Recently, my wife and I were heading to Omaha, Nebraska, to see our pal Warren Buffett. Yes, that Warren Buffett — the most successful investor of all time. On this particular morning, I had spoken in Chicago to a group of bankers. The weather was filled with Midwestern fury — lightning, thunder, deluges of rain.
The flight to Omaha was delayed for about four hours, then brusquely canceled. I had to stand in line for 90 minutes at O'Hare International Airport pleading to get on a final flight of the day into Omaha. I thought that it could be a catastrophe: stuck at the airport, and no hotel rooms anywhere nearby.
I had a long time to think as I stood in line, so I thought about amazing things that had happened that I would never have foreseen — both good and bad.
I would never have believed in 1962 that the world would go on for 69 years without nuclear bombs being used in anger after the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I would never have believed in 1954 that the public school systems of the southern United States would stop being segregated by race by 1972. (Hurrah!)
I would not have believed that Richard Nixon, the arch anti-communist and Cold Warrior, would open relations with Red China, create a lasting structure of peace, and then be kicked to the curb.
I would never have dreamed that China would be well on its way to being the world’s leading economy and already the world’s largest industrial economy, by roughly 42 years after Nixon went to Beijing . . . all by the power of capitalism.
I would never have believed in 1962 that the United States would put a man on the moon — and then pretty much abandon the space program, leaving it for Russia and China to explore the galaxies. And speaking of Russia, I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams that the Soviet Union would disappear in a cloud of smoke in the late 1980s.
Certainly, I would not have in a million years thought it a possibility that a group of terrorists living in Stone Age conditions in Afghanistan would launch a terror attack on the USA that demolished some of the biggest buildings in the world, leveled a good part of the Pentagon, and killed 3,000 innocent people in 2001.
I would not have thought it a part of reality that the USA would have launched a war on a nation that turned out to have zero to do with the 9/11 terrorism, spend many billions of dollars, cost thousands of soldiers their lives or limbs, ruin tens of thousands of families, and accomplish less than nothing.
It would not have crossed my mind that having invested so much of the nation’s blood and treasure in saving Iraq for freedom, we would let this country — roughly the size of Texas — be overrun by terrorists numbering far less than the police force of any smallish American city.
If someone had told me a year ago that 2,000 to 4,000 terrorists in T-shirts and sandals would take over much of the richest oil deposits in the world and that the army we had spent billions training would just run away, I would have thought it possible — but extremely farfetched.
If someone had told me in 1990 that there would be such a thing as the Internet and that it would exist largely to show pornography — the most graphic kind imaginable — to any child capable of pressing three buttons, and it would be free, I would not have thought it conceivably possible.
If someone had told me in 1975, when only about 1 in 7 white children was born out of wedlock, that by 2014 it would be close to 1 in 3,that would have seemed impossible.
If someone had told me that the whole system of free speech had been abolished by political correctness so that anyone even accused of “racism,” or sexism, or doubting climate change or evolution, by any definition at all, could be silenced and deprived of livelihood and property, I wouldn’t have believed it. If someone had told me in 1966 that the universities of America would be in the forefront of killing free speech, I would have laughed.
On the other hand, if, when I was a child in Maryland, someone had told me that the doors of political and civil rights would be wide open to blacks, women, Jews, and homosexuals, I would not have thought that possible either. But it has happened, and it’s great.
And if someone had told me I would, in my latter years, be laughing and eating a fine dinner with the smartest investor that has ever lived, who disagrees with me on many subjects, or that I would have a home with a swimming pool and a beautiful wife and palm trees and a son and his family and the best dog on earth, I would not have thought that possible either.
There is a lesson here: Life is extremely uncertain, and if I had to give entering college students one piece of advice this fall, it would be that life is going to shock you but you will be better off if you invest decently. Money takes away at least some of the uncertainty of life. That’s not trivial.
Ben Stein is a writer, actor, and lawyer, who served as a speechwriter in the Nixon administration as the Watergate scandal unfolded. He began his unlikely road to stardom when director John Hughes cast him as the numbingly dull economics teacher in the urban comedy, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Read more reports from Ben Stein — Click Here Now.
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