by Terry Plotkin
We witness that life can pivot on unexpected events. Some examples: The World Trade Center attacks, Hurricane Katrina, or, on a personal level, a diagnosis of cancer, a chance meeting of a future life partner, a car accident, or an employment opportunity that takes us to a new city and new friends. These things happen suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, and it changes the picture we thought we were looking at. Permanently.
The CIA did not foresee the fall of the Berlin Wall even though they studied the situation constantly. No one thought Japan was crazy enough to attack Pearl Harbor. I saw an exhibit once of the shapes of people dug up from the ancient volcanic eruption in Pompeii. They had excavated the fossil remains of people going about their daily business: eating, sleeping, lounging on the patio, cooking in the kitchen. When disaster struck, they died on the spot. I doubt anyone was contemplating their imminent demise at the moment the top of the mountain blew off. Most likely, they were doing what people are doing right now: going about their daily business, immersed in the minutia of life.
Sudden change is inevitable, but somehow we push it aside and expect history to unfold more or less linearly. Yet, the evidence shows that, at times, life lurches in a new direction. To function, we must cope with the shock that comes with that and meet the future as it presents itself.
The world today seems ripe with the possibility of jarring events that could derail our plans, subvert our dreams, that go against our economic models, that our leading intellects do not see coming, and that our leaders are too blind or loathe to confront. We are akin to being on a rollercoaster wearing a blindfold, except this ride has not been inspected for safety; no one knows what direction it is heading, or where it will end.
Allow me to spin a few scenarios.
The Islamic State came out of nowhere (again unexpectedly), and with its stunning advances has made war-weary Americans, and a tragic President, to get dragged back into a war that anyone with any sense wants out of. Bombing from the sky is the most we want to do for now. It seems no country wants to fight them head-on, even those that are directly threatened. The Islamic State has one big advantage over all its enemies: They don’t care if they die, and they don’t care if you die either. The world leaders are yet again trying to contain a threat that they call terrorism. But no one asks why so many people opt for organizations like this, why they are growing in popularity, and how is it that their weapons were made and paid for by the United States? Is it possible that the more they are bombed the more they hate and the more they resort to desperate violence? No one knows how to stop it; no one knows where it will end; no one expects there to be victory or defeat. The limited goal is to contain and diminish it like attacking a recurrent tumor with another dose of chemotherapy. However, many things in life don’t go according to plan. The cancer might grow out of control.
The Pope, a man who seems to understand the human condition as well as anyone, ponders whether WW3 has already begun. It seems preposterous at first glance to think that a band of ruthless, yet lightly armed, zealots can trigger a World War. But discontented people with religious fervor are all over the world. Many of the countries they live in are far from stable. Some are ruled by tyrants without the support of their people. Some of these countries are drenched in oil and fabulously wealthy. Some have huge arsenals, including nuclear. How quickly will the picture change if Saudi Arabia were to be taken over by an Islamic State type group? Not so far-fetched a possibility when you consider that Saudi Arabia is ruled by a small clique hated by many in the Arab world. How would the West respond to a major disruption in the world’s oil supply being controlled by a terrorist band armed with a vast cache of American weapons? Then there is Pakistan, which is stuck in a constant state of turmoil, a Taliban insurgency, and, yes, a stash of nuclear missiles. What do you suppose a terrorist group, bent on revenge and unafraid to die, would do if they controlled those weapons? These types of real threats can come on suddenly while we, as is our way, are distracted by over-hyped, short-term media events. It is quite possible that we could soon be tossed into a raging sea, in over our heads, out of sight from shore, without a life jacket. What if the Pope is right?
End of Part 1.