My last period (around 1:45 EST) Global Studies class. The teacher says that there is a situation and asks if any of us have heard... We all answer no and he proceeds to tell us. (This isn't word for word, I did not take notes...)

"At eleven A.M. (EST), the USS Eisenhower, stationed in the Persian Gulf, was bombed in an attack similar to that on the USS Cole. A reporter onboard reports that the flight deck is unusable and estimates at least one hundred dead. There are still explosions going on throughout the ship, and while the crew are trying their best to save the ship, it is listing and taking on water and expected to go down within the hour. There are 34 F-14s in the air, and all countries within their range have refused to allow them to land. They will have to be ditched into the water, and the pilots picked up by rescue helicopters from the other ships in the group."

"The president has called a joint session of congress at 2:30, an action that has not been taken since Pearl Harbor."

"30 minutes after the attack, OPEC announced that it was shutting down the flow of oil. The oil is stopped in the pipes. President Clinton has signed an executive order shutting down all gas stations for at least 24 hours while the fuel situation can be assessed."

"5 US carrier groups are steaming towards the area, but the closest will only arrive in one and a half days. Great Britain and Australia are also sending their ships. France has declared its neutrality. Germany has made no statement but has mobilized troops to its borders. There is a leak from the State Department that Russia has warned us not to retaliate, or they may have to take action. China has not yet issued any statement or shown any other reaction. Israel has declared their allegiance to the U.S., but the State Department has told them to be quiet as any connection with Israel could ruin our chances of getting an ally among the Arab states."

"The Dow has dropped 700 points. The World Series is canceled."

"You know how you have fire drills, and the bell rings in a pattern of three rings and a pause? There will be another drill now. The bell will ring constantly, and that is the signal to leave the room, and go into the basement where you will receive instructions from a teacher there."

It pretty much ended here. He told us it was all a story he made up to give us a little of the feeling of growing up during the Cold War when this was a constant worry.
It was very realistic - like something out of a Tom Clancy book. He had all of us fooled.
It made us think - some of my reactions were: "How will I get to school if there is no gas?" "Running into the basement? That's a fucking nuke drill! Shit, do they have nukes?" "What if it lasts till I'm 18 and i get drafted?"
Very interesting class.....

With respect, that's an idiotic (if effective) stunt to carry out. It does not give the feeling of growing up during the Cold War (mainly because World War III never happened during the Cold War, and no similar events occurred). And it trivialises war, which is never a good idea. There is no need to frighten people like that; it's just crying "Wolf!".

Contrary to Hollywood's perception, wars don't start because of some isolated incident. Wars, like all other historic events, have a wide background. World wars have a somewhat wider background. Nuclear world wars would presumably have a long trail leading towards them. Much as I hate to say this, the described event (apart from being preposterous in my eyes) would certainly not be cause for war. History should concern itself not so much with this type of incident (although of course they are important and worthy of study) as with underlying trends. If you truly think war could break out as a result of such an act, you should be extremely worried -- it hasn't happened, but it means that you believe almost any anti-american incident in the middle east right now will lead to war.

I would find serious study of the causes of wars to be more aligned with historical study. Not to mention a positive effect on anybody's thinking, whether seeking peace or preparing for war (or both).

And I don't buy the scenario, either. The USS Cole is a destroyer, and it was attacked in harbour. The USS Eisenhower is a carrier; it will not dock everywhere that a destroyer will. The scenario even has the Eisenhower attacked at sea (it has planes in the air). Getting to a carrier at sea means going through about half of the carrier group. And the attack on Cole wasn't enough to sink it; a carrier is much much larger...

I don't think we should unfairly criticize Infinity's school teacher if some of the details of his scenario aren't realistic. Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears (which must be read to be believed -- don't bother with the movie, its a waste of time) gives scenarios such as this all the realism they need. In the book, the Soviet Union hasn't fallen and is in the throes of reform. Old school Communists are still a force to be reckoned with in Soviet politics. Meanwhile, a Middle Eastern terrorist explodes a nuclear bomb at the Superbowl. Our NEST teams, the NORAD satellite imagery experts, etc. mis-read the infrared signature of the explosion (due to snow cover and the heat radiation properties of the asphalt parking lot where it exploded -- like I said, the book has incredible detail for the sci/eng geek in all of us!) and conclude (incorrectly as it turns out) it must have been a megaton rather than a kiloton bomb and therefore too sophisticated to be the work of terrorists.

Mean-meanwhile, a US aircraft carrier is patrolling in the Med. Because the US and the USSR are both de-commissioning a significant portion of its nuclear weapons, but still don't entirely trust each other, The Big Plan For The Unthinkable is being updated on a weekly basis, creating some confusion. For example, as nukes that are designated part of the strategic deterrent force are destroyed, other nukes that would normally be designated as theater weapons (i.e. to be used tactically in a specific area) are temporarily designated as strategic. So when an unidentified fighter aircraft blunders near the carrier, the carrier commander has to treat it not just as a threat to the carrier, but as a possible gambit to preemptively destroy a component of the US strategic nuclear force. In the fog of war, and given the nuke had just exploded in the US, he can't afford the delay needed to identify the plane, so he destroys it with an over-the-horizon air to air missile. He then reports to the National Command Authority who now believe they have confirmation that the nuclear explosion wasn't an isolated incident...go ahead, read the book for the rest.

My point to this is, it doesn't matter that the teacher simplified the story for the kiddies...something like that could happen with only a modest amount of bad luck.

I was born in 1966, and came of age in the 80's. The fear of The Unthinkable was real, and when Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to start dismantling those damn things instead of building more, we all felt much, much better.

Now if only we had spent the 90's building Reagan's missile shield, and if it worked, AND we had some way of detecting the emissions of a bomb in a shipping container, we might be able to get rid of even more of them. Something to think about...

If you're still not convinced, talk to someone who was a parent or a high school student during the Cuban Missle Crisis. You can be sure most of them went through drills as described above, and many expected to hear long claxon and "this is not a drill" at any time...

As it turned out, the United States did suffer a shocking surprise attack not long after Infinity's writeup - not in the Persian Gulf, but on our own soil.

It's tempting to go after the military silliness of the USS Eisenhower scenario (such as the inability of F-14's to reach, say, Israel, or then-extant US bases in Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait, or perhaps Turkey, or even Egypt, and so on), but let's consider the US vs The World paranoia of the scary fairy tale against the recorded facts of the worldwide reaction to the real attack:

Paranoid Fantasy: "30 minutes after the attack, OPEC announced that it was shutting down the flow of oil."

Reality: "Whereas the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has announced that all of its member countries `remain committed to continuing their policy of strengthening market stability and ensuring that sufficient supplies are available to satisfy market needs' and `are prepared to use their spare capacity, if deemed necessary, to achieve those goals';" - US House Resolution 238 - September 14, 2001


Paranoid Fantasy: "France has declared its neutrality."

Reality: "France is deeply upset to learn of the monstrous attacks that have just struck the United States.... In these terrible circumstances, all French people stand by the American people. We express our friendship and solidarity in this tragedy." - President Jacques Chirac, France


Paranoid Fantasy: "Germany has made no statement"

Reality: "the German people stand by the United States of America at this difficult hour... I want to express to you my deep condolences and my unlimited solidarity to you and the American people. Our sympathy goes to the victims and their relatives... They were not only attacks on the people in the United States, our friends in America, but also against the entire civilized world, against our own freedom, against our own values, values which we share with the American people. We will not let these values be destroyed – in Europe, America or anywhere in the world." - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Germany


Paranoid Fantasy: "Russia has warned us not to retaliate, or they may have to take action"

Reality: "The entire international community should unite in the struggle against terrorism this is a blatant challenge to humanity." - President Vladimir Putin, Russia


Paranoid Fantasy: "China has not yet issued any statement or shown any other reaction."

Reality: "I wish to express, on behalf of the Chinese Government and people, our deepest sympathy and solicitude to you and, through you, to the Government and people of the United States. I wish also to extend our condolences to the families of the victims." - President Jiang Zemin, China


Paranoid Fantasy: "Israel has declared their allegiance to the U.S., but the State Department has told them to be quiet as any connection with Israel could ruin our chances of getting an ally among the Arab states."

Reality: "Irrespective of the conflict with America it is a human duty to show sympathy with the American people, and be with them at these horrifying and awesome events which are bound to awaken human conscience." - Moammar Gadhafi, Libyan Leader

Reality: "I send my condolences, and the condolences of the Palestinian people to American President Bush and his government and to the American people for this terrible act....We completely condemn this serious operation.... We were completely shocked.... It's unbelievable, unbelievable, unbelievable." - Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat

Reality: "Egypt firmly and strongly condemns such attacks on civilians and soldiers..." - President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt

Reality: "...deep regret and sympathy with the victims... It is an international duty to try to undermine terrorism." - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami

In October of 2000, the USS Eisenhower scenario was based on a wildly inaccurate view of the world's opinion of the United States. In 2006, it seems much less implausible.

But then this country has always been full of self-fulfilling prophesies. I'm counting the hours 'till we get back to some good ones.

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