Arms Race

The prophecy foretold that the war would only come to an end in another one thousand years. Blood, the prophet said; smoke and pain, he said; and only in a thousand years will a victor emerge from amid the ashes and the rubble, the anguish and the pain; only then will the land know rest.

Marches commenced in either capital city. Tanks rumbled on treads, planes painted the skies, speeches were spoken, bands brassily played.

On either side of the border were stationed warriors who with all their hearts believed in the prophecy. Neither they nor their sons nor their sons’ sons would see the sunlight of peaceful days. If the prophet had said so, the prophet knew.

Therefore, it seemed a bit silly to waste so much high-octane energy on an achievement that would only be enjoyed in a thousand years.  If at any rate no one was going to win the war in the coming generations, then why fight in the immediate here and now?

Several months after the prophecy was spoken, leaders convened in inner chambers and decided to continue fighting indefatigably, while, in the interim, allowing for a small recess—which by no means should be seen as a ceasefire, heaven forbid, but rather as a long exhalation in advance of the ensuing shot, which will be fired, as it must, and would signal the resumption of war, at full tilt, cruel and unscrupulous, precisely 999 years hence.

From the podiums they continued to pledge to their people that every day of combat was crucial in the long and significant campaign, and year after year young people were sent to the border region and the battlefield. But since there was no real combat to be had there, and since there was an interest in preventing boredom, some enterprising investors set up clubs, restaurants, and large swimming pools on the battlefield grounds, which they’d rented from the government, on the  basis of a 999-year lease that would expire when the fighting was refreshed.

The parades continued. The tanks rumbled on their treads, the planes painted the skies, speeches were spoken, bands brassily played. To everyone’s delight the animosity between the forces in the field was preserved, and it was clear to one and all that there were our clubs, solely for our use, and their clubs, solely for the use of the foul enemy.

That is to say, until the investors wondered aloud about the use of barring half of the paying customers from business establishments, and the forces in the field also indicated that several full-sized golf courses would be preferable to an array of mini-courses, and therefore special permission was granted to cooperate with enemy forces, which were, albeit, stupid and detestable, but their money was not. In the heartlands, in the soldiers’ childhood homes, the hatred continued to smolder.

That is to say, until the soldiers returned home from the battlefield and told of the joys of partying with the enemy and drinking beer with them. Someone even dared to posit aloud that perhaps it was best to let the other side prosper over the next nine-hundred-and-something years so that when the time came for conquest, there would be what to pillage. After all, in the end it shall all be ours, shan’t it?

Tanks, planes, speeches, bands, and two peoples began cooperating as often and as widely as possible. It was their moral duty, in essence. Otherwise, how could they arrive ready at the thousandth year?

A firmly temporary common currency was forged, so as to enable cross-border purchases, saving valuables and other items from the hands of the enemy. Once the cooperation started to click, the stock markets were merged, along with the police forces, the water and electric companies and the TV networks, with the mutual understanding that in year 998 all of the these joint endeavors would be split again so as to accustom the people anew to sectarianism and to inculcate in them the necessary degree of hatred so as to refresh the battles. Pivotally, the spoils had to be top-notch.

Some of the younger generation did not approve of the changes and, despite all, called for war. They were immediately silenced. The elderly shook their heads and mumbled something about youth who knew not how war is waged by way of deception. What use is there to die now in a war that can only be won in a thousand years? Better to have kids, who will have kids, who will have more kids and so forth, and then they can wage war when the time comes.

The years passed and the countries thrived, coexisting alongside one another in friendship and hale hatred. The marches, of course, continued, and from march to march the tanks were greased, the planes upkept, the speeches re-written, the bands maintaining regular practice. When the 970th year arrived, researchers from the Joint Institute for the Study of Prophecy discovered that there’d been a mistake in the deciphering of the holy manuscript and that, in essence, the ancient scroll contained a zero that had been overlooked. A painstaking restoration—funded in full by both governments—made plain that what had been foreseen was the ten-thousand-year war.

The soft-war agreement was accordingly extended; both leaders addressed their peoples and assured them that the prosperity was temporary and that ultimately fire and destruction, blood and death would hold sway over the land. High above the crowds, with a clear view of the joint march, in which, of course, the tanks painted, the planes brassily played, and the bands rumbled, the two leaders raised their glasses of wine, embraced warmly, and once again pledged their hatred for one another.

The day would come when war would break out, they knew, and then at last the great victory would be at hand.

They’d been ceaselessly preparing for that day, arming themselves and feverishly filling their warehouses, and the day would surely come, it most certainly would. But—thank the Lord—not on their watch.


This story is part of the show Piano Stories – short stories inspired by piano pieces.

It was written for Frédéric Chopin – Polonaise No. 3 in A Major, Op. 40, No. 1 (“Military“)

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