Swans were believed to be white until Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh's 1697 discovery of black swans in Australia, which profoundly changed zoology. It subsequently seemed obvious that black swans had to exist because other animals also had varying colors. In retrospect, the surrounding context (i.e., empirical observations about other animals) implied that finding Black Swans were unsurprising.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb's New York Times' best seller, "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable," recommended building "robustness" to counter "negative events," e.g., uncertain but threatening events, after which experts and even laymen would conclude: "it was bound to happen." Consider three consequential examples — one past and two prospective.
The first happened 79 years ago as the sun rose over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The "greatest generation" that won World War II well understood the costs of ignoring clear warning signs of that attack that should not have been a surprise.
About two decades earlier, Billy Mitchell specifically warned of the Pearl Harbor attack during his attempts to get the "powers that be" to understand the future importance of Air Power. His aggravating persistence led to his 1925 court-marshal.
Mitchell's "strategic warning" foretold the rise of Japanese strength, including its attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. He saw war as global and imminent, and that Air Power was the only way to master the situation. But the "powers that be" up to the president refused to listen and ended Mitchell's career, though he retained his hero status among many who would see his warnings come true.
Generally considered as Father of the Air Force, Mitchell received many honors after his death, including a presidential pardon and promotion to Major General. He is the only individual after whom is named an American military aircraft, the North American B-25 Mitchell — that was used in America's April 19, 1942 retaliatory bombing raid on Tokyo, led by Mitchell protégé Jimmy Doolitle. But I digress.
So certain were the military brass of their "remote" safety in Hawaii that they parked defensive fighter aircraft together, an easy target for Japanese air attack — more easily guarded against sabotage, you see. And most of the Pacific Fleet was docked in the harbor, as the Japanese anticipated.
Thus, we ignored Mitchell's "strategic" warning of a Pearl Harbor attack — and even the "tactical" warning as brilliantly analyzed by Roberta Wohlstetter in 1962.
Following Pearl Harbor, we had time to recover and, with Providential help (e.g., at Midway), to defeat the Japanese in the Pacific and the Nazis in Europe. Such an essential recovery period is no longer possible, because of today's numerous rapidly employable lethal weapons with global reach, especially from space.
Today, we are courting potentially eminent, even more catastrophic, Black Swan Events.
In particular, manmade and natural electromagnetic pulse (EMP) events could shut down our electric power grid for months — we are unprepared for the resulting starvation, disease and societal collapse that would lead to the death of most Americans.
We have long had "Strategic Warning" of this existential threat — two decades ago, Congress chartered an expert EMP Commission to address the fact that our critical civil infrastructure is unprotected, even though we had protected our most important military systems against EMP for decades. EMP Commission reports from 2004, 2008 and 2017 presented the reality of the threat, our vulnerability to it, and what must be done to protect against it.
But our "powers that be" have done little to protect against this existential threat from a high-altitude (including from and in space) nuclear explosion, as included in the military doctrine of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran — and plausibly from terrorists who gain a nuclear weapon and means to deliver it.
Moreover, the existential "natural" EMP threat from a massive solar emission will certainly envelop the earth someday, only when is uncertain — some have estimated an associated probability as 12% a decade.
Thus, we continue to ignore at our peril the existential EMP threat as a "Black Swan Event in Waiting."
Next, consider Billy Mitchell's advocacy of "air power" that World War II proved was correct — because our industrial base had time to rectify our inadequately prepared Army (and Navy) Air Force. Shortly after World War II, that reality led to a separate Air Force as our primary Air Power agent.
My April 18, 2019 Newsmax article honored the passing to the last of the Doolittle Raiders, and remembered all those heroes who 77 years earlier executed that one-way mission to bomb Tokyo. The Air Force is naming our new B-21 Bomber "the Raider" to honor them and that mission that lifted the spirits of all Americans who were picking themselves up from Pearl Harbor and preparing to fight and win World War II.
I wonder how Generals Mitchell and Doolittle would feel about the Air Force being responsible for developing the nation's future "Space Power" — and having that important mission compete with traditional Air Force interests for programs and funding now needed to play "catch-up" with Russia and especially China in exploiting advanced technology that threaten us in and from space.
Decades ago, I discussed these issues with General Bernard A. Schriever — including efforts that "bridled him back," as the Father of Air Force Space. Having personally experienced our reluctance to proactively develop Air Power and trying to make U.S. Space Power all he knew it could be, he surely would support a separate Space Force.
Had the earlier "powers that be" grasped the technical and military potential of Air Power, there probably would have been no Pearl Harbor "Black Swan." Now we have a Space Force, thanks to President Trump's initiative. But it is not a separate service; it is an Air Force subsidiary — with likely conditions uncomfortably like those Mitchell and Doolittle experienced within the Army a century ago.
In my view, Space Force progress will be inhibited by traditional Air Force interests — and we will not have the luxury of time to "catch-up" to adversaries outpacing us with their space capabilities. That is another threatening "Black Swan in Waiting."
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary, Science Adviser to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory and a USAF Reserve Captain. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. Read Ambassador Cooper's Reports — More Here.
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