The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God …
— Revelation 16:8,9 —
The fear resonates: softly, quietly, as yet still an undercurrent, like trickling water barely perceptible, but portending something deeper: the rushing of a torrent wild and raging and uncontrollable. The vast multitude still sleeps, with dreams of peace, and pleasure, and profit, and prosperity, their small lives ever constricted in one-dimensional bliss while imagining their own tumescence. And yet the beast grows, increasingly uneasy in his restraint, restless for anarchy and annihilation. There are dark days ahead–frightful, chaotic, unpredictable, foreboding–times no man should endure, but through which too many–by their own measure–will survive.
Apollyon draws near.
Historians may well reflect on these times–if there are historians to record them–and wonder how it might have been different. They will look to November ’79, and recognize the lost opportunity to crush the nascent Iranian Islamic revolution in its earliest days. They will ponder how a series of American leaders–from Carter in ’79, to Reagan in Beirut, to Bush in Gulf War I, to Clinton in Somalia–squandered the opportunity to establish by strength a bulwark against the rising self-delusional tide of Islamic fundamentalist zealotry. They will marvel at the senescence of Europe–once colonial conquerors whose might and resilience survived two global wars, now weakened and whimpering, their grand cathedrals as empty as their souls, their rotting culture paying feckless fealty to impotent diplomacy. And China: mainlining Mideast oil to sustain a leaden economy, buying off their oppressed billions with cell phones and computers, their children chained to factories churning out the worthless goods the West demanded to feed its own addictions.
It all seemed so–ordinary, so much like decades past, with petty diplomatic spats, brush wars, government corruption, ethnic cleansing and genocide in lost lands while CNN averted its eyes: the banality of evil hiding its hideous face behind a million facades. For great evil had shown its face before: the Great Depression gave rise to global fascism and the icy winter of Communism–but had also steeled a generation sufficient to its challenges, willing to sacrifice their lives to cool the ovens of Auschwitz and break the back of the gulag masters. Darkness had learned its lesson: better to drug the patient, seducing him with wealth, and pleasure, and shimmering screens made bright with empty images, normalizing the depraved while drumming away all reflection through iPod ear buds.
The outlines of the great Darkness formed slowly, over centuries, the confluence of myths and hatreds of ancient desert tribes with fiery fury over a New Mexico desert–ironically named Trinity. Scattered glimpses of its ghastliness were seen, demonic eyes furtively glancing from still-shuttered windows: nail-laden suicide vests shredding flesh and spilling blood; beheadings, hijackings and terror camps; moral equivalency leveling heinous acts with heroic deeds; the wrath of Khan in Pakistan. But still they slumbered, blind to the gathering darkness.
The curtain was ripped back one crisp morning in September 2001, as pretensions of peace and safety collapsed with the twin towers that dark day. The response was swift–and surprised those accustomed to hollow verbal threats unbacked by power. First in Afghanistan, and shortly thereafter in Iraq, the forces of terror sponsors and Al-Qaeda were dealt sharp and striking defeats, decapitating their leadership and decimating their ranks.
But the beast had many heads, and Al-Qaeda was but one .
History presents many ironies, and the defeat of Al-Qaeda was truly one–for in its defeat, slaughtered in remote mountain caves and on Iraq’s desert killing fields, lay the beast’s reincarnation, for its greatest foe was vanquished in its very victory. For Iraq had constrained the Great Satan, tying up valuable and limited resources in a task which was necessary but insufficient both in timeliness and extent. For secular tyrants–while always a threat, and happy to bed down with the zealots of Islam for their own ends–nevertheless always proved more interested in their own grandiosity and power–and hence proved feeble warriors, useful idiots, propitious diversions which bought valuable time.
But Iraq proved valuable in one other, more critical way: it exposed the soft underbelly of American will, fattened by wealth, pleasure, and materialism, weakened by those with whom the desire to govern a cowering giant trumped any sacrifice needed to assure her survival. America could throw a deadly punch–but could be trusted to leave the ring should the fight drag on.
The Iranian project started small–seeded by the Khan Islamic bomb effort, initially prodded by the ever-present threat from the hated infidel Saddam. But the neighborhood grew vastly more dangerous when Americans rolled over Afghanistan–an albatross which drained the lifeblood even from the Soviets–and soon thereafter roared through Iraq. Surrounded now on two sides with hostile forces unstoppable by any conventional army–much less Iran’s–the nuclear trump card become paramount. With the ascent of Ahmadinejad to the presidency–a fanatic Shi’ite who imagined himself the Twelfth Imam–the dry kindling was fanned to a blaze. If the martyrdom of one was glorious, the martyrdom of an entire nation would please Allah greatly, and bring about his kingdom–which Ahmadinejad would rule.
There were, it is now believed, eight bombs: four produced by Iran herself; two purchased from Kim Jong Il, desperate for cash to keep his movies rolling and his regime afloat; and the greatest prize: two high-yield nukes from the Russian Mafia. These broke the bank–but oil prices were high, their target was priceless–and money would be worthless after their use.
The Russian nukes arced toward Zion on pillars of holy flame. Patriot missiles took out the Haifa arm, but Tel-Aviv was incinerated, the waters of the Mediterranean boiling as the sacrifice climbed to heaven. The Palestinians would die, of course–but their usefulness to Allah had long since passed, their timid suicide acts pale archetypes of Allah’s true vengeance. Jerusalem would survive, though its inhabitants would die slowly and painfully, befitting of goats and swine inhabiting that most holy of cities. In a massive counter strike, Iran ceased to exist in any recognizable form. Ahmadinejad and his inner circle were long gone, of course–secure deep within their mountain redoubt in northern Pakistan. The hardened production sites in Iran survived largely intact–but the fruit of their bowels had long since dispersed to faraway cells in faraway lands.
The barge on the Thames was next, eight days later. The Korean nuke was low-yield and dirty, but served its purposes well, killing tens of thousands instantly, many more over the ensuing weeks, decapitating the government, and rendering London uninhabitable for a generation. Paris was next, three weeks later, the Iranian bomb prepositioned in an unused Metro tunnel, it is thought–to destroy a millennium of Western culture while preserving the Muslim suburbs. Russia was next–not Moscow, as expected, where security was airtight–but the oil fields, setting alight enormous blazes which would burn for years, destroying forever in one blow the economy of the butchers of Chechnya.
And then–the pause. Months passed, terror reigned, as anarchy roiled Europe and the Middle East burned. Global commerce stopped; oil became unavailable at any price. Jews and Muslims alike were slaughtered, torn apart by angry mobs and incensed governments. Angry recriminations flew like missiles between governments and politicians, as the world economy ground to a halt. Riots were everywhere, martial law ruled, as all personal freedoms were revoked under pain of incarceration–or worse. Religion was outlawed in many places–and suspect everywhere. Conspiracy theories abounded–was this calamity fomented by America, as yet untouched in this global conflagration? The truth could not be spoken: the last Korean nuke was discovered, serendipitously, in a freight yard in Atlanta–its ensnarement now top secret lest public panic ensue. The two remaining, quietly resting, somehow avoiding the frantic search of all inbound cargo–one in a tanker truck in the Jersey refineries outside New York City, the other in a warehouse just south of San Francisco, located directly over the San Andreas fault–awaiting their synchronized detonation, that fatal day on August 6, 2008 …
Update: Late-night writing makes for bad math. The numbers have been fixed.