Sunday, December 7, 2008

The unknown unknowns

Visit the Fulda Gap in Germany, for example, about an hour east of Frankfurt. That was the location of the all-time No. 1 pawn-to-king-four scenario of the start of the end.

In that scenario, the endless tanks of endless Soviet divisions would come racing through this valley -- which looks not unlike the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia -- headed for Western Europe. The American 11th Armored "Blackhorse" Cavalry was there on hair-trigger alert to complicate their lives as thoroughly as they could. ...

While the fast and technologically superior 11th Cavalry tanks were supposedly killing Soviet tanks at a 7 to 1 ratio, so the theory went, the 747s from the States were disgorging troops, who would run to their prepositioned main battle tanks to really bring it on. When the 747s turned around to get more American troops, so the scenario went, they would not return empty. They would be full not only of American military kids, briefers told reporters, but also their pets, in cages stockpiled for exactly this scenario. Yes. They had figured it out to that level of minutiae.

The 11th Cavalry dads, meanwhile, knew exactly where they would stop their tanks to get warm pastries and hot coffee on the way to Armageddon. They knew which German bakeries would sell them stuff out their window at 4 a.m. because they'd responded to surprise practice alerts a zillion times.

Oddly enough, that level of guaranteed certainty produced one of the least likely futures in history. It is the one we have today, in which we have survived as a species and even thrived sufficiently to create credit default swaps that possibly will do what the Soviet nuclear targeters failed to do: bring us to our knees.
--Joel Garreau, Washington Post, on foreseen versus unforeseen disasters

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