End of World May be Less Imminent than Many Believe

Spring started today with the vernal equinox at 11:33 AM. But with temperatures in the sixties (Fahrenheit, of course) it was still a bit too cool for Cerise and I to enjoy our duck eggs Benedict with artisanal apple wood smoked Canadian bacon in goat butter hollandaise with Dom Perignon blood orange mimosas and Kona espresso cappuccinos on the deck. So we took breakfast in the dining room, where we were interrupted by a knock on the front door, signaling, as it turned out, another unannounced and more or less unwelcome visit from my brother-in-law Hank.
“Looks good,” he opined as he seated himself at the dining room table.
“We weren’t expecting company,” Cerise told him in a rather dry tone.
“Oh, sure, no problem,” Hank replied, “I got an egg muffin and hash browns at McDonald’s about an hour ago.”
“How about a mimosa and some cappuccino?” I suggested.
Hank’s eyes lit up. “Yeah, yeah, that would be outstanding!”
“I’ll get it,” Cerise volunteered, throwing Hank an irritated glance as she retreated into the kitchen.
“What now?” I demanded staring Hank straight in the eye.
“I rented a huge truck – with a twenty-foot trailer – and drove down from the compound,” he explained. “Shannon says she’s sure you guys will be ready to re-locate now.”
“And,” I sighed, “I suppose ‘you guys’ means me, Cerise, Rose, Arthur, Rob Roy, Katje, Jason and all of Rose’s and Arthur’s kids who still live with them?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he confirmed, nodding eagerly. “Exactly!”
“Because,” I speculated, “Shannon is convinced that World War III is about to start, transforming you and her from family embarrassments and pariahs into the heroes you always knew yourselves to be?”
“Uh… yeah… I suppose so,” Hank answered slowly as Cerise, returning from the kitchen, set a steaming cappuccino and a bubbling mimosa in front of him.
“And what do you survivalists have with your breakfast, pray tell,” Cerise archly inquired as she resumed her place at the table, “chilled moonshine and orange juice with a nice hot cup of Black Rifle coffee, perhaps?”
“Good one, Cerise,” Hank joshed back with a chuckle, sipping his mimosa, “and afterward, we go out back to the weapons range for target practice and you guys go back to bed and…”
“I can’t speak for Tom and his relatives,” Cerise interrupted, “but if you expect me to throw my valued possessions into a twenty-foot trailer, jump into a rental truck like some internal American refugee in a latter-day Grapes of Wrath, and accompany you to a ‘survival compound’ out in the boondocks hidden in the mountains to wait until Vladimir Putin decides to initiate a nuclear holocaust so I can spend what remains of my life fighting clans of benighted hillbillies over hoards of freeze-dried food, ammunition, tobacco and oxycontin like some excessively dystopian version of Mad Max, forget it! I’d rather be hit by a ten-megaton warhead while I’m watching an opera at the Kennedy Center and get the total destruction of civilization over with early!”
“Okay,” Hank shrugged, taking a sip of cappuccino, “suit yourself, I guess. What about you, Tom?”
“Hank,” I began, “You and Shannon ran off to the wilds of West Virginia during the Obama administration because you though he was the Antichrist, and…”
Shannon thinks Obama is the Antichrist,” Hank interjected. “As far as I’m concerned, the jury’s still out on that question. Actually, with what’s been happening lately, I’m thinking maybe it’s more likely to be Biden or Zelensky.”
“Not Putin?” Cerise sneered. “Not Trump? You’re thinking Biden or Zelensky? What part of the Bible, read while tripping on strychnine and rattlesnake venom, substantiates your suspicions about them, for Christ’s sake?”
“Well,” Hank drawled, inadvertently showing the influence of so many years in the Appalachians, “you’d really have to talk to Shannon about the exact verses, which one says what and all, but it is generally accepted that the Antichrist will be a false prophet who demands worship of himself and shows signs and wonders that deceive, and who denies the divinity of Jesus and actually, you know, there’s a verse in John that there could be more than one; so, yeah, how about Obama, Biden and Zelensky? I suppose we could throw Putin in there too, why not? The point isn’t so much who the Antichrist is, see, it’s that when the Antichrist walks the earth, that means the End Times are upon us. And hey, what’s it looking like now?  Like it says in Matthew, ‘when the abomination of desolation is revealed, flee from Judea to the mountains.’”
“The Bible has been foretelling the end of the world for two thousand years,” Cerise pointed out, finishing her cappuccino. “As the venerable saying goes, ‘He who constantly predicts disaster will eventually be right.’ But even a broken clock is right twice day, Hank. You and Shannon have been betting on global catastrophe for quite a while; don’t be surprised if you end up like all the others over the last two millennia who died of old age waiting for the world to end.”
“I think the problem is, you and Shannon are missing the point of a nation having nuclear weapons,” I observed.
“Really?” Hank responded skeptically. “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean,” I continued, “that the two times nuclear weapons were, in fact, deployed for kinetic effect in warfare, they proved to be so horrifying that no further serious consideration could possibly ever be given to their subsequent use for that purpose. So after August, 1945, the point of nuclear weapons has always been having them, not using them.”
“Having them?” Hank objected. “What’s that good for, just having them?”
“Nations that have them can threaten to use them,” I answered.
“Threaten?” Hank’s expression had become exceedingly confused. “That’s all?”
“Yes, that’s it,” I affirmed. “And the more nukes a country has, the more effective the threat is.”
“Effective in doing what?” Hank wondered, now completely bewildered.
“In making that nation’s own armed forces feel more powerful,” I elucidated. “When Putin announces that Russian nuclear forces have been placed on high alert, that makes the average Russian soldier feel more capable of defeating the Ukrainians. And believe me, they need it. If Russia didn’t have the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal, the Ukrainians would have completely defeated their invasion by now.”
Hank bolstered himself with the remainder of his mimosa and cappuccino while considering my remarks. Finally, he spoke. “I can’t say as I understand how that works.”
“Russian tanks roll across the border into Ukraine,” I related, “but they get stuck in the mud because the drivers are too inexperienced and incompetent to maneuver them effectively on open ground.”
“But how could that be?” Hank implored. “It doesn’t make any sense!”
“It does if you realize that Putin’s Russia is a pathetic kleptocracy where oligarchs can afford billion-dollar yachts but the army can’t afford to train its armored vehicle drivers how to operate in realistic battle conditions,” I explained.
“Oh,” Hank murmured. “I see. Okay, yeah. Can I have another mimosa?”
“No problem,” Cerise responded, rising from her chair, “I’ll go make another round for all of us.”
“So,” I continued, “Putin talks about nuclear weapons, and the troops’ morale gets boosted. They think, ‘Sure, here we are stuck in the mud getting shot at, but Russia has nuclear weapons. We can win this!’ And then, the tanks all line up on Ukrainian highways and try to drive to where they are suppose to be invading, but there’s nobody directing the tanks on and off the highway because there’s no effective non-commissioned officer corps in the Russian Army anymore, so the biggest traffic jam in Russian history happens, and the Ukrainians keep picking off the Russian soldiers like ducks in a carnival sideshow shooting gallery.”
“And so Putin talks some more about using nuclear weapons?” Hank asked.
“Exactly,” I declared. “And the Russian soldiers think, ‘Okay, maybe we’re stuck out here on the highway, and still getting shot at, but at least we’re making progress, and Putin’s talking about using nuclear weapons, so that will probably scare the Ukrainians into leaving us alone.’ And then some Russian generals get out of their armored personnel carriers and start running around yelling orders at incompetent Russian junior officers and the Ukrainian snipers start picking off the generals, but the soldiers are thinking, ‘Russia has nuclear weapons, so what do we need generals for, anyhow?’ And then after two or three weeks of that, they show up at a Ukrainian city and try to drive into town and the Ukrainians cut them to pieces with anti-tank weapons and fry them alive inside their tanks with Molotov cocktails, so they have to try to surround the city instead and while they are doing that, the Ukrainians pick them off like a Kentucky skeet shoot, plus Russian logistics is so bad now there’s not enough food, and fuel is running low, but Putin mentions using nuclear weapons again, and the soldiers think, ‘Okay, maybe I’m starving and we have to dig our tanks into the mud and all we can do is shoot shells into the city suburbs at random, and maybe my best buddy got a Ukrainian bullet in the head yesterday, but Russia has nuclear weapons, and that means we will win in the end!’ See? That’s how having nuclear weapons actually works.”
“Consequently,” Cerise chimed in as she arrived with a tray of fresh mimosas, handing one to Hank, “Putin can’t afford to actually use tactical nuclear weapons, because if he did, and the Ukrainians still kept fighting, his own army would give up, and furthermore,” she continued, handing one to me, “he can’t use strategic nuclear weapons because he can’t target the entire free world and expect Russia to survive a massive nuclear counter-attack.”
“Mutually assured destruction,” I noted, “still applies to strategic nuclear weapons.”
“Meaning a nuclear strike on Washington is never going to happen and Shannon got me to waste an entire weekend driving down here to save you guys?” Hank complained, looking dolefully at his mimosa.
“What’s more,” Cerise teased, “if you show up with that rig at Rob Roy and Katje’s place in Falls Church, they will both laugh right in your face.”
“And at this point, Hank, if you dare show up with that truck and trailer at the house in Fairfax talking nuclear Armageddon,” I warned, “my sister Rose will probably brain you with a frying pan – after your brother Arthur punches you out.”
“But…” Hank’s face fell in complete despair as he turned to look at me beseechingly. “Tom, if I go back to the compound and that truck and trailer are empty, I’m pretty sure Shannon’s gonna do both those things to me by herself. Can I… stay here for a couple of days while I figure out what to do?”
“How about I put you up at the Hyatt instead?” I suggested. “I’ll include full room service.”
“You will?” Hank took a swig of his mimosa and beamed. “That would be great, Tom!” Then his expression changed as a small cloud of concern moved in over him. “Where would I park that rig outside at the Hyatt?”
“Leave it here,” I told him as Cerise took out her iPhone. “Just pull it in the driveway.”
“I’ll call an Uber,” Cerise said.