The signs were all there.
This is what jumps out at you in perusing postmortems of the two greatest surprise attacks in American history. In the days and weeks leading up to Dec. 7, 1941 and Sept. 11, 2001, there were numerous clues that seem neon in hindsight, but which no one pursued.
Or, as then-CIA Director George Tenet famously said of 9/11: “The system was blinking red.”
In response to each attack, exhaustive probes were launched to determine whose incompetence allowed the disaster to happen. While there’s obvious value in sifting through tragedies past in hopes of preventing tragedies future, it has always seemed to me the ultimate failure in those calamities was not of competence but, rather, imagination. Those in charge did not guard against what happened because what happened was literally beyond their ability to conceive.
That lesson of security and military unreadiness has chilling application to our unreadiness on another front:
Writing in this space a few days back, I scored the GOP for pretending there is some debate over whether human activity is raising the temperature of the planet when “that finding is accepted by 97 percent of climate scientists” — a figure I got from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general science group. After 20 years writing this column, I am not often surprised by reader reaction. I know a certain segment of my audience will go ballistic if I argue some controversial point — like that racism exists or Muslims are human.
But I admit, I was very surprised at the amount of emails — and anger —that sentence engendered. There is not nearly enough space here to get into the weeds of every objection, but they boiled down to this: The statistic comes from a flawed or skewed study.
I checked this with the AAAS’s Dr. Marshall Shepherd, who is the director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program at the University of Georgia and in 2013 served as president of the American Meteorological Society. His response: The 97 percent figure is consistent across “numerous studies, not just one or two, so there is consilience” — a convergence of different streams of knowledge into a consensus.