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.
The military command of such of the military as remained willing to obey their commands were too burdened to do anything about this, especially as the catastrophe which eliminated the source of legitimate authority had weakened their own. Formally there had been a continuity of government plan. Some of the Washington politicians had been supposed to stay away from the State of the Union speech to constitute a kernel of government in the case of some disaster wiping out the others. If that had happened it had become irrelevant, because none had survived the nuclear catastrophe. Plenty of ambitious state governors and other politicians had demanded a quick replacement of the Federal government, usually under some scheme which would benefit he who proposed it. Consequently each was opposed by the others. Quick elections were deemed impracticable, not least because several important Democratic states were in chaos, (and their populations much reduced so it was not clear how much representation they should have) so their state politicians demanded that they should be allowed to constitute a new Federal Government - 'that's what Hillary would have wanted' they claimed, but failed to convince each other, let alone Republicans. Foreign governments and financial markets were also keen to have a clear centre of authority in the USA. Thus the military command felt obliged to constitute themselves an interim government and to declare martial law in the east coast states north of Washington. The rest of the states vigorously denied that they had any problems which would justify any such action, and disputed the competence of the military command to take such action and to make itself a replacement for the Federal government. Indeed, California had the impertinence to suggest that as the largest state still in good order that adhered to the dead President's programme, they should assume the Federal government for the remainder of her term, and that San Francisco should replace Washington as Federal capital. This idea was not well received by the other states or by the Interim Military Government.
The disappearance of Washington and its political establishment evoked horrified fascination by the rest of the world and by the surviving American media. This was quickly matched and surpassed by the horror and disgust with which the collapse of civilisation in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and adjacent areas was viewed – and it was viewed around the world, 'live' as it happened. It made Somalia, Rwanda, Cambodia, - previous exemplars of savagery - appear civilised, mild and sane by comparison. These were the areas of America best known and loved by the liberal media and bureaucratic and political establishments of the western world. They were mortified by the speed and extent with which all traces of decency had been sloughed off by the people they had idolised.
Nor could their usual recourse of ignoring and then denying anything which ran counter to their 'narrative' of lying propaganda be effective in this case, because the interest of the world was so great and the number of competing sources of information so large, that it could not be ignored or denied.
Day by day, night by night, the world and the rest of America watched as their worst post-Apocalyptic nightmare fantasies were realised in blood-spattered technicolor on their screens. Drone borne cameras and microphones were cheap and plentiful. The state and military authorities were not able to prevent their deployment in enormous numbers. Not even the most liberal application of liberal lies, cover-ups and distortions could conceal the truth shrilly shouted by their opponents in the alternative media, that the lead and greatest part in these gruesome atrocities were taken by the blacks, illegal immigrants, social justice warriors, Muslims, feminists and degenerates who had been lionised by the liberal establishment and their lickspittle media and politicians.
At first it had been those who were dying of radiation poisoning, or who expected to do so, who had started the riots, murders, thefts, rapes, drunken destruction and arson. Soon this behaviour spread as the police fled and social and civil order collapsed. Armed blacks were always eager to go on a rampage. Now they had nothing to fear, and quickly took the chance to hunt and torture, rape, loot, enslave and kill all the whites they could reach after breaking into liquor stores and supermarkets. Not that they treated each other or decent blacks much better. Publicity soon spread this behaviour to other big cities and areas infested by blacks far from the east coast radiation plume. Generations of liberal programming had their predictable effect. What the liberals were this time not able to subvert was the natural outrage of the rest of the country and the repugnance of the rest of the world. This time the rioters got their just desserts in the more civilised parts of America and many of their sympathisers and enablers were then hunted down and slaughtered to prevent a recrudescence of such outrages. Martial law has its uses, whether declared by a state governor or an Interim Military Government.
Reflex calls for emergency aid and international assistance were issued by the usual suspects. Soon their irrelevance was revealed. The problems might be solved by hot lead but certainly they were not ameliorated by soft soap and bottled water. Films of naive aiders being tortured and slaughtered by those they intended to help quickly spread around the world and helped to awake world and American opinion to the true nature of the problem. Demands began to be received by the IMG that they should deal briskly with the east coast. Better controlled applications of atomic weapons, poison gas or death rays from space were seriously suggested. By this time the rest of the country was out of sympathy for the east coast. They were adjusting to life without Washington and New York on their backs, in their ears and on their cases, and discovering that they liked it. State politicians and bureaucracies were swelling with new found pride and self-importance, eagerly taking up as much as they could of the power and prestige that had been purloined by Washington. States Rights were of new found relevance, and were ridden for all they were worth, with frequent references to the original intent of the Constitution to limit the powers of the Federal government, and suddenly bold declarations that the rights of the states had been usurped by tyrannical liberals and Democrats. States busied themselves denying and excluding most Federal legislation and bureaucracies and programmes. This was encouraged because it was entangled with the basic question of who had the right, and importantly now – the ability- to levy and collect taxation.
This was a further and fundamental difficulty for the IMG. It had little ability to raise revenue and huge payrolls and other expenditure to meet. Raising revenue depends on the presence or imminent prospect of armed men to enforce compliance. In modern times their reach had been vastly extended by a huge and intrusive set of bureaucracies – but the greatest and most intrusive of these bureaucracies had been decapitated and most of the states were not willing to see them reconstituted at their expense. The states indeed employed their own armed forces, less heavily equipped than the Federal military, but better suited to revenue collection and riot suppression than were those riding the marvels of hugely expensive modern technology.
Just as those who claimed authority needed armed force to impose their will, however thick the fog of demagoguery obscuring that basic political fact, and needed to be able to pay them; so the armed men needed employers with some semblance of legitimacy who could pay them, if they were not to become mere bandits working on their own account, probably with a short life expectation. This was awkward for the IMG and those who wished to be paid by them. It resulted in a rapid dwindling of their initial political and military capital as more and more had to be ceded to the states, and as their personnel increasingly followed the loyalty of their stomachs and accepted such employment as they could get from whichever state or company could feed them. Soon the mighty engines of the US military were mostly consigned to junk heaps or sold abroad. The authority of the IMG become ever more nominal. Foreign governments scented this decay and transfer of power and authority to the states, which they started to treat almost as independent countries; a process which the egos of the state politicians and their rivalries with their neighbours encouraged.
This process of constitutional breakdown and re-organisation might be seen in terms of our butterfly metaphor as the equivalent of the caterpillar's change into a chrysalis, but would a beautiful butterfly emerge from it?
We left the story without resolving the question of how had the atomic explosions been caused. The normal procedures for the movement and arming of atomic weapons were very stringent, so it was particularly puzzling that not one but several had been detonated without authority. This and the location of the explosions suggested systematic subversion of normal safety procedures and hostile intent, perhaps by quite a large number of people. Military counter intelligence was frantic to discover any plots by the KKK, the Alt Right or any other Democratic bogeymen, until dissuaded by the IMG pointing out their complete failure to discover any plausible plots and by a lack of obvious beneficiaries “unless you're accusing us of course, Ha! Ha! Thought not.” Also by the elimination of the previous political class, the dire emergencies of the current situation, and the consequent need to “get with the new program, Colonel”.
As the IMG reduced the defence readiness level, calmed the fears of foreign governments, and returned units to their previous positions, a couple of mysteries were resolved. One was the identification of the bombs and the planes carrying them. The other was why they had been flying over Washington in normally restricted airspace at that time. That was simply because of Hillary's ego, she had overridden the normal procedure and ordered a flight over the Capitol at that time as part of the deployment to attack positions, just to be able to generate applause at that point in her speech. That was characteristic of her hubris and consistent with her previous career of refusal to abide by security procedures for handling classified information and work related emails, and generally in misusing her office to advance her personal interests. So far indeed, so predictable. Had some persons unknown who had known this not very well guarded information, been able to exploit access to nuclear weapons to cause such well targeted destruction, a classic Decapitation Strike? If the IMG had suspicions in that direction they were not shared with the public.
The official explanation, released under tremendous national and international pressure, was that in the haste to comply with sudden deployment orders, corners had been cut, safety procedures ignored, mistakes had been made, and lessons had been learned. It was assumed that pilot error had been the inadvertent cause of the first explosion, directly over the Capitol, and that the other planes of the flight had been caught in the blast and their weapons had 'cooked off'. Certainly none of the crew survived to confirm or deny this story. Shortly thereafter the base from which they had flown was closed, the formation was disbanded, the ground crews and administrators left the service. They and the families of the aircrew disappeared from public view. Embarrassment? Punishment? Flight? Retrenchment? Cover-up? Coincidence? You may think as you please but you'll get no more comment on this matter from the IMG.
There are always those who claim that 'an official statement' is the very definition of a lie. Of course there may also be those who will counter object that the officials whose statements gave rise to such cynicism were those who were incinerated in the Washington Catastrophe, as it came to be called. (Or The Great Deliverance, as others came to call it.)
Speculation continues. What really happened, and why? Did simple carelessness bring down a great nation at a crucial moment and at the same time preserve it? The consequences continue to proliferate. Could such significant events have followed from insignificant causes?
Rumours abounded. Some wondered whether Allan had wormed his way into the American Air Force, and dropped some Snackbars, but no jihadi group claimed the deed. More usually it was regarded as some sort of 'own goal'. Too much attention to 'Diversity and Equality Coordination' and the various lunacies of the multi-culti left, vigorously promoted in the military and everywhere else by the Clinton Administration, rather than to 'health and safety'; resulting in a grand case of petardic self-hoisting, was a popular view. The Fuck-up Factor was strong in that one.
To those more delicately attuned to the gentle flutter of tiny wings came a whisper on this faintest of breezes, that the crucial butterflies had been those which had fluttered in the stomachs of hypothetical and certainly anonymous Generals in the Pentagon. These had known that the President or her dominant group of advisors was mad, and that MAD would terminate their lives and those of the rest of the world 'with extreme prejudice' and very soon, because of their extremely prejudiced, ignorant and distorted views of life. They had known, it was averred, that her illusion about being able to force the submission of the Russians in particular without them being willing and able to fight back, even knowing that the consequences would be like Samson pulling down the temple of the Philistines in a general holocaust, was indeed delusional, as had been her vituperative rejection of all sane advice and prudent warnings. Had they taken a Samson Option to sacrifice their own capital and leadership, possibly including themselves, in order to save the rest of the world and the rest of their own country? Courage, self-sacrifice and loyalty were always the virtues most admired and expected of the military. Was perhaps this rumour the shadow of such hope and expectation without sufficient regard to the more usually admitted view that what 'generally' rose to the top was scum, not cream. General Officers had the reputation of being those who had most cunningly and abjectly played the games of flattery and political correctness. Those with too much of the old fashioned virtues and competence were assumed to have been filtered out at an earlier stage of selection. All the same, 'depend upon it sir, the knowledge that a man is to be hanged in a fortnight concentrates his mind wonderfully', and this could apply at least as much to rogues as to honest men.
It is easy to imagine the likely sequence of events, at least in outline. The sickening understanding that if one does not do something, no one else may act; and the maniacs around the White House will actually cause the destruction of the world in only a few days or even hours. A career of supine obedience and craven flattery to secure self advancement ends at that moment. The sudden luminous knowledge of a brief opportunity wherein brutal devastating action would be effective. How could it actually be done? Who would need to do what? Who could be trusted? The sidelong glances and estimations of those around. The mental search for those further away whose participation would be required or who could be wangled into the crucial positions at the necessary times. The hurried yet apparently casual renovation of old acquaintance. The secret meetings, striving not to look furtive, the anxious sounding of opinions, deciding to risk exposure and execution by inviting the succession of other people to participate in treason and mass murder in order to save the planet, each of whom must in turn take similar risks recruiting subordinates who will do the deed. The possible murders of those who refuse to join. The fear that those who accept may immediately betray. The movement of decision from the initiators downwards and outwards to those in command of those who will assign crews and tasks, those who will load and manipulate the planes and weapons, those who will perform checks – or not, issue revised orders, create diversions, change a crew member at a crucial time, maybe recruit at least one pilot or air crew who will be the unknown kamikaze.
A variant view was that if the Generals had not been up to the task, perhaps some Colonels had taken action. Coups usually seem to be led by Colonels, although, as for instance in the case of Nasser, often with a general or so as temporary figureheads. Against this was the fact that no such junta had stepped forth to claim credit and power after the event. The IMG appeared to consist of unhappy survivors reluctantly fumbling with a situation for which they were not well fitted, not the usual wannabe Presidents For Life. Still it might be thought that was a reflection of their ambition exceeding their ability, although their relative modesty would seem to deny this. Maybe American coups were just different. No tanks in the street, no seizure of the national tv and radio broadcast stations to broadcast martial music and patriotic addresses, no self promotions and cult of personality – yet. Maybe they were more concerned with getting an unpleasant job done than with taking personal credit – or wisely decided that the destruction of a significant portion of the population and territory of their country was not something for which credit would be given and that it would be more prudent to modestly avoid responsibility and blame.
Let's not overlook another possibility – quick thinking and action by those too junior to assume subsequent leadership. Maybe the lightning had struck some techie or spook who had discovered the not very secure plans to send nuclear armed planes over Washington took matters into their own hands and had contacts which could quickly get to the right people to doctor at least one bomb before or after it was loaded. Perhaps at least one of the air crew was complicit if there were supposed to be checks carried out before take off. It should be remembered that even in better times, there had been rumours and scares about unauthorised transport, and even loss, of nuclear weapons. People were alleged to have been dismissed from the force as a result. At least one nuclear bomb was whispered to still be missing, although if so the smart money was on it having been found in Israel.
There's even the possibility of something similar having happened on the other side. The Russian and Chinese intelligence services must have known of the movement plans. Perhaps one of them inserted an asset to doctor or explode the bomb, a risk worth taking in the face of imminent war. The Russians were known to have electronic warfare equipment which could suppress the electronics of American radar and ships. Maybe they also had something which could set off an American nuclear bomb, perhaps from the ground beneath the aircraft carrying them at quite a low altitude. There's no need to doubt the sincerity of the Russian assurances. Their government may not have known of the action.
It did not escape comment that all instances of the use of atomic bombs had been American, and that there was some justice matching the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with that of Washington and New York. The angels of karmic retribution may be terrible indeed, but who would have thought that the delicate wings of butterflies could have borne those chariots of fire?
Baal Zebub Lord of the Flies, was a powerful demon; but more terrible and beautiful is the Lord or Lady of the Butterflies. Respect then the butterflies. Know that in some manner beyond our ability to comprehend or imitate, the apparently weak and uncoordinated beats of their multitudinous wings, may be bearing forces of greater power and influence than our bustling world acknowledges.
I like the butterflies. Not that I think that individually, collectively or archetypically they had the slightest knowledge of humanity or concern for our follies and activities or their consequences. It may be more a matter of what their existence means. Butterfly winged Psyche was the symbol or goddess of the soul and wife of Eros. Who is to say that she was solely the soul of humanity? Other life, and not necessarily only that physically manifest, may have a share – and a concern that humanity does not destroy this planet, which guardianship with elegantly minimal action may here have been performed.
'Wyrd bith ful aread' as the Saxons said. We might be saying it too, had the butterflies fluttered slightly differently at Hastings in 1066. Fate is inexorable, but perhaps the weavers have some freedom in how they weave the tapestry of life, or in how the figures are displayed. That tapestry, or actually embroidery, at Bayeux, might be in Winchester. Instead of depicting Harold with an arrow in his eye it shows William hacked to pieces. Life on this earth has not run its course. The butterflies must play awhile.