“For the first time ever, everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ. It can’t be too long now. Ezekiel says that fire and brimstone will be rained upon the enemies of God’s people. That must mean that they will be destroyed by nuclear weapons.”
At some point in the 21st century – the precise date is irrelevant – a man by the name of Bob J. Firbank was elected President of theUnited States.
The motivation for his candidacy did not stem from an interest in politics nor from a desire for greatness. Bob did not have much of an ego to accommodate and was indifferent to the banal trappings of power. He was not lured to the White House by the perfumed scent of nubile interns. Neither was he turned on by the prospect of in-house catering and luxury furnishings.
Rather, he had made a bet forty years previous with members of his college fraternity while on a hunting trip in New England. These snotty offspring of America’s most wealthy had decided to round off a hard day’s killing with a keg party in a mansion someone’s parents owned. As the booze flowed, the conversation moved from girls to baseball to drinking then working out, before finally settling on politics. They had reached that argumentative stage of drunkenness; everyone believed they could set the world to rights.
Frampton Keppel, whose dad was a hotshot libel lawyer from Chicago, mentioned that no less than twenty-eight former Presidents of the United States had once been members of their particular fraternity. A warm gust of pride swept through the young men. After an awestruck silence, Calvin Hooper, heir to the Dexco fortune, began to wax despondent about the general state of the nation. He warned that foreign countries were becoming increasingly hostile to the United States and would, within their lifetimes, unite to destroy it. The portents were clear enough. At that time more than half the globe was run by Communists with their nukes pointed in America’s direction. Old allies were deserting to form regional power blocs such as the European Common Market. Even public opinion in the so-called unaligned parts of the world was unfriendly to US aims and policies. Hooper finished his slurred lecture by declaring: ‘We got maybe fifty years then we’re screwed.’
Don Hartley, an economics major who was known for his religious zeal, protested that any good Christian need not worry about this. Come what may in this life, the kingdom of heaven was assured to every clean-living American. ‘In fact,’ he said, ‘Bring ‘em on. Let’s take some of ‘em down with us. We’re all looking forward to the afterlife aren’t we?’ Strong noises of agreement were made by the rest of the group. Bravado soon superseded reasoned debate.
Bob joshingly posited a scenario where a US President pursues such an objective, and was shocked to find his friends taking him absolutely seriously. Between them they agreed a wager stipulating that, if one of their number ever became President (which was historically likely), he should do everything he feasibly could in a four year term to quicken the rush to Armageddon.
Bob’s head was uncluttered with Don’s metaphysical values – he lived his life by no particular code. The nearest he got to a belief system was in his love of sport, its emphasis on immutable rules, personal dedication and fair play. A bet was a bet and a bet had to be honoured.
The world had changed by the time Bob was sworn in, but it was no less dangerous. He rewarded his old frat buddies by installing them in his cabinet. They were more convinced than ever of their apocalyptic teleology. The crucial role America had to play in this was fully planned round an informal barbecue in the grounds ofCamp David. The friends swore an oath of secrecy about their true intentions. If anyone in the media questioned their actions, their stock reply would be, ‘We’re making Americasafer by pre-empting our enemies.’
Bob’s first act as Commander-in-Chief was to assaultCubawith a new small-scale nuclear weapon called ‘an economy bomb’. The advantage of this weapon was that it wiped out everything within a twenty mile radius without any risk of radiation fallout to adjacent areas. On Valentine’s Day, as Bob relaxed by smacking baseballs around the White House lawn, a USAF bomber glided into Cuban airspace and dropped one such bomb onHavanacity centre.
Predictably, there was an international outcry. Bob and his cabinet anticipated the critics with fabricated evidence which strongly implied that the Cuban regime had sabotaged US shipping in theCaribbeanand involved itself in organised crime inFlorida. When the critics accused him of overreacting he said to them, ‘What are you going to do, take us to theWorld Court? We’re not signatories. Are you going to tell the UN on us? We couldn’t care less.’
The long-established Axis of Evil was reappraised and expanded. Any minor nation that had wronged theUSover the last century or so, regardless of the temperament of its current regime, was condemned outright and economy-bombed. The Philippines were invaded and recolonised. Mexico was annexed by troops based in California and Panama.Alaskawas handed back to Russia as a gesture of goodwill intended to prevent the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal intervening just yet. Secretary of State Calvin Hooper would telephone Bob in the dead of night to assiduously enquire as to whether the President ‘was getting ready for the pearly gates.’ Bob would be puzzled and simply retort, ‘I’m just seeing out this bet like a gentleman.’
With the enemy list exhausted, Bob resorted to a systematic alienation of his allies. Diplomatic incidents were engineered acrossWestern Europe. An embassy aide flipped the bird to the Queen of England during the state opening of parliament. A visiting White House attache urinated against the Reichstag building, Berlin in full view of the world’s press. The US Ambassador to France accused Monsieur Le President of being ‘an absolute goddamn asshole.’ National treasures were stolen from Egyptian museums and transported through customs in diplomatic bags.
With the end of his term approaching and his approval rating at an all time low, Bob decided he had to work fast. Citing ‘unfinished business’, he ordered the self-destruction of US nuclear bases in Britain and Germanyas ‘revenge for the War of Independence and World War II respectively.’ The rationales for this insane behaviour were wearing thin, so the whole administration ceased giving press conferences. Instead, they sat behind closed doors, their fingers itching on the red button.
An attempt to impeach Bob by opposition senators tied him up in cross-examinations for several months. His maniacal cabinet continued the good work without him, conceiving of a final all-out nuclear strike on as many countries as possible, to be enacted the day Bob left office. ‘We paid for ‘em so we might as well use ‘em,’ Calvin Hooper quipped privately.
As the removal vehicles loaded the last of Bob’s possessions, the outgoing President joyously shook the hands of each of his frat pals/cabinet members.
‘Congratulations, Bob,’ they all said, as they clutched their eight by eight inch solid gold crucifixes and hoped they’d done the right thing.
‘Never mind that. What do I get for winning the bet?’
They presented him with a baseball bat signed by a legendary Boston Red Sox line-up. Bob could hardly hold back the tears. ‘Gee, thanks guys. So it was all worth it after all!’
Armageddon day arrived. When it was clear what the US was up to, every nuclear power was of course compelled to fire nukes back in the mad rush towards mutually assured destruction. Explosions pockmarked the earth like a watermelon used for target practice.
The moment Bob exited the White House he had his limousine drive him straight to the baseball diamond of a public park. As mushroom clouds sprouted on the horizon and radioactive mist flooded the upper air, Bob J Firbank chewed his favourite bubblegum and hit pebbles for home runs.
First published in Lunar Harvest, 2004