The day the world ended began like any other day. People woke up, had their coffee, checked their social media, kissed their loved ones, went to work.
Nobody knew it was coming. The news reporters and pundits hadn’t been informing them that the US and its allies had been simultaneously ramping up aggressions against two nuclear-armed nations in a way that could easily lead to something going catastrophically wrong, or explained to them what this could mean for them and their loved ones. The mass media had never let the truth interfere with the military agendas of their government before, and, as it turns out, they never would.
Nobody knew it was coming, so nobody opposed the dangerous acts of brinkmanship that led up to it. Nobody resisted as the Democrats manufactured consent for escalation after escalation against Russia. Nobody resisted as the Republicans manufactured consent for escalation after escalation against China. Nobody objected as war ships were moved, as troops were deployed, as Nuclear Posture Reviews became more and more hawkish and aggressive, as new armageddon weapons were manufactured and fielded, as proxy conflicts were backed, as war planes encroached upon sovereign airspace, as missiles were readied for swift deployment.
So it simply did not feature in anyone’s mind that this could be the day they and their loved ones die in a nuclear holocaust.
They just went about their day, like it was any other day. Working, texting, thinking pointless thoughts, arguing about nonsense with strangers on the internet.
Then it happened. A nuclear weapon was deployed by one side, setting off a chain reaction that had been set in place ready to be triggered long ago, from which there was no coming back.
And the funny thing is, it was an accident. Just a stupid, innocent mistake. One of the thousands of people responsible for the operation of those horrific weapons got a little careless with their part in the day-to-day management of the imperfect technology used in an international nuclear standoff that had become increasingly tense and confusing amid rapidly rising cold war chaos.
That’s all it took. Nothing grand or dramatic. Just a bad decision, made at the wrong time.
One minute it seemed fine. The next minute it was the end. The end of everything.
Nothing rearranges your mental priorities like looking outside and seeing a mushroom cloud growing on the horizon. Suddenly your particular political ideology doesn’t feel so significant anymore. Your personal beef with your coworker loses its importance. That heated argument you were having online slips forgotten from your mind. In fact, nearly everything you’d spent your mental mental energy on that day up until that point feels like a ridiculous, pathetic joke.
There was fear of course. Panic of course. People ran. People hid. But the realization spread very quickly that there was no escaping this one. That this was the end.
And, in that brief moment of helpless surrender to the inevitable, humanity was the most awake it’s ever been. The most tuned in. The most compassionate. The most loving. The most united. If there’d been anyone outside of it to witness it, the beauty of our species in that moment would have taken their breath away.
The earth shook. The flames spread. Black carbon was hurled into the stratosphere for decades. All the earth’s creatures perished in the darkness and radiation.
And then it was all still. Still and silent.
It was a mistake. A stupid, silly mistake, just like all the other stupid silly mistakes we’ve made since the moment we first stood upright. It’s just that this mistake was our last one.
The only difference between our final mistake and all the innumerable others which preceded it was that there was nobody left to fix this one. To try and course correct. To say “Ah, I see where you went wrong there, let’s make some adjustments and try a different approach.”
No one left to recognize the mistake, to grow as a result of that recognition, and to rise above it. No one left to realize how staggeringly insane it was to flirt with the end of the world for the sake of power, how arrogant it was to think that we could remain in perfect control of all those weapons for decades on end without something going wrong amid our reckless games of nuclear chicken.
No one left to realize there’s no good reason we need to live in a world where governments brandish such weapons at each other just because a few sociopaths decided that US unipolar domination needs to be preserved at all cost. No one left to realize we could all just lay down our weapons and get along with each other, and begin collaborating with each other toward a peaceful and harmonious world.
It would be so, so wonderful if that had happened. But it didn’t. And now it’s all gone.
And it’s too late to fix our mistake.
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