Jeb Jackson swept into the gallery room and raised his arms wide.
“Gentlemen. I welcome you to the panoramic view of the Battle of Beckley.”
The woman in the red cocktail dress on the table below him hollered like a wounded swine. “Gentleman and, of course, I would be remiss not to mention Melinda Moore, our honorable leader of the house.”
The House of Representatives didn’t represent anyone these days, but Jackson liked to think its spirit lived on in the formidable chest of Mrs. Moore, a locale where he had spent many a happy afternoon.
Jackson has shipped in some of the finest champagne from his shrinking vault. Getting politicians to willingly visit West Virginia had even been a challenge back in the days of the democracy when some of them had represented the place. Jackson was always amazed how, even in a dictatorship, it was difficult to get people to do things without an inducement.
Below the podium almost 40 members of his inner sanctum were gathered. His favorite sycophants were mixed with a few of the troublemakers. They kept him on his toes.
As the entrée was served, Jackson began his speech. “It is almost two hundred years now since the historic Battle of Bull Run when the people of Washington took their picnics and went out to watch the spectacle unfold,” he told them. “The day was somewhat spoiled by the sight of horribly wounded soldiers running back to the capital for fear of their lives,” he paused. “I am pleased to say this will not happen today. You can watch the battle from this bullet proof observation tower. What we are seeing gentlemen – and lady, of course is every bit as historic as the Civil War.”
They turned to watch two sides face off on a sodden hillside. Jackson explained how the westerners, who had lived in and around Beckley for decades had an advantage over the new arrivals, but the Easterners had desperation on their sides. He sounded like a man describing the rules of an arcade game.
“They have lost their homes. They have nothing left to lose.” He went on to get across the most important part of his message and the reason why he had flown his friends and associates in today.
“There are people, and you have heard the voices, that say why are we standing by and letting this happen. There are people who say we have the most sophisticated weaponry in the world, and yet we are letting our people kill each other with hunting rifles, mortars and, in some cases, their own hands. Although you may be intrigued by the spectacle, it’s not about sport. Some of the unfortunate climatic events that we have seen lately – and no I do not accept that any human hand is to blame – have decimated our food supply and led to the evacuation of our coastal areas. Starvation is a terrible way to die. Some of you may say war is too, but at least you have a fighting chance. At least you can show the bravado of the gladiator in the ring.” He paused and waited on the low smattering of applause.
“There are some of us who started to believe a lie that was perpetrated in the middle of the 20th Century that peace rather than war is a natural state of existence. It’s a view that flies in the face of history, I am afraid to say. Adam walked the earth 209,000 years ago. Cain killed Abel a few years later. In that time, man has been in a perpetual state of war. Peace was in the ascendancy 100 years out of 209,000. War is less an evil than a natural means of population reduction.
“Some people have asked me why we are not keeping the peace. We are not keeping the peace because the days of peace have passed. War, as strange as it may sound, is vital to our survival. Enough of the oratory. I urge you to look at the spectacle that is unfolding before you and to think not about what the disintegration of society but how a new Rome is rising up from the ashes of the old country.”
Those assembled in the room turned to the tinted windows of the tower to see two rival armies of stick figures shooting and hacking at each other on the hillside. Those further into the room, abandoned their meals to go over to the window.
President Jackson felt somewhat irked that the battle appeared to be so far away. “Hand out the binoculars,” he told an aide. “And let’s get one of those helicopter gunships out there to liven things up.”