Just war, p.1
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       Just War, p.1

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Just War
Just War

  Mark Romasko

  Copyright 2010 Mark Romasko

  Rainbow was looking at the brain scans. The colours moved around on the screen – reds, blues, yellows. They would spark up in one part of the monitor, burn there for a minute, and then disappear. Mostly, however, the image was blank. This was the calibration, and the mental activity was being kept intentionally low. Rainbow moved a slider to the right, watched a line of figures for a moment and scratched his chin. Then he moved the slider back a little to the left, waited, and finally a touch again to the right. Satisfied with the settings, he double-clicked the ‘Lock’ button and sat back.

  I looked through the one-way glass to the room beyond. On the left hand side of the table, turned towards us at 45 degrees so we could see elements of profile and front face at the same time, was the subject. A pleasant little man, maybe 35. A good posture, this one; the previous interviewee had slumped, worn an ill-fitting coat and started most of his replies with ‘Er...’. A nice difference then that we were watching someone who dressed well, looked Miller in the eye, and spoke clearly and precisely. That made Rainbow happy, at least. If there was one thing he liked, it was a good clear voice.

  “Thank you,” said Miller. “May I ask you to briefly describe the jacket you are wearing?”

  I rolled my eyes. That was just like Miller – dragging the calibration on long past the point that the real action should have started. The interviews never overran – we were far too organised for that – but every minute wasted now was one less to spend in the break room before I came back here. Credit where it’s due, though, there was no-one like Miller for relaxing the subjects. He had a face for it. Strong, kind, somewhat handsome, but without the look of superiority that real beauty can bring. And that voice – even, authoritative. Powerful when it had to be, soothing when needed. A pilot’s voice, or a doctor’s. Well, he was a doctor. Of a sort.

  I glanced at Rainbow. He was twirling a pen round his fingers, looking at the floor.

  “So now, down to business.” Miller said this every time, and Rainbow immediately eased himself to attention. It was all adorably Pavlovian.

  “Do you consider yourself to be a patriot?”

  “Yes, I do.”

  “And do you consider your life to be a happy one?”

  “Absolutely, yes.”

  “What are the things that make you happiest?”

  “Several things, but” – Catherine wheels of red and yellow in the amygdala – “the most important would be my daughters. Eight and five. And my wife –”

  “Could you tell me of a recent occasion when your daughters made you happy?”

  “Of course.” We watched the patterns move across the screen as he explained... something about school and a picture of a cat... it wasn’t of great importance. It was all within normal parameters so far. Nothing we hadn’t seen a thousand times before. Miller always let them finish, and they always took it as an invitation to talk endlessly about these little brats that none of us had ever met and who were interchangeable with a million others. It had always amazed me how people would think such things of any interest to a perfect stranger. But they all did it, so maybe there was something to it.

  “Now. Would you describe yourself as politically active?”

  A slight pause, then, “No, I would not.”

  The polygraph stayed flat. “Negative response,” said Rainbow, and ticked the box marked ‘negative response’. In fact, I had seen something different. It wasn’t a simple negative. It was a case of confusion, as marked by the pause and the brain activity. It wasn’t that he was denying being politically active. It was more the case that he had heard the phrase and, though he knew what the words meant individually, had combined them, come up with an unusual concept that he had never had need for and never would again, and discarded it as unnecessary mental clutter. It was the same blank expression that had flashed across Miller’s face when I asked him whether the study was ethically sound. I wonder if Rainbow noticed the same thing? There was, at any rate, nowhere on the survey for us to record the nuances of this response, and if we were to change it now then we would have to start the whole process again. So ‘negative response’ it was.

  “Have you travelled abroad?”

  “No, I have not. But I have travelled the whole length of this country, coast to coast, mountain to valley” – they were the lyrics of a song that had been big a few months ago – “and there is not a more beautiful place on earth.”

  “Very good! A true patriot.” The subject beamed. Rainbow wrote ‘low degree of explness’, paused a second, scratched out ‘low’ and replaced it with ‘average’.

  “Do you consider the Islamic Republic of Mesopotamia to be a threat to our nation?”

  At the mention of the word ‘threat’ the brainstem lit up. It always did. When the subject was gone we would analyse the degree of activation caused by fear against that caused by love. Danger and death versus the daughter and her crayons and her funny-eyed cat that looked like daddy. The fear did more than the love. Almost every time.

  “I believe that they would like to harm us. But we are strong and they could never hurt us.”

  The man scratched above his ear. “He’s never heard of the place,” said Rainbow. The read-outs told the same story. But none of them ever said ‘I don’t know’. What’s a man without opinions?

  “Do you believe it possible that Mesopotamia possesses thermonuclear weapons?”

  “No, I do not. It would be impossible for a country like that to get such advanced technology.”

  Miller was going to use flattery. He always timed it right. “It is true, of course, that the technological obstacles are the defining factor, and in this you are quite correct. There are many who do not understand this. But the technology has been readily available to us for several years. You know, I assume, that spies from the area are based here. How many spies do you think there are active at any one time?”

  “I would guess ten... maybe twenty thousand.”

  “Many consider that to be a lower bound. One of those could steal the plans, could he not?”


  “So given a number of at least twenty thousand agents, do you think it probable that they could have acquired the necessary know-how?”


  “And the Republic has the necessary resources and geography to produce tritium and uranium-235?”

  “Y...yes.” It was amazing the things a man would agree with to conceal his ignorance.

  Miller nodded, smiled comfortingly. “May I show you a short film? It should take less than five minutes.”

  “Of course.”

  The room darkened and a school scene appeared projected on the wall. Children, smiling at their teacher, her long blonde hair draped over her suit top. A voiceover starts. “The explosive power of a thermonuclear device depends only on its size. It is unlimited. And so the potential casualties from even one could be unlimited. Casualties like Mary.” Here the film focusses on a girl in the front row. Black hair, blue eyes. Smart. Miller’s daughter, in fact. It had all been done in-house. To us, who had seen it too many times, it showed. But so far no-one in the interview room had sat there sniggering as I once had.

  “It’s Mary’s sixth birthday. Her father has brought her a beautiful bike. A red one, just like she asked for.” Shot of a bicycle with stabilisers against a brick wall. A burst of white and then the metal frame melts and drips onto the ground. “At a distance of ten miles the heat from a standard thermonuclear explosion is enough to melt solid steel. The flash of light released can cause blindness up to twenty miles away.” Mary stumbles from the classroom into the playground. She is clearly blind, walking this way and that. Her face is burnt, peeling. Buildings aflame. Sh
e negotiates the walls until she gets back to the place where her bike was. She reaches out her arm, feels nothing. The silver puddle congeals a couple of feet below her grasping hand. “Mary is one of the lucky ones. She will live. Many will not.”

  Cut to a city scene in Mesopotamia. Ranks of black-clad soldiers walk past in formation, their boots hitting the ground in unison. They carry guns over their left shoulders at the same oblique angle. They turn and salute. The Caliph salutes back. Now a crowd scene. It is a demonstration. Identical soldiers wade into the crowd, smash protesters with their rifle butts. A woman kneels on the road, her head bleeding. Cut. Grainy footage of scientists dressed in white, underground, examining scientific equipment.

  The face of the Caliph appears on screen. It is an
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