The Actuary’s Alphabet
by John Delacourt
All the usual diplomatic lines of engagement have been tried and they have failed. Backing into a conflict or leading from behind, the risks are the same and the objectives just as difficult to determine. Clarity is the rarest commodity of all, as we have now become the actuaries weighing the fatal decisions of this campaign. Do we chance absolute disclosure of all we have to lose? Every source of counsel that we once called wise has counseled us against such a gesture of desperation. For all that we imagined we once had to gain, such fantasies have dissolved within the dust of a conflict we no longer understand.
Giving in to a higher reasoning is just another way of saying we should go on faith. How do you justify this to the widows and the mothers when the cargo planes begin to bring the evidence, boxed and flagged, back home? I have never been able to watch the crowds form behind the fence lines at the airfields without feeling that one of us, we, the button-downed apologists of the ministry, should have been down there, begging for forgiveness. Justice and justification are our Scylla and Charybdis, and this vessel has been taking on water for longer than any of us will care to admit, my friends.
Knowledge of the enemy’s motives—his historical grievances and his tyrant’s weakness for the grand gesture that will ensure immortality—it was supposed to lead us to a greater understanding. Like that was ever going to happen. Most of the information we have amassed on these floors of the labyrinth has only led me to appreciate the entertainment value of history. No grand narrative, no unified theory has emerged from the pages we have pored over in the desperation of our final days here, before the trucks arrive to take the files to the desert. Only a cultivated sense of detachment and amusement at the absurdity of our endeavors remains among us who remain, shredding and deleting.
Perhaps we all should have realized it was going to end this way from the beginning. Quiet doubts crept into the silences in every Monday meeting in the boardroom until they dismantled all our better arguments, leaving us with nothing but pencil shavings and non-sequiturs. Racing through the items on the agenda did nothing to quell the anxiety that would descend like a poison cloud. Slowly, attendance began to drop off, and all were relieved.
Tomorrow we’ll learn of the resolution. Unless we’ve been lied to from the beginning, it is a fait accompli. Vows of silence can finally be broken. We’ll no longer have to justify our deliberations. Xenophobic warmongering or the fulfillment of our greater obligations to posterity? You can make the final judgment. Zero hour, let it all begin as we once believed it would end.
Toronto writer John Delacourt’s work has been published most recently in the Danforth Review and The New Quarterly. His novel, Ocular Proof, will be published in the fall of 2014 by Seraphim Editions.