It caused massive loss of life across the globe, and plunged humanity almost into the stone age. Those who survived were scattered, disorganized, and in many cases suffering from radiation poisoning. The soils were radiated, crops destroyed, and animals mutated by the massive amount of radiation into new and violent species.
The United States, deliberately isolationist in between the First and Second World Wars and yet historically jealous of Great Britain's high global profile during and before that period, was swift to change its foreign policy and seize the guardianship of the Western world from the 1950s onward.
During this time atomic power became more than just a science fiction cliché West and East glared at each other during the Cold War; tensions eased as détente became a political priority; pacts were signed, treaties ratified; an arms race began, got out of hand; black-gold blackmail became a hideous reality when the Arab oil states became greedy for power; money markets throughout the world rocked and teetered; enormous economic depression arrived, stayed for more than a decade.
In the 1960s and 1970s America got its fingers burned in Southeast Asia, fighting a war that, despite what later apologists maintained, could never have been won. In the late 1980s to early 1990s, the same old story was rerun in Latin America, for the same old reasons. This time, however, the stakes were higher and the face cards more evenly distributed. For a time the world tottered on the brink of a Third and probably final World War. In the end, both superpowers, Russia and America, backed off. For the moment, mutual face-saving became the order of the day. In 1988 President Reagan was succeeded by his vice president.
The crisis in Latin America had slowly grown during Reagan's two terms of office, but it was his successor who, early in 1992, had to face the Soviet leader Mr. Gorbachev across a table in Geneva so that both could pull back from the brink with as much grace as could be mustered. One might have expected that a grateful U.S. electorate, later that year, would have returned the Republican leader for a second presidential term with a thumping majority. But the electorate is notoriously fickle. In 1992 the Republicans were skinned by the Democrats, led by an aging Democratic figure, along-time politician from a family of political stars, a man with a terrible driving record in his native Massachusetts.
The American public had had it up to its collective back teeth with the GOP. Over the previous twelve years there had been too many close calls, too many near disasters. It was time to turn to a symbol of the past, time to revert to a New Frontier style of politics. But the presidency of this East Coast aristocrat—whose political acumen, never particularly strong in the first place, had been frayed and shredded by years of self-indulgence and self-pity—was an unmitigated disaster. After four years of inept rule, verging at times on the catastrophic, the electorate demanded the return of the devil they knew, and in 1996 the previous President, in any case still regarded by the mandarins of his own party as a sound, even muscular, choice, took the country by a landslide and became, for only the second time in American history, an ousted President who returned to the White House in triumph.
Rise of the VsesozhzhenieEdit
But this had little effect on the global situation, and toward the end of this man's second term, in the spring of 1999, there occurred an event that was to have a shattering effect on the course of world history. Or what was left of it. In a spectacular and bloody coup the Soviet leader N. Ryzhkov was gunned down, in the corridors of the Kremlin itself, by hardline Stalinist revisionists.
Most of Ryzhkov's key associates, inherited from his predecessor, Gorbachev, who had died in a plane crash in the Urals in 1993; were shot, and for six months the USSR was racked by a civil war far more atrocious in the short term and far more damaging in the long term than that out of which Soviet Russia had agonizingly emerged back in the early 1920s.
The upper echelons of the Soviet army, in particular, were decimated. The coup had been masterminded by KGB chief V. N. Pritisch who, it wasrumored, had already disposed of the previous head of the KGB, V. Chebrikov, five years earlier. Chebrikov, a close ally of both Gorbachev and Ryzhkov, had died of a brain tumor and been given a full and impressive state funeral; however, some said a lethal injection, administered by Pritisch himself, had helped Chebrikov on his way.
Pritisch was a hard-liner who detested the West, favoured the bleaker aspects of Stalinism and was determined to revert to the original Marxist-Leninist line of total world revolution leading to total world domination. On the other hand he was as much of a pragmatist as any serious politician, and although it might be supposed that the bombs that destroyed Washington were detonated at his instigation, this was by no means the case.
Pritisch needed time to plan, a ten-year breathing space, after the short but savage mayhem he had inflicted on his own country, in which to develop his global strategies. The bombs that destroyed Washington gave him nothing. They were the work, in fact, of a secret and even more extreme junta of disaffected senior internal security officers who, for five years or more before the Pritisch coup, had been plotting not simply for revolution but for outright war.
This group, headed by two shadowy figures in the Soviet hierarchy, B. Sokolovsky and N. D. Yudenich, were fanatical purists who believed that over the past generation there had been too much humiliation and marking time, too little action. They called themselves vsesozhzhenie, or "terrible fire." Their grievances, real or imagined, were many. The fat-cat corruption of the Brezhnev era had, they felt, never been entirely eradicated, even under the brisk, no-nonsense rule of Gorbachev. The gradual erosion of influence over the lesser partners of the Warsaw Pact and Russia's European satellites during the 1970s and 1980s worried them. The growth of consumerism, the importation of decadent, Western-style petit bourgeois values into western Russia appalled them.
But if the domestic scene was one at which they looked with sour eyes, the international scene, and Soviet foreign policy in general, seemed to these philosophers of the "terrible fire" one of gross mismanagement, a succession of blunders and embarrassments.
The disastrous intervention in Lebanon during the mid to late 1980s had led a number of Middle Eastern allies to back away from Soviet influence right into the welcoming arms of the United States. The tactical retreat from Afghanistan in the late 1980s had been, for them, a humbling experience. And the return of Soviet forces in even greater numbers only three years later had merely resulted in an even more debilitating and long-drawn-out war of attrition with the rebels that still smoldered into the late 1990s.
The bloody holocaust that had swept South Africa in 1988-9, when President Botha, after three years of vacillation, finally offered the black population limited as opposed to universal suffrage: far too little, far too late, had been a shambles politically as well as literally, for the victorious, Marxist-oriented AfricanNational Congress had turned its back on its Soviet mentors and accepted aidfrom the increasingly capitalistic China.The back-down over Latin America had been, the vsesozhzhenie thought, nothingshort of an act of cowardice. And the assassination of Fidel Castro in 1993,probably engineered by rogue members of the American CIA, had not been dealtwith at all with the firmness—the sternness, even—that was, the plotters felt,required. The subsequent uprising had been put down by the Cuban army with nohelp from the Soviet Union, who were still uneasy, so soon after the LatinAmerican crisis, about cruising into dangerous waters. The fact that the U.S., forthe same reason, had not poked its oar in when for a couple of weeks Cuba hadbeen theirs for the taking, proved that the Americans were just as stupid as thosewho sat around the mahogany conference tables in the Kremlin.The gradual spread of Islamic fundamentalism from Iran into Turkmen andUzbekistan had slowly but surely, like a relentlessly insidious maggot, reached upinto the southern parts of Kazakhstan: extremely sensitive territory. On the otherside of the Golodnaya Steppe lay some of the most secret military establishmentsin the whole of the USSR.
All in all, the past thirty years seemed to them to have been a time of confusionand disorientation, a time of feeble men and feeble policies. In spite of themassive strides forward in agriculture, historically the weak link in Soviet domestic affairs, the huge leaps in industrial manufacturing and, more important, technological development in outer space, there seemed to those of the vsesozhzhenie to have been a loss of direction. A loss of faith in the old Marxist-Leninist ideologies. A loss of purity.Purity, it was argued, could only be regained in the heart of the fire. Fire cleansed.The world must be set alight.And not in ten years' time. Or twenty. Or a hundred. but rather right away.
IN THE U.S. THERE WAS UNEASE at the Pritisch coup, alarm at thesubsequent show trials that dragged on through the spring of 2000, and then aground swell of pure panic as it was realized that the face of Soviet Russia hadundergone a complete and utter transformation, an almost total reversion to thestony, obdurate, uncompromising mask of Stalinism.The strong feeling in the country was this: the Republicans, in general, werepolitically right of center; the Democrats, in general, were politically left. Better,therefore, to go for the party that might—just might—find some common groundwith the new rulers of Russia than the party whose inveterate and historicbelligerence might—just might—upset the Soviets into doing something drasticand irreversible.The American electorate could well have gotten it right. There could have beensome kind of cobbled-together short-term accommodation with Pritisch, althoughPritisch himself viewed matters in the longer term and had made up his mind thatwithin a decade the entire world scene must be transformed.
But this, too, is academic. The vsesozhzhenie who also called themselves the obzhigateli, or "igniters"—had other ideas. More to the point, they had contacts inwhat remained of the armed forces. Owing to the Byzantine and intensely secretive nature of the Russian power structure, much could be done with thosewho hated Pritisch as much as they hated the West.And much was done in the final quarter of the year 2000. Plans were devised.Preparations made. Secret orders given and carried out. A state of readiness wasachieved.All culminated in the long-range remote-controlled detonation, by a small groupof
special forces—of the three Washington bombs.THE PLAN of the
was, briefly, as follows: once Washington was out,the three main U.S. space stations were the primary targets. These would bedestroyed by particle beam weapons from a variety of killer satellites directed bythe two central Soviet space stations. A minute at most.The U.S. and the NATO countries would then have to rely on the rather moreantiquated sky- and ground-based early warning systems still in operation asbackup to the extremely sophisticated SDI "loop." First priority, then, was thehuge 767 Fortress flying in a figure-of-eight pattern above the American Midwest,the DEW Line "golf balls" stretched across the Arctic landscape from Alaskathrough Canada and across to Greenland, and the new NORAD bunkers situatedbeneath the dusty terrain of New Mexico—the old NORAD complex, deep withinCheyenne Mountain in the Rockies, had been taken more than a decadepreviously by a curious and obscurely funded government controlled "energy"department, which also ramrodded a number of other locations to be found—or, itwas profoundly to be hoped,
to be found—in the continental U.S. andelsewhere. Once these and four key communications facilities in Europe andTurkey had been taken out—the Deluge.Although "terrible fire" was made up of ideological purists who planned forArmageddon, even they did not wish for total destruction. There were to bedegrees of conflagration. Although certain places, mainly in North America,Europe, the Middle East and China, were to be made practically uninhabitable forgenerations, other locales—in America and Europe—were not to receive a full-scale "dirty" missiling. There had to be something to inherit when the obzhigateli emerged from their bunkers.
Once the human command chain had been wiped out and early warning systemsrendered inoperable, nuclear forces targets were next in line: ICBM and IRB sites,storage areas, sub bases. After that came the conventional military targets: supplydepots, naval bases, air defense installations, marshaling yards, military storagefacilities. From there it was logical to move to civilian and industrial targets:factories, petroleum refineries, ports, civil airfields, electronics industrial bases,nuclear reactors, areas where coal was mined and steel manufactured, powerstations and grid centers, important cities. Some cities were to be wiped off themap, others neutralized by the latest "squeezed" enhanced-radiation weapons,now capable of delivering a very "clean" and short-term packet to within, quiteliterally, meters of their targets. Certain areas were to be drenched with chemicals.ON THE FACE OF IT, all seemed simple enough.But from the start, things went drastically wrong.The
had been aware that whatever happened, a large degree of "knee-jerk" retaliation against the USSR was unavoidable. They assumed,however, that by decapitating the U.S. power and command structure at a stroke,retaliation would be minimal. They knew that once the President was dead, theVice President would take over; if he died, the Speaker of the House of Representatives would then be in command. And so on down a designated chainof civilian successors numbering—or so it was thought—possibly a dozen. Afterthese had been eliminated, the U.S. would be akin to a chicken with its head cutoff.Unfortunately for the Russians, their intelligence was fatally out of date. Even asfar back as the 1970s, command of the U.S. could pass to as many as sixteencivilian successors, as well as a number of top military advisers. This figure hadbeen upped to twenty-five civilian successors during the Latin American crisis of the early 1990s, and the number of military advisers had been raised, as well.Further, it had been decided that one-third of this group could never be within onehundred miles of the President at any given time. Thus, decapitation was virtuallyimpossible.Not that this made much difference in the long run since, as it happened, the eleventh in line of succession that January day was a certain Air Force generalcalled P. X. "Frag" Frederickson—a somewhat gung-ho individual who, if thePresident had survived, would not have held his position of responsibility underthe new administration.But at twelve noon on January 20,2001, he did hold that position, and at 12:00:46,as he sat at the command console in the windowless 767 approximately one and aquarter kilometers above the city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, he knew that amushroom cloud had appeared over Washington. He also knew, as he stared at theflickering kaleidoscope of lights to the left of his seat and at the informationclicking on-screen beneath them, that he was now the forty-fourth President,unelected, of the United States.He did not need to launch into a complex series of button-tapping movements to"find the key," in other words tap out a sequence on the console that would releasethe lock of a small safe nearby, then tap out another sequence that would spring adrawer containing the authentication codes manual. The general knew all thecodes he needed to know off by heart, though he should not have known even oneof them. The general had made it his business to know the codes and to keep upwith the irregular changes. Although he had absolutely no idea that such a groupas
existed, he was in many ways their brother in hatred.An arctic smile played on his craggy face as he reached out with spatulate fingersand swiftly keyed into the computer a set of high-priority sequential commands.Thus, three minutes and twenty-nine seconds before the two secondary bombs inWashington finished off the work of the first, the United States had launched.THE RETENTIVE MEMORY AND FIERCE HATRED of a fifty-six-year-oldAir Force general did not save the Western world. But on the other hand theycertainly screwed
.Within three heartbeats of Frederickson's keying in his last commands, the threeU.S. space stations had shifted orbit. Instead of being destroyed they werecrippled; even so they were still able to cripple the two Soviet stations. All contactwith both was then lost.
The events of the next hour or so need only be briefly told. Silos of varying sizesacross the length and breadth of the U.S., the continent of Europe and the Arcticblasted open, letting loose a terrible melange of weaponry. Submarines lurking inthe oceans of the world shook almost in unison.Within five minutes, towns, ports and defense installations in Eastern Europewere devastated. Within fifteen minutes the ICBMs swept in over the ArcticCircle, and entire cities in Russia itself began to wink out, to become smokingheaps of radioactive ash. Military bases and missile sites in the Kol'skiyPoluostrov—Kola Peninsula— Novaya Zemlya, Severnaya Zemlya,Novosibirskyeostrova, Chukchi and Kamchatka, as well as those deep in the heartof Eastern Europe, disappeared in a flash.Too late, of course. Just seconds too late. If Frederickson's strike had beenpreemptive, it would have turned Marxist-Leninist ideology into a deadphilosophy, something to be yawned over in the history books.But there were to be no history books, for even as Russia was disappearing undersoaring fireballs and vast mushroom clouds, so was Western Europe, so was theMiddle East, so was China.And so, to all intents and purposes, was North America.The commercial East Coast was obliterated by the retaliatory attack, as were theindustrial belts around the Great Lakes and the petrochemical and defensemanufacturing zones strung along the Louisiana coastline. The Southwest—mostof Arizona, New Mexico, west Texas—became a land of fire. Cities vanished inthe wink of an eye; new lakes were created; forests blazed. The area aroundMinot, North Dakota, was devastated, as was the Cumberland Plateau thatstretched across Tennessee, and central Nebraska. Florida, southern Georgia,Alabama and eastern Mississippi were hit by a rain of biological and chemicalagents, sub-fired from the Atlantic. Cheyenne Mountain, no longer considered ahigh priority target, was hit once, just at the moment when a singular experimentwas taking place deep in its bowels.But the most stupendous destruction of all took place on the West Coast. Here theEarth was tormented into giving birth to an entirely new coastline.
Months before, Soviet "earth shaker" bombs had been seeded by subs along fault-and fracture-lines in the Pacific. Now these were detonated. At the same time the Cascades, from Mount Garibaldi in British Columbia down to Lassen Peak inCalifornia—that highly unstable stretch of the "Ring of Fire" that encircles thePacific— were showered with ICBMs and sub-launched missiles. The earthheaved and bucked and burst apart with a succession of cataclysmic shocks. Thevolcanos from Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helen's in the north to Mount Shastain the south, and beyond, blew their stacks. Rock and magma blasted into the sky.Huge rifts tore into the mountains, thrusting deep into the heart of the Cascades.Vast areas of land and mountain lurched downward massively and the gapbetween the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada was breached, the Pacific Oceanboiling through in spuming waves a mile high.Within minutes the hugely populated coastal strip from San Francisco to SanDiego had gone, as though it had never existed. The Black Rock Desert wassuddenly an inland sea with mountain peaks as islands. The mighty tremors, thecolossal underground explosions, bucketed on down the fragile chain. DeathValley, the Mojave and Colorado Deserts were inundated. Baja, California, rackedand tortured by the stupendous quake spasms, literally snapped off, fragmentingwestward, disappearing beneath the churning waves. The Pacific lashed at thefoothills of the Sierra Madre.Here, the volcanic explosions went on for some years. Elsewhere there was onlysilence.