See how beautiful and delicate they are. Notice how various are the designs upon their wings, as if they are transmitting messages of silent beauty individually and in combination, which we usually do not see or consider, and how our lack of consideration bothers them not at all. Regard their unhurried fluttering, moving short distances, their apparently whimsical journeying and unpredictable halts, with closed or gently opening and closing wings as they seem to delight in the sunlight, the plants and the breeze, following some combination of instinct and free choice which is to us mysterious, yet evocative once we pay attention to it. Fragile, gentle, short lived creatures, but following a life cycle of astounding changes of form, and capable of immense migrations, manifesting much greater strength and endurance than we would at first sight be inclined to credit to them. If ‘the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world’, in a similar vein it was jestingly suggested that the causes of events may be so small, numerous, complicated, entangled and obscure, that the slight perturbation of the atmosphere caused by the unplanned and unperceived flutter of a butterfly’s wings might be the trigger of enormous effects in the world at large.
That at any rate may be as good a guess as we can make in attempting to identify the causes of some events which appear to have sent the world we know on a course different from that which expert and informed observers confidently expected it to have followed.
‘Brighter than a thousand suns, I am become Death – the Shatterer of Worlds’, so quoted Oppenheim as he observed the first atomic explosion. Now think what sort of butterfly would find its slowly flapping wings gently warmed by such a sun.
It was just after 9 pm. on Friday 19th January 2018 that President Hillary Clinton rose to give her first State of the Union address, marking the completion of her first year of office, to the assembled dignitaries in the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill. They were of course all there, the 435 members of the House of Representatives, 100 Senators, the members of the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the senior members of the diplomatic corps, the media, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. Of course they were; it was a great occasion.
Not that anyone ever compared Hillary Clinton to a butterfly. Contrast certainly existed. Slug, shrew, scorpion, serpent were theriomorphic metaphors which many people instinctively felt would better express her character.
For at least half an hour she ranted and hissed, cackled and droned, congratulated herself and denounced her enemies- most of the world it seemed, to loud, prolonged and repeated applause from her political supporters. Her head bobbed, her eyes rolled, her mouth grimaced and her body twitched. It was indeed the Hillary of old, unleashed again after a period of heavily drugged restraint. America and the world watched, fascinated and appalled, as not only her body but her emotions escaped control. She poured scorn upon her defeated opponents, Donald Trump, the Republicans, heterosexuals and especially white males. Not that Trump minded; he was far away, making money and playing golf. The Wicked Witch of the West gloatingly recounted her diplomatic feats; how she had spread a renewed barrage of blood and fire over Syria, her threats to Iran, her acceptance of Ukraine as an ally of the United States, and her demand that Russia cede the Crimea to Ukraine and cease to support the rebels in the Donbass, her threats of sanctions against China. She seemed barely able to restrain herself from immediate declarations of war against all these countries as she menacingly announced that the forces of the USA were in the process of being re-deployed and that their defence readiness had been raised to maximum. She announced that if they listened carefully they could hear their air force flying overhead to take up their positions of readiness.
It was at 21:47 Eastern Standard Time that the Big Butterfly twitched its wings and changed the world. The skies over much of the eastern United States were suddenly illuminated, brighter than the brightest noon, as all these people, together with millions of others and the whole city of Washington ceased to exist. Live on air – so to speak. The fallout was spectacular- again, so to speak.
The Russians must have done it. At least, that was the initial assumption as the remnants of the high command of the American military, hiding under a mountain, frantically sought to establish the extent of the damage, whether there were signs of further imminent attack by Russia, China or anyone else, and whether any legitimate political leadership had survived. This assumption was soon overturned as it became clear that there were no such signs and as they fielded frantic calls from the Russian political and military leadership asking what had happened, assuring them that they had had nothing to do with whatever had happened, and expressing condolences on the disaster and offers of civilian assistance should it be required. These calls were soon followed by more, informing them that the Russian sniffers of nuclear residues from the explosions, (plural), thought them to be characteristic of American nuclear weapons. This was reassuring in a way, although highly embarrassing, and corresponded to a sickening realisation growing from their own investigations, that this was probably the world’s biggest ‘Oops, butterfingers!’ moment. How and to whom does one apologise for accidentally annihilating the capital city and the political leadership of one’s own country? That’s not something for which they practice. It still was not clear who was to blame and whether they were still alive.
What had happened? Those atomic bombs had certainly not been dropped by butterflies. If not enemy action, had it been some sort of ghastly accident or something more sinister? A whole series of simultaneous accidents beggared belief. The actual number of explosions, almost simultaneous, was not known at first, although seismographs soon reported that there had been seven. It proved difficult to discover exactly how many nuclear weapons (and aircraft) were unaccounted for, whether there were any more unexploded bombs that had escaped official control, and just which bombs these had been and how these seven had been delivered and how it had been done without official orders to move and use them. The disappearance of the Pentagon along with the rest of Washington hampered investigations, and the absence of the whole national political and senior bureaucrat classes meant that huge additional burdens were placed on the surviving military command. At least they had avoided a war which would have destroyed the rest of the country and much of the rest of the world; or if only a small one, left them trying to manage that as well as deal with the chaos at home.
The mess got worse. Initial reports emphasised the destruction of Washington and areas to the north of it, because that damage was easily visible and politically shocking, but that was not the full extent of the death and destruction. The winds were blowing northeastwards, so over the weekend the whole area up to and including New York city received a heavy dose of radiation, in time for commuters from further north to catch their death of it when they went to work on Monday, although it would take some time to kill them. Zombie Panic spread up the whole east coast as people realised that they were ‘dead men walking’, and others feared that they had incurred or soon would incur, the same fate. Social order and government services collapsed. A Hobbesian state of nature prevailed, a war of all against all. Those who had not fled inland or further north, often spreading the disorder they sought to escape as they did so, were caught in the auto-destructive frenzy. State authority vanished from several New England states, the military command under their mountain were not able to reassure the panicked politicians who called for their aid, and local military units ignored or outright refused orders to go into the affected areas, confining themselves to shooting anyone who approached them or attempted to interfere with their own looting of high value targets, or ‘strategic redeployment’ well away from areas of radiation or riots.
To be cont.