What Is Your Takeaway from History in the Making?
On August 6, 1945, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, recently renamed to honor its new pilot’s mother, took flight from the U.S. Army Air Force-controlled North Field in the Northern Mariana Islands. Its flight time to target was approximately six hours, and, after releasing a world-changing payload, it returned to North Field. From there, the Enola Gay flew into history. Nine days later the Empire of Japan surrendered, effectively ending World War II.
The Enola Gay’s combat deployment of the very first nuclear weapon was easily identifiable as a pivotal point in human history. Yet not all pivotal points are quite so readily apparent in the moment.
A New Type of Warfare, A New Era Emerging
On February 21, 2022, President Joe Biden expanded upon five prior Executive Orders and imposed economic sanctions against the Russian Federation following their invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine. A plethora of additional actions from many state (and non-state) actors soon followed — unleashing a previously unseen form of economic warfare upon the world. Like the deployment of the Enola Gay’s payload, this has been a pivotal moment in human history (even though it lacks the resonant imagery of the Enola Gay’s actions).
The current non-kinetic, economic warfare underway against Russia is unique in its size, scope, and effect. In essence, we are witnessing a new type of warfare. It is unfurling before us in real-time, and, just as the bombing of Hiroshima ushered in the Atomic Age, the destruction of Russia’s economy signals the dawn of a new era.
Years from now, historians will formulate an erudite and insightful analysis of the time we’re living through. I’m confident that seemingly disparate threads — such as COVID-19, blockchain technology, BLM, the inevitable evolution of democratic and capitalistic systems, and more — will be woven together into a relatively coherent narrative. That will provide context for those too young to remember this time and those yet to be born. It will be part of the known fabric of what came before them. For those of us currently living through these times, though, the unknown is confounding and perplexing.
Any new weapon, once deployed, can NEVER be returned to its box. Such is the case with nuclear weapons, cyber-weapons like Stuxnet, and it’s true also of the crushing economic warfare waged upon Russia. Both stakeholder capitalism and the past twenty years of synergistic technological development (progress?) have undoubtedly played foundational roles in the development of this new weapon. Future historians will have a field day with their analysis of how this came to be, what it means, and how it has changed the world.
However, today we simply need to be aware. We must recognize that we are witnessing a pivotal historical moment.
How the unintended consequences of these actions play out will resonate differently for leaders everywhere. How you and others process — and what you do with — the information as it develops will differ. However, what will serve all of us well is awareness that the weapons of economic warfare unleashed in March 2022 will be no less impactful than the flight of the Enola Gay 77 years ago.
I leave you with a touch of poetic wisdom penned by the Canadian rock band Rush from their 1985 song “Manhattan Project.” Their lyrics focus on the impact of nuclear weapons. Yet I suspect with a minor modification or two they could just as easily speak to the situation unfolding today.
“The big bang took and shook the world
Shot down the rising sun
The end was begun and it would hit everyone
When the chain reaction was done
The big shots try to hold it back
Fools try to wish it away
The hopeful depend on a world without end
Whatever the hopeless may say”
“Manhattan Project” by Rush
Lyrics by Neal Peart, Alex Lifeson & Geddy Lee