The inside of the library had a tired look to it. Oil paintings were slightly askew and the occasional cobweb hung delicately from the faux gold edges of the gaudy frames. A threadbare Oriental carpet covered the majority of the ebony wood floor and a fire crackled invitingly from the fireplace.
Over the fireplace a still well-kept portrait of George Washington looked down upon the library inhabitants with what now appeared to be a general look of disapproval.
One of two wing-backed chairs strategically facing the fire appeared to be occupied. I could see the telltale sign of cigar smoke gently tracing a path towards the ceiling. I watched as a uniformed left hand reached out from the chair and took a glass of whisky off the small Queen Anne table situated between the two.
As the hand retracted I noticed frayed black duct tape holding back a tear in the armrest. Stray foam from the chair threatened to break from the tape and escape onto the armrest itself.
A saddened looking Major Taormina leaned from his chair to look back at me. His face gently brightened on recognizing me standing in the entrance of the “Washington Room”.
“Ah, Captain! Please, join me!”
As I walked to the other chair, I saw him pulling out another cigar. A glass of whisky was already poured and waiting for me.
“So this is how things end?”
“What do you mean, Major?”
“End of empires and all that… Two elderly officers sitting in a dank library smoking cigars and reminiscing on older times of glory.”
“Have we really reached that point, Major?”, I said sitting down and raising my glass to clink with his.
“Perhaps we have, Captain, and, of course, perhaps not. Divine Providence has always guided our nation. I suspect that the Father is not quite finished with us yet.”
The Major handed me a cigar and studied me as I lit it.
“Besides, he’s left us around still. Still must be some use for a couple of old lawyers, eh?”
“Eh, indeed, Major… eh, indeed.”
We sat in silence for awhile. The fire crackled and I noticed my gaze constantly drifting up to the portrait of Washington. I studied him. What had happened? Did his vision for America die on the fields of Antietam and Shilo? Did they fall apart at Flanders Field? Did our adventurism in Europe and North Africa and Asia to fight fascism signal the death of his vision for America? Was it our exit from Vietnam, or now… our flight from Afghanistan? Was this the concern that he had for America from the very beginning?
“You know, Captain, it is not our loss that he sheds tears, for those are inevitable. Rome suffered an existential defeat at Cannae. Yet, Rome survived. We have had a couple of blows dealt to us to be sure, but the real loss is not in military strength or some form of force projection or any nonsense like that. The real loss is what has become of our national character. For that, Washington bears a sad witness.”
(If you have arrived here from our newsletter, continue reading here…)
I sat back and puffed heavily on my cigar. I watched the smoke flit away from me and took another sip of my Lagavulin, the peaty oak helping me find some semblance of peace.
“So what has become of our national character, Major?”
“It has been supplanted, Captain! There is no national character anymore. We need a ‘reason’ to exist, and that ‘reason’ seems noticeably absent. We have become a 3000-mile municipality that cares more about the sustainability of the bureaucracy than the development of its people. Rugged individualism has given way to some decrepit form of homogenized collectivism.”
It was then we heard the footsteps behind us.
Both of us looked behind us and saw Colonel Eek standing in the center of the double doorway that led into the room.
We both stood up.
“Good evening, Colonel,” we both said in unison.
“What can we do for you?” came the Major’s immediate follow-up.
“I see the two of you are smoking. I guess that is still allowed in here, but I will not attempt to hide my disappointment. I am quite sure you are both aware that climate change is and must be the core of our mission. I’m not quite sure how tobacco smoke affects that, but I am almost certain that it does. If you must smoke, try vaping. That’s what I do. My favorite is Mango Peach Fury.” He held up his vape pen for us to see that he was, indeed, being serious.
“Of course, Colonel. We will take it under advisement. We are currently discussing the state of affairs post-departure from Afghanistan. Do you care to join us?”, the Major politely asked.
“Too busy, Major. I’ve got a meeting with the Governor in a few minutes. He wants to discuss the results of our California Safe Driving online class participation. We had a 98% attendance rate from our unit! I suspect he wants to congratulate me, and I have been told we are going to converse in French! I am quite excited!”
“Do enjoy, Colonel. We will be here, of course, later…”
The Colonel interrupted the Major with a wave, pulled out his cell phone that was vibrating and began speaking into it as he turned and walked away, leaving us standing there alone in the Washington Room.
“Never mind, Captain… We are doomed.”