“Parabellum” – Logan Starta ’23

I’m slowly awoken by a bird chirping outside my window, a faint reminder of a past life that I haven’t seen for years. It’s all gone – a cushy house in the suburbs, a great job and the best family … it’s not what I want, but I now live my life as a nomad.

     I would begin this day like any other if it wasn’t for today’s date. It is September 30th, the third year since the war began. I lay awake in my make-shift bed and stare at the ceiling for a little longer today, silently thinking back to that day. How did we get here? I remember it so vividly. It was half past one and our quarterly earnings call was just wrapping up.  It was an awesome quarter, and I checked my phone to see if the market was as upbeat as I was on our news.  But we got buried in the back pages by the latest news on Biden, China, and Taiwan.  It seemed all anyone could talk about was President Biden’s recent trip to Taiwan. Sure, the tensions were high, but so what, the world kept turning.  Plus, the news of the great quarter was enough to steer everyone’s mind away from all the politics. I mean come on, that is happening in DC, there’s no reason to worry about it when I’m all the way up here in Chicago. Despite the distance, everyone in the office had an opinion. Rob, my hawkish coworker from accounting said “What do you want him to do? Just let China walk all over them?!  We need to show them we’re strong damnit!” Jeremiah, who sat in the office next to me just couldn’t resist and had to yell back “well now we’re going to go to war and it’s all his fault!”. I watched in dismay as tiny bits of food flew out of their mouth as they argued. However, their jousting match was cut short when the TV screens in our office switched from Bloomberg to a news alert. Even our VP, Sanders jolted out of his office and looked on in disbelief as big bold letters scrolled across the screen “BREAKING NEWS: CHINA BEGINS LAND INVASION OF TAIWAN WITHIN HOURS AFTER BIDEN DEPARTS”. The entire office sat in quiet shock. Our earnings announcement was a distant memory and Rob and Jeremiah’s debate was replaced with “what ifs” and “what next”? Silence fell over the office. No one dared to say a word for what felt like an eternity. Finally, some murmurs of rumors slowly started from the back of the room which then erupted into a roar of talking. My co-workers in the hallway ran in to see what the commotion was while in the meantime Jeramiah and Rob picked up right where they left off. This reinvigorated debate was once again silenced suddenly as the next headline came across the TV. “PRESIDENT BIDEN TO ADDRESS A JOINT SESSION OF CONGRESS AT 4:30 EST – UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL CALLS EMERGENCY MEETING”.  Wow – our minds raced with only questions and no answers in sight. A few people tried to get back to work and you could hear the clack of a keyboard. However, their efforts to find normality were in vain, and no amount of typing could keep us distracted from the unanswered questions. Mr. Sanders told everyone “Take the afternoon off and I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow” as we walked out the door, Jeramiah jokingly said “yea, if any of us are alive tomorrow!” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rob turn around and run towards him yelling “Well what the fuck do you want?! The communists to just do what they damn well please?!” Rob goes one step further by saying “you know, I always knew you were a pushover bitch Jeramiah but this is a new low. Even for a degenerate piece of scum with no backbone like you”. As I watch from the distance, I see an abrupt swing from Jeremiah. Then a thud. Rob, a white collar trust fund kid from Hinsdale, never grew up around fighting so naturally, after that first swing, he retreated quickly to the safety of his car.

Unsure of what was coming next, I did the same. Once I was in my car, with the doors locked, I thought back to Jeremiah’s comment about if any of us will be alive tomorrow. It made me think about how fast the social constructs that prevent anarchy disintegrate when the first inkling of political conflict arises. Once I was finally on the road, I called my wife, Vanessa. Despite my obvious fear, I did my best to play the role of the intrepid man who was there to protect her. My façade quickly disintegrated though when I heard my 12-year-old daughter Lilly in the background. What sounded like a quiet whimper of “I’m scared”, made a tear roll down my face while I sat at the red light. I tried my best to console her with the usual “don’t worry honey” but I knew this time seemed different. “Hey!  Get off my car you damn xenophobes” I forgot about Lilly as a group of protesters blocked the entrance right in front of the Chinatown District. Lilly cried into the phone and flooded my speakers with her tears. Just at this moment I saw a protester light a rag hanging out of a bottle and preparing to throw it through a store front. I floored the accelerator as I ran through the redlight to get away from downtown as quickly as possible.  For the rest of the drive, I sat in quite consternation as I felt the anarchy in the air.

Finally, my safe haven, I was home. I turned right into the driveway with reckless speed and an ear-splitting screech that echoed throughout the neighborhood, but I couldn’t care less. I ran inside and grabbed Vanessa and Lily, holding them as tight as I could.  However, the comfort of our embrace didn’t last long. I soon found my mind racing again and the only thing I could do to quell my angst was turn on the TV. I sat in the middle of the couch with one arm wrapped around Vanessa and the other around Lily. We watched in frozen silence as David Muir finally said, “and now, the President of the United States”. As I heard President Biden’s first words, I was eerily reminded of President Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech. I was positive that he would ask the congress to utilize military forces to protect Taiwan. I mean how could he not? He promised to defend them and couldn’t afford to appear weak. Part of me believed congress wouldn’t act because it would mean going head-to-head with another global super-power.  If they passed this resolution, long gone would be the days of proxy wars. This would be a real conflict on a scale not seen since the Second War. I tried to tell Vanessa we were staying out of this one, but even she knew the rhetoric of the last few years posed a dangerous climate where a resolution like this may pass. All the overthinking, crying and frantic hugging made all three of us pass out right there on the couch until we were all woken up abruptly by loud cheering and booing mixed in. The late-night vote had concluded. The resolution passed the house and then passed in the senate 52-48. We were beyond stupefied. It felt like a fever dream, and I was dying to put it behind me as I drifted off to sleep with my girls. But there it was in the morning, every TV channel and radio station had non-stop war debates.  Would there be a draft? Will we be nuked? How will life change? I couldn’t handle listening to it anymore! I needed to clear my head by going for my morning jog and also pick up some groceries from the store on my way back.

It was eerie.  No one was driving to work.  The streets were desolate, and the sidewalks empty. The only audible sound of mankind was the neighbor’s sprinkler that was sputtering as I ran by. I finally made it to the store and discovered where all the people were. As the doors swung open, a can of tomato sauce rolled past my feet, and I saw Jeremiah with a gun in his waistband grab the last case of formula for his new daughter. I looked at him, hoping he would say something to me but all I got was a shove and a “get the fuck outta my way!” The sound of yelling adults, crying kids and a store manager who was desperately trying to maintain order only added to the fear. I grabbed as much as I could and ran out of the store to escape the chaos. Caught up in adrenaline, I began thinking of how I could barricade our house and convert the basement into a bunker. At this point I wasn’t sure what the future held but I couldn’t afford to not be prepared for it again.