How did we ever get to this, he thought, as he peered out through the half-closed slats of the hallway window blinds? He could hear the steady rhythmic clump of hundreds of feet marching in unison as the stern brown uniformed throng, moving as one, appeared in view, coming down the main street in scenes repeated in many towns and cities around the country.
He hadn’t even heard of the group of islands that were in dispute, somewhere in the South China Sea. How could some small rock-pile of land thousands of miles away be the cause of such a thing?
It had started three years earlier. The country had selected a new leader, a woman who had made billions from a global media empire prior to taking on executive office. Famous as a reality TV star in the age of media fame requiring worship, she had convinced the electorate that it was time to “take back power and control.“ It had been her slogan, adorning T shirts, millions of dollars-worth of TV adverts, banner headlined repetitively on millions of automated twitter-botted social media posts, reinforced, driven home, and it had worked.
In a country where many had not recovered from the global financial crisis people felt helpless, and they unwittingly provided the consent which was to change things forever.
Rumours abounded right from the start. Dubious connections, alliances, former business partnerships, conflicts of interest. She was street-smart and ruthless, staying one step ahead of her accusers.
Her administration developed a revolving-door policy as a succession of high profile selections for key cabinet positions came and went, quickly became disillusioned and resigning. Those who stayed tried desperately to influence decisions, with little success.
The problem was clear, she could not be told or advised, she would not seek counsel, she had only ever relied on her own judgement in every situation of her former business life and would not change, her bombastic ego would not let her. In her mind there was only ever one decision which was right, and she would be the one who had made it. Any offer of advice was simply seen as dissent.
Having lost the confidence of much of her appointed government staff, those who hadn’t worked for her in her previous life, she reverted to relying only on those she had brought with her to the capital city, those who agreed with her every utterance, her acolytes, none of whom had any experience for the task they had been set.
Foreign relations had been a problem almost from day one too. She had one strategy to portray with leaders of allies and potential enemies alike, exude power. Tending to run away at the mouth, not one for the detail, under the guise of “keeping things simple” her lack of subtlety or ability to think outside the basic narrow boundaries of her dog eat dog creed were her downfall, almost inevitably leading to dramatic breakdowns in relationships with some former allies, and troubling spats with the leaders of countries perceived as threats.
She became known bizarrely for calling out other world leaders in social media posts, criticising and challenging like a loud schoolyard bully straining for a fight, and airing her dirty laundry in public, often berating her own government officials and departments in public forums. She was big on blame and diversion. The public became used to watching her posted spats develop with whomever she had picked on ‘live’, many online commentators hanging on her every comment, revelling in escalation.
Motivated only by power billions of dollars had been spent building up military might, to defend ourselves against ‘the enemy” to the point where her defence budget had out-stripped by a factor of at least two the sums allocated by the previous administration, significant investment having been made to develop ‘smarter’ missiles and drone technology. Conventionally the armed forces had grown considerably too, which had seemed to help reduce long-standing unemployment problems in some states, and allowed her to crow of successes.
Then one day she simply went too far. Following a five month stand-off over disputed trade shipping lanes, daily threats, and counter-threats in the media, a shot down reconnaissance plane, a retaliatory sinking of a patrol vessel, the respective build-up of troops massing in respective border areas, and an ignored ultimatum to remove missiles from a strategic location considered as too close for comfort, a TV statement witheringly critical of her by ‘their’ deputy leader, was the trigger. Some say she had felt humiliated and could not control her temper.
She did it. No one believed that she would, but incredibly she did, having blustered her way into a corner she had left herself no other way to save face, unleashing a tactical strike with a weapon too terrifying to contemplate, as a lesson to those who would dare challenge her power.
……..The marching feet grew closer, heading for the nearby dockside embarkation. As the ranks of uniformed young men and women passed the window the troubling thought passed through his mind, we are now going to face the consequences, whatever they will be.