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A Word of Warning – March 2004 (unpublished)

Any day now, the seven largest cities in America are going to be destroyed by seven atomic bombs and fifteen million people are going to die. These bombs, disguised as refrigerators, have been lying patiently within the US since long before September 11th 2001. Al-Queda purchased five from the dismantled Soviet Union and the other two from Pakistan. On the same day, a smallpox virus will be unleashed, resulting in the slow deaths of a further five million citizens. American attempts to halt the spread of the disease will be foiled by the bombing of all vaccine production plants in the continent. Within days, the USA will collapse, the dollar will become worthless and the human race will be plunged into the greatest crisis ever known.

That was the cheery forecast I read over breakfast yesterday, an alleged transcript of an interview between a reporter of the Al-Jazeera network and a representative of Al-Queda named Mr. Mohammed Al-Asuquf. There’s not a lot you can do when you read something like that. I couldn’t even finish my boiled egg. I took a stroll outside, a choppy morning on the coast of Kerry, and watched thundering white waves crash upon black barnacle-encrusted rocks. How does one go about one’s daily business when the world as we know it is apparently about to end?

This terrorism lark is a doddle. Anyone can do it. Google has all the answers. Want to make a big bad bomb? Take one teaspoonful of plutonium-rich soil and stick a red button on it. Then go sit at your nearest kiddie’s panto or street festival and, hey presto!, pandemonium guaranteed. It’s as simple as walking into an Old Folks home, tripping all the grannys up, making a bunch of apple-pie beds and sticking cling-film real tight over all the bedpans.

It’s terrifying, of course, so utterly horrific that our synapses simply crackle and pop in puzzled dread. We are such a dumb and vulnerable species, so easily spooked, so easily slaughtered. When a crisis falls, we hardly know which way to look. All we can do is gulp and close our eyes. So, can we believe the world as we know it is about to end? Is it possible that seven American cities might be destroyed before the year is up? Yes, it is. The fear factor has certainly been tapped. The toaster pops. The mousetrap snaps. And the bomb goes BOOM.

A lot of it’s about perspective. When New York was bombed, it was the first time many people twigged that the reason our newspapers keep banging on about events in the Middle East is because these events can have a major impact on our own world. The world was stunned even though we all know 3000 dead is not a whole lot when, say, compared to the number of Zimbabweans likely to die of AIDS before the end of this month. When Madrid got bombed, we freaked out again, wept and glared at the unforgiving sky with clenched fists and defiant noses. And quite right too. But backtrack three months to 26th December 2003 and hands up who remembers thirty thousand Iranians zapped by an earthquake while we were all busy making out under the mistletoe and thanking Santa for our brand new bicycles. Maybe it’s because Madrid’s closer – we know people who’ve been there, we’ve been ourselves. And we don’t know much about Iran. Except perhaps that it’s off there in the Nutter Belt and once upon a time, when it was called Persia, it begat the most powerful civilization the world had ever known.

Every mind is born a blank white page onto which all experiences and imaginations are subsequently sketched. Most of us turn out pretty good – easy-going, considerate, inventive, up for a laugh. But some people turn out pretty darned awful. Some are deluded and others downright psychotic. And there are those who genuinely believe that suicide bombing is a short cut to Nirvana.

But maybe these latter folk have had a bad tragedy along the way. Like, one morning, while you were out fishing, a bomb landed on your home burning your wife and kids to death and when you finally get to talk to someone about it all, they tell you the bomb was fired by a passing airplane which came from a place called America. You know a little about America. It’s the richest country in the world and the person in charge of the place was apparently elected to power by its citizens. And then, when you’ve stopped sobbing, there’s a sympathetic guy who tells you that on Wednesday week there’s to be a gathering over yonder during which everyone’s going to try and figure a way to knock these Americans down a peg or six. And you’re invited.

Poor America. It’s unfashionable to say that, isn’t it? Poor America. Poor Americans. But, for all their wealth and power, the Americans are the underdog in this war. And we Europeans ain’t far behind. Has it ever been so scary? How does this compare to the Cuban Missile Crisis? At least that was over in 13 days. What about World War Two? Sweet Jesus, even Hitler is starting to look like little more than a frustrated artist on bad drugs.

In fairness, the thing about the Bad Guys this time around – the “Terrorists”, I mean – is they don’t get that we don’t get it. When they attacked New York, we waited for a reason. And all we got was some mumbo-jumbo about Great Satan and Israeli conspiracies. That’s no good. We need it spelled out in great big Mickey Mouse letters. “WE ATTACKED NEW YORK BECAUSE WE DON’T LIKE YOUR SYSTEM”. At least then we’d have a starting point for negotiation. “Okay, so our system is by no means perfect but which part annoys you most?” The ball is at least rolling. You know, discussion. An opportunity for compromise.

A fundamental setback to world peace, of course, is George W Bush. It’s not entirely his fault. His white paper mind has been very carefully drawn upon since he was born. And he also took bad drugs. Dubya sincerely believes his hip-shooting, big-talking, pseudo-Texan style is what the world needs right now. In this, he is absolutely 100% wrong. September 11th was one of the world’s greatest opportunities to take stock and ask ourselves how and why things got so awful. We should have come together as humans and reconsidered our future in a manner that might reassure our frightened grandchildren that this world is not so bad. But instead we let the Texans take control and they did what they do best, cantering in side-saddle, all guns blazing, shoot first, questions later and Gawd dang it Donald but I’m gonna get that son-of-a-gun Sadaam no matter what it takes.

It’s absurd really. We all knew Bush’s motives. He wanted to take out Saddam and he wanted to secure Iraq’s oil supply. Millions of people across the world said “No – that’s the wrong move”. But the arrogance and deceit of the Bush administration was such that our protests made no impact. Well, fair play to the boy, he scored highly on both counts. Sadaam’s shackled and Bush got the gas. But that’s not we wanted. It’s what he wanted. The question of compromise didn’t even cross his mind. And yet he’s the man in whom the fate of this very shaky planet presently lies. Thus, he must go.

Oh, about that Al-Jazeera interview I read at the start of this? Well, I googled it and well, turns out it was balderdash, the plot lifted straight out of a Tom Clancy novel. That doesn’t strictly matter. The fact is that while the world remains the way it is, there will be no let up on horror. The cults of fear and paranoia and conspiracy are only going to get more alarming. And, well, what if it is true? What is there really are a bunch of atom bombs waiting to go boom at a city near you?

I figure there’s two things we need to do and fast. One is to start putting things into perspective, to understand that a lot of those Bad Guys are only bad because we made them that way. The other is to find a leader with the courage and honesty to stand up and say: “Okay, look, the situation has got out of hand. This is at least partly our fault and, for that, we are truly sad. Let us now put aside our guns and our bombs and our viruses and our lies and let us talk together about ways in which we might resolve our disagreements”.

Because otherwise, my friends, we are all buggered.