This article was generously donated by Richard Earl Broome.
“Alike for the nation and the individual, the one indispensable requisite is character.” — Theodore Roosevelt
As I sit and reflect on this cold and snowy morning in Montana, I cannot help but feel a sense of disquiet. One of the things I now do in the twilight of my career, when I am not writing articles like these or working on my next novel, is I teach a senior level course about leadership at Montana State University. It is a wonderful subject to teach at the college level because we have such incredible, class discussions. Even at their very young age, college students have strong opinions about the leadership they observe all around them. They love to talk about it.
One of the teaching techniques I use at the start of every class meeting is a PowerPoint slide with the title, “Leadership in the News.” Among the many news items we discussed last fall were changes in global business leadership, political leadership and so on. We discussed what we thought was occurring. We also explored why, from a leadership perspective, they were happening. My class looked forward each day to this kind of an interesting “current leadership events” warm-up before we launched into deeper theories of leadership.
All my seniors watched last fall’s Ebola scare in the news, and all the press conferences and medical advice offered. They observed our national leadership dismiss the possibility that Ebola would ever reach out shores. When it did, my students were then reassured that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did, in fact, have a list of airtight infection prevention protocols they recommended to all medical professional and facilities, and had things under control. When our medical professionals, following the CDC protocols, started to contract Ebola, my students then watched a public argument erupt speculating whether the people on the ground fighting Ebola were correctly following the protocols recommended by the CDC, or if they were sufficient. Even my young college students detected things were barely under control with this crisis.
My students also observed the White House was mostly silent at first, only becoming involved as things clearly started spiraling downward. The President then appointed a well-known Washington DC political operative to be the “Ebola Czar.”
My students concluded that the most important factor about the Ebola crisis for the White House seemed to be getting out a positive public message and managing their image control. With the fall elections coming, my students were well aware of the importance of messaging and image for the White House. It was not about the best interests of our nation. It was about votes in November. As a class, they concluded the overall ineptitude and self-interest on our TV screens, was extremely troubling.
These young men and women could clearly see the cracks appearing in the public relations facade being built around our national leaders. As they watched the Ebola debacle unfold, they wondered:
–“Are national leaders more interested in doing the right thing for our country or just preserving their reputation?”
–“What about accepting responsibility, when it is obvious mistakes are being made?”
This became a lengthy discussion with my class. The welfare and safety of the nation was at stake. What in the world was going on?
So today, as I am thinking about my fall leadership class discussions and how my students very perceptively detected the leadership and character flaws demonstrated at the national level, I have concluded the failings we observed may have been more serious than we think. What will be the tipping point when feckless, self-centered decisions finally cause things to spiral out of control?
We have had an even more recent event that I view as a real wake-up call for us all. During the last few weeks our nation has experienced a wave of cyber attacks. I predicted these kinds of events were going to start to occur in an article I published last March called, “The Coming Cyber War.”
In the last year-and-a-half I have also published two books about the probable impacts if there was a successful cyber attack on the global financial systems. We are facing a very dangerous situation.
As we all know now, SONY was the victim of a well-orchestrated, destructive cyber attack. (And… as of this morning there is now even doubt about who did it, North Korea or another group.) However, whoever really was responsible, the impact of this attack had many dimensions, the embarrassing, damaging information released about the inner workings and internal gossip at SONY, the even graver freedom of speech confrontation that burst out when North Korea demanded the film “The Interview” not be shown. But… during this cyber confrontation watched around the globe, what also disturbed me were the leadership and character shortcomings displayed by our national leadership.
The executives at SONY at first caved in to the North Koreans and agreed not to release the film. Then gradually SONY decided to stiffen their spine, no doubt responding to the urging of the rest of the country, to stand up for one of our most cherished rights, freedom of speech. And yes, SONY is going to make a ton of money with all of the free publicity about “The Interview.” Let’s get real. For some, money always does talk much louder than principle or character.
But…for the President of the United States to refer to this damaging attack on SONY as “cyber vandalism” was just inexcusable. Whoever the hackers were, they did not just spray paint some graffiti on the walls of SONY. They attacked a major global corporation and did significant harm. During this situation one of our most fundamental American freedoms, our freedom of speech, was challenged by North Korea, and whether guilty of the cyber attack on SONY or not, they felt motivated to make threats against all Americans.
Which brings me to the heart of my feelings of disquiet and unease. What did the USA communicate to the rest of the world about our leadership, our character and our resolve as a nation, when another nation-state or organization launches a successful cyber attack on us? When a hostile country like North Korea makes threats and demands, and we just seem to scold everyone for their naughty behavior?
Preppers may all strive for independence, not having to rely on others and, as well, may all feel very personally ready for whatever could eventually come at them, but I also think it still essential that we have strong national leadership and character, facing down the global threats. Leadership, character, and resolve at the national level, in this time of uncertainty, really do matter to us.
One of our greatest American Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, addressed the subject of character in an article in Outlook magazine in 1900.
“A year or two ago I was speaking to a famous Yale professor, one of the most noted scholars in the country, and one who is even more than a scholar, because he is in every sense of the word a man. We had been discussing the Yale-Harvard foot-ball teams, and he remarked of a certain player: “I told them not to take him, for he was slack in his studies, and my experience is that, as a rule, the man who is slack in his studies will be slack in his foot-ball work; it is character that counts in both.”
In my life I have had the privilege to work on the White House staff at the National Security Council for two Presidents of the United States, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Both men were different as people, but both had a common trait, great leadership ability with a strong sense of character, not only their own character, but the kind of character our country should project to the rest of the world.
President Ronald Reagan said about the Berlin Wall: “Mr. Gorbachev. Tear down this wall!”
Led by President Reagan, our nation was dedicated to the end of Soviet aggression and oppression. The Berlin Wall, over time, was torn down and Soviet communism eventually collapsed.
President George H.W. Bush said, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait: “A line has been drawn in the sand.”
Led by a man I knew well, admired and had the privilege of serving with in the Army, General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, our nation would not let Iraq take control of the Middle East. With the coalition forces we assembled during the Persian Gulf War, we threw Iraq out of the Kuwait.
President Barrack Obama after the serious, destructive attack on SONY said: “No, I don’t think it was an act of war. I think it was an act of cyber-vandalism that was very costly, very expensive,” Obama told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We will respond proportionately.”
What does this say about our national leadership, character and resolve? It feels like we are saying “We don’t wish to be offensive, but found the cyber attack on SONY really, really annoying.” This was weak. We communicated to bullies that the USA could be bullied again.
So, I hope you all are ready because it signaled a cyber open season on the USA. We will be attacked again and who knows the consequences? How well will you survive if the nation’s power grid is suddenly compromised, or your bank account emptied? The next attack is coming.
Are you ready? Are we, as a nation, ready? Do we have the leadership, character and resolve we need to survive?
When Ronald Reagan and George H.W Bush were our Presidents, others took the United States seriously. If you hit us, they knew we would hit them back twice as hard. The strength of our leaders and the character of the USA as a nation were very clear. Now we apparently need to check the polls first, develop very careful language and come across like a great aunt fussing at the naughty children for stepping on the flowers in her flowerbed by the front porch.
“I am really vexed with you today.”
It is the almost 2015. As I write this, the 2014 elections are over and the next ones for 2016 are already underway. Pay attention Preppers. I do not care what your political alliance is: Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Conservative, Progressive, Liberal or something else. Whatever it is, you need to pick candidates who can both lead and also embrace the importance of standing behind the strong character of a nation, or we are all going to be in real trouble. The new cyber warfare frontier we are entering needs strong generals to fight it.
During the coming cyber war, leadership and character will count.
About the Author: Richard Earl Broome has lived an extraordinary life rising from an Army private to an Army Colonel and serving on the White House staff for two Presidents of the United States as a member of their National Security Council staff. He is considered a national expert on the subjects of cyber warfare, disaster recovery and survival. He is a frequent contributor of articles about the many threats facing our society, appearing on radio shows to discuss issues such as pandemics, ISIS, and the worsening cyber threat. Now living in a small community in Montana, he is a member of the faculty at Montana State University where he teaches leadership. His has written two novels about the potential impact on all of us if the current cyber threat goes unchecked. This first, Leaving The Trees was reviewed by The Prepper Journal last March. The second, Good Crazy, was just recently published and will be subject to a future review.