A Nuclear State of Mind: A Short Story

Two Russian combat veterans wearing full dress uniforms, gold medals and bright red campaign ribbons walk into the plush bar of the private officers’ club in Moscow. Their leader’s state funeral has just ended.

”Vodka,” says Lev.

“Vodka,” says Boris.

Lev’s humming a tune.

Stone-faced, Boris questions his comrade.

“What’s that song?”

“Billy Joel,” Lev says. “We didn’t start the fire.”

Russia didn’t start the fire. The United States of America started the fire. The military officers swallow shots of the liquor that’s as cold as a Siberian stare. War is hell, of course. America loves fanning the flames of eternal immolation.

“Looks like the Kremlin will move forward with the strike,” says Boris.

After the Ukrainians sunk the warship Moskva, the Mariupol setbacks and unexpected resistance on the road to Kiev, as a display of power national decision-makers quickly and unanimously agreed on retribution for their president’s drone assassination. To not let the world know Russia still means business would signal the end of the motherland.

“More vodka,” Lev says.

“More,” says Boris.

Both men exhale loudly.

“To our murdered ruler,” says Lev.

“Our commander’s fighting spirit will live forever,” says Boris.

Two gulps provoke Boris to pour two more shots they quickly swallow.

“One bomb is all we need,” says Boris.

Lev isn’t sure.

“That’s all it will take?”

Boris recites an online Wikipedia citation he memorized to show Lev just how smart he is.

Standing at attention he says: “Kyiv is the capital and most populous city of Ukraine. It is in northcentral Ukraine along the Dnieper River. As of 1 January 2021, its population was 2,962,180, making Kyiv the seventh-most populous city in Europe.”

“I heard the population increased to 3.3 million,” Lev says. “And half of those Nazis left in the past few weeks,”

“So how many vermin must we exterminate?”

“I’m no good at math,” Lev says. “Let’s say two million.”

“Like I said, one bomb,” Boris says. “Remember Little Boy and Fat Man?”

Lev gets so excited when he speaks white spittle appears at the corners of his mouth.

“Yes, America killed 70,000 to 135,000 in Hiroshima and 60,000 to 80,000 people in Nagasaki,” he says.

Boris bellows to the bartender.

“Two more vodkas.”

“No,” Lev says. “Bring the bottle.”

“I can drink more vodka than you,” Boris says.

“You might die trying,” says Lev.

Boris raises his voice and his refill.

“To the American firebombing of Tokyo,” he says.

“Yes, yes,” Lev says. “America killed more than 90,000 and possibly over 100,000 Japanese people, mostly civilians, and one million left homeless in the most destructive single air attack in human history!”

Pouring more vodka, the Russians gobble slices of pickled cucumber and toast white hot incendiary bombs.

“Always remember our biggest bomb is better than the American dog firecracker,” Boris says.

“Tsar Bomba,” Lev says.

“Here’s to October 30, 1961,” Boris says.

On that day the Soviet Union tested the most powerful nuclear weapon ever exploded, north of the Arctic Circle on the archipelago of Novaya Zemlya.

“Fifty megatons,” Boris says. “About 3,300 times more powerful than the 15 kilotons nuclear weapon USA dropped on Hiroshima.”

Lev shouts, drawing laughs and attention from other officers in the room.

“To Tsar Bomba, the king of bombs!”

More vodka brings more fire in their bellies. More vodka brings more vodka. In Russia, escalation is the name of the game. The Soviet Union will rise again.

“Another bottle, comrade,” says Boris.

The bartender brings a frosty quart and pours two drinks. The Russian officers hold their glasses up to sunshine streaming through stained glass windows bearing images of a double-headed eagle, a hammer and sickle and several gold stars.

“I am ready for anything,” says Lev. “Let us toast the end of the world.”

“Sooner than we think, perhaps,” says Boris.

Lev puts his arm around Boris’ shoulders.

“So,” he says. “Was Hiroshima a war crime?”

“Ask Billy Joel,” says Boris.