And now, just when no terror seemed greater than nuclear holocaust, science brings us the Coconut Bomb.
According to a United Press International report on Nov. 3, the Republic of the Philippines has "successfully exploded" a 6.6-pound bomb made "entirely of coconut oil byproducts."
The bomb was described with chilling modesty as "stronger than ordinary dynamite," and the report warned palm-poor countries such as the United States that the Philippines is "the world's largest producer of coconuts."
The usual hubbub has resulted.
"Already, the world is divided into two camps -- the Coconut Bomb 'haves' and the 'have-nots,' " said one analyst.
While councils of state among the tropical "haves" were said to be gleefully singing "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," the northern "have-nots" gloomily assessed their chances for survival in the Coconut Age.
Some scrambled for parity. Iceland did not deny it was working feverishly on a top-secret Cod Bomb, while observers near a Dutch test range reported sighting a "tulip-shaped cloud." Here in the United States, rumor had physicists in Massachusetts trying to bring two bushels of cranberries to critical mass.
China, already a nuclear power, was said to be trying to build a version of the neutron bomb out of its legendary cuisine. "An hour later, no one will know the Wonton Bomb ever went off," said one China watcher.
The trend may have begun with Argentina. One theory has it that contrary to popular belief, the Falkland Islands were populated only with humans before the recent hostilities. Now, they're overrun with shrapnel from an alleged Sheep Bomb.
The Philippines appeared to be placating fears of fallout -- a dreaded white, shredded material with a sweetish taste -- by detonating the device underground. The official Philippines News Agency said that coco-scientists dug beneath the surface of the Pacific Islands to a depth of more than one meter (about 4 feet) and shielded the weapon with a material described as "gravel." The bomb was set off "electrically."
Washington intelligence sources said they could not yet assess destructive capability, but once more, frightened citizens here had to face the fact that despite friendly relations with the Philippines, they live at ground zero.
Instantly the scenario leapt to mind.
Say it is late November, a cloudless Thursday evening in the nation's capital. Assume further that there is no advance warning, despite increasing congressional complaints about the importing of Philippine-assembled toy bears that wind up and play cymbals. Shortly after 8:30, the lone warhead comes swooping down. Six thousand feet above the White House the 20 meganut device explodes.
The crowd waiting for carryout at Wings & Things on 14th Street gasps in unison, but only for a split second before they die horrible deaths likened by one theorist to "suffocating in a gigantic cream pie."
The singles crowd bellying up to bars in Georgetown hears the noise. Another fist fight? A waiter dropping a tray of drinks? Actually, they never know that anything unusual has hit them when they're swept away by a force described as resembling "a tidal wave of pin a coladas."
Farther out, a horrified schoolgirl in Alexandria turns from the window screaming: "Mommy! The whole world has turned into 7-minute frosting!"
In the third ring of destruction, say at Joe's Record Paradise in Takoma Park, rock fans are safe from the initial blast, but they stop humming "You Broke My Mood Ring" by home-town musician Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band when they notice the odor.
Said one analyst: "It'll smell just like Fort Lauderdale at Easter."
People as far away as the Mighty Midget Kitchen in Leesburg may be subject to long-term effects, including a softening and darkening of the skin known as the "Clark Bar Syndrome." Don't rule out genetic damage. One woman living downwind from a Philippine test site is said to have given birth to a seven-pound macaroon.
Even barring outright attack, the Coconut Age brings new stresses.
With coconut oil being a major ingredient in convenience foods such as Cool Whip and Coffee-mate, the psychological strain will be enormous, as breakfasting Americans stare with a horror of apprehension at their coffee cups, and every ice cream sundae begins to look like a Diablo-Canyon meltdown.
Once more, have scientists become mere sorcerers' apprentices? Have the all-too-brilliant masterminds of the Manila Project given us only a new symbol for this nightmare age -- the palm-tree-shaped cloud?
Even if coconut scientists, appalled at their creation, found a "Coconuts for Peace" program, it will be too late. Fears of coco-proliferation are rampant, with every beach a breeder reactor. France is certain to start selling trees to the highest bidder. Does Israel have the nut? Will Libya get one? The United Nations is working on a resolution barring coconuts from space.
Right-wing groups called for new defense spending to close the "coconut gap," while a No-Nuts peace group calling itself the Palm Tree Alliance prepared to picket the Pentagon with signs reading: "Today's Children Are Tomorrow's Mounds Bars." The group warned against any attempts at peaceful use of coco-energy.
Their statement said: "It will only be a matter of time before it happens: Three Mile Coconut."
Private owners in this country were ordered to turn in their nuts, particularly the souvenirs with the cute monkey faces carved on them, which are "nothing more than a cruel hoax," said a televised announcement. This was done despite protests by the National Rifle Association. The NRA explained its puzzling interest in the issue by saying: "Sure, coconuts aren't rifles, but handguns aren't either and we've been fighting bans on them for years."
Uniformed teams from the Coconut Energy Commission staged confiscatory raids on the popular Trader Vic's restaurants, with violence reported as they tore out the decor of a Luau Hut in Akron.
Said one anxious bar owner in Georgetown: "I hope nobody invents a fern bomb."