The Oval Office has been the site of some of modern history’s most extraordinary moments.

It was late. Most of the room’s lights were intentionally left low. It matched the mood.

The President of the United States sat alone in the Oval Office behind the desk of presidents. The Resolute Desk was not as physically imposing as many assumed it might be given its obvious gravitas. A personal gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880, the desk was crafted from oak harvested from the arctic survey ship HMS Resolute. It had seen moments of triumph and agony, purity and pain. The nation’s chief executives had presided over events here during which the fate of the entire world had literally teetered. That thought gave the president an involuntary shudder.

The door at the right side of the Oval Office opened without fanfare, and a figure slipped in. He walked strong and erect across the room to stand before the oaken altar that now separated him from the president.

“Mister President,” he said.

The president sat up stiffly and met his eyes, “Yes, General?”

He was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The man stood six feet four and was still built like the linebacker he had been when he had played college football. The general had spent his early years as a U.S. Army Ranger and still projected the demeanor. His hair was the color of steel and cut close to his head. He wore battledress fatigues and carried a sidearm in a low-slung holster. His four embroidered stars hung vertically on the front of his crisp camouflage blouse. The president absentmindedly catalogued that he had never seen a military officer in this room in anything but a dress uniform. These were indeed extraordinary times.

“You know why I’m here,” the general said. It was somehow neither question nor statement.

The president gathered his thoughts, “You realize that we are living the most pivotal … the most dangerous moment in our nation’s history. It is unfolding right here before us. We two will be judged by history based upon how we respond.”

“Mister President, may I sit?” the general asked.

The president nodded, and the man slid smoothly into a heavy leather chair.

The Resolute Desk used by the President of the United States is smaller
than you might think given its importance. Here we see JFK’s children
Kerry and Caroline playing beneath it.

“I agree completely,” he continued. “That we will indeed be judged. However, things are not so bad as they might be given the circumstances. The situation is under control. There have been casualties, but it could have been much worse.”

The president smiled thinly and said, “Well, thank goodness for that.”

The general paused at the president’s wit and glanced momentarily at his hands folded in his lap.

“How is my wife?” the president asked.

“She is safe,” the general answered. “As is your daughter.”

“I don’t suppose I can at this point do much to influence this situation. Correct?” the president asked mechanically.

“That is an accurate statement, Mister President,” the general said. “Believe it or not there were contingencies for this. All commands are currently alerted and mobilized. The National Guard has responded favorably. The country is in order, and there has been no significant unrest or lawlessness. The infrastructure is in place and functioning just as it was this time yesterday.”

“You do appreciate that we are still a nation at war, general?”

The general stiffened incrementally without conscious thought. He speared the president with the gaze that had melted countless junior officers and said simply, “Yes, Mister President. I am fully aware of that fact. I have faith that ongoing military operations will be managed with at least the same level of competence as has been the case over the last twelve months. You need not worry on that account.”

The President returned the General’s gaze but forced himself to relax. There was nothing to be gained from antagonizing this man.

The general placed his hand to the tiny earpiece in his right ear and listened for a moment before standing.

Squaring to face the president he said, “It is time, Mister President. Is there anything you need to attend to before you leave?”

The president let the silence hang for a long moment while he simply soaked in the circumstances and then said simply, “No, thank you.”

The general lifted his wrist and spoke into a discreet microphone, “Captain Mitchell, execute.”

The relationship between the military and the government in
a constitutional republic such as ours defines our democracy.

With that the door through which the general had entered swung open and six heavily armed members of the Army’s elite Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta entered, their faces camouflaged black and night vision goggles stowed atop their tactical helmets. The president looked through the door and noticed an ugly dark stain that shown freshly wet on the carpet in the outer office. Similarly clad soldiers were posted liberally outside. He stood silently and took one last look around the office before walking out in the company of his nation’s warriors. The general sighed deeply and looked around the room himself, the weight of the preceding moment staggering him as he stood momentarily alone in the Oval Office.

The nation’s senior military officer took a deep breath and regained his composure before speaking to the other soldiers now joining him, “Notify me immediately when the president is secured, and I will address the nation.” He walked around to the back of the desk and sat heavily into the president’s chair. It was still warm. “We have a great deal of work to do.”

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