged with the realization that resources are finite and that some barriers are insurmountable. Perhaps we can put a man on Mars, but to what avail? What would a colony of humans there profit us? No, Tibet is as far into space as human colonization will go.

Look also to our architecture. Where once cathedrals and skyscrapers reached for the stars, now we build with an eye towards greener construction, with preservation of resources foremost in our minds. The very fact that we now think electric power doesn’t come cheaply is a strong opposite to the ideal that we could have power “too cheap to meter.” Like the case of the Mayans – and it was also true for the Romans, by the way – when the architecture changes, it’s a sure sign that the civilization is changing with it.

Changes in architecture, doubt of the core ideal, and crises accelerating and deepening: all these are signs that the end of Western Civilization is upon us and that it will convulse and grind along until the people in the lands once dominated by its thinking choose to think a different way. And that’s really not a bad thing, in and of itself.

The idea of preservation, conservation, and stewardship of resources is emergent not just as a fad of the times, but as an actual challenging idea to that of Western Civilization. It’s not yet ready to take flight on its rise, noontime, and fall over a millennium, but it will. Perhaps one day, maybe 50, or maybe 500 years from now, we’ll see this new way of thought dominate the minds of men… and then another way of thought will come along, after that. Such is history.

But to say, “The end is near!” is to also say, “The beginning starts soon after that!”

Master of the Void

To be sure, space travel sure is a lot easier, now that humans don’t need food, water, or even air. Immortality means precisely that – not dying, no matter what. But space travel being easier doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily something to look forward to.

I still remember the day I returned to life, when I got this body that never needs and, as a result, never dies. Truth be told, I was hesitant about returning to life. I didn’t have such a good run, my first time around. Lots of regrets in that life, even if I didn’t experience those regrets until after I returned to life. I wasn’t a good person in my mortal life, not by a long shot. But, still, they found a way to give me that so-called great gift that everyone else received. And now I’m here.

Artificial intelligence isn’t necessary if a human intelligence can be surrounded by a form-fitting capsule and then launched into space, that great deficit of matter and time. My perfect recall is now the new instrumentation array for this space probe, and it’s all free of charge to the powers that be. The only mechanism is the radiation filter. And what does it do? Why, it filters the visible light from distant stars, all of it, so that if there is any visible light to be seen in this void, I will know of it.

There is no light in my capsule, not a flicker. Frozen but unable to die, the cold pierces my bones, but I am beyond physical pain. I am conscious, however, and the mental pain… I never got used to that. How long have I been traversing the Great Void? My mortal self would have forgotten long before perishing. My immortal self knows exactly the time spent here: but the years and days of my home on earth mean nothing in this emptiness. I am somewhere between the beginning and the end of time, and I have eternity to search for light. In the meantime, I have only my memories as companions.

And I thought it was dark before I entered the void… pinpricks of starlight growing fainter and farther as I plunged ahead into this absence of matter and time. Anything further than 10 megaparsecs, that light I do not see. I’m told that this void is close to 400 million parsecs in diameter, and I get to cross the whole of it. There’s supposed to be a small bubble of 17 galactic clusters in a 50 million parsec area somewhere in this void, but I don’t think my trajectory will be within 10 million parsecs of any of them.

They knew who I was when they brought me back to life. My victims were alive before me. Dead men tell no tales until they’re resurrected, and then it truly is Judgment Day. I couldn’t argue, not with them there before me, those innocents… those little innocents… It’s like I’d already been convicted before being brought back to deathlessness, and my punishment decided upon.

They’re fairly certain I won’t find anything out here. I’ll be here for billions of years – and then what? I don’t know. And what if I do see something? How do I let anyone know? Why would they want to hear anything from the likes of me?

My perfect eyes never shut, and I never sleep. I am always at rest. My perfect mind never hallucinates or delves into delusion, so I always have my reality before me and within me. I do wonder about the end of time, where that would place me. Will I even know when time ends? Or will I eventually move beyond the gravity of any other body in the universe, and rip away, my matter to never again participate in the fabric of life?

I guess I’m already in such a state. I am rejected by the human family for my crimes, and I now exist outside that vibrant, joyous community. My victims didn’t hate me, but I couldn’t stand being around them. I suppose I can’t really be around anything alive, such is my punishment. Dead, my spirit still knew the earth and its haunts. Alive once again, and I am the lord of all that I survey, for 10 million parsecs all around me. There is nothing to oppose me, nothing to stop me, nothing to impede me in any way. I can reach for the stars, but they shall forever be beyond my grasp.

I am ruler over the darkness outside the universe, and I would never know if any other being laid claim to the radius of nothing that extends from my person. My infinite, timeless kingdom is also my prison cell where I face the darkness to equal the light I once extinguished. If I could live my life over differently, I would, but I am the only matter for 10 megaparsecs because I did not live my life the way I should have.

If only I did not have a perfect ability to experience regret, perhaps I could rejoice somehow in being master of the void!

If only…