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by J. F. Kelly, Jr. | Coronado The quick thinking and exceptional airmanship of Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger,III in guiding his crippled aircraft to a successful emergency landing on the Hudson River saved the lives of all 155 souls on board. They can indeed be grateful that the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 had the experience, skills and instincts necessary to accomplish this difficult feat. Hopefully, the investigative emphasis on what went right as opposed to the usual focus on what went wrong will produce valuable lessons learned that may save lives in future emergencies such as this. Capt. Sullenberger’s heroics demonstrated that “routine” evolutions like take-offs and landings should never be considered routine because of the consequences in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. That’s why experienced pilots are always mentally rehearsing various “what if” scenarios, i.e., what would they do if something went wrong. It’s a practice I try to instill in shipboard officers in simulator training, just as I did in ships I commanded while on active duty. Always ask yourself, “What will I do if (---) happens?” Something goes wrong when you least expect it to and there is seldom enough time to figure out what to do once it happens if you haven’t thought it through and rehearsed it in your mind before hand. We can all benefit from that lesson, especially on the highways where inexperienced drivers who seldom give much thought to what can go wrong and how they would deal with it cause most of the serious accidents. But the lesson has broader applications as well. We can certainly hope for the best but whenever substantial risk and uncertainty is involved and the stakes are high, we should plan for the worst. That’s why we buy insurance and develop alternative plans for worst-case scenarios. I sincerely hope that President Obama and his new administration are doing that because the risks posed by international terrorism and our collapsing economy are indeed serious. In the military, contingency planning addressing worst-case scenarios and using probability and statistics to assess risk are a way of life. But I am not at all sanguine that this is the case throughout the rest of government. Our security is seriously at risk because of international terrorism and the existence of dedicated radical Islamic groups who despise America and all that we stand for. That probably won’t change much as a result of any new efforts by the Obama administration to reach out to them. Combating it successfully requires that we think outside the box of conventional warfare or law enforcement. Bringing terrorists to justice is not the answer. Preventing them from killing Americans is. How will we do that? Mr. Obama said in his inaugural address that choosing between our principles and our safety is a false choice. But what exactly does that mean? It certainly was a choice we had to make in the past when American lives were at stake, such as when President Truman made the decision to vaporize two Japanese cities and their civilian inhabitants to shorten the war and save American lives. What will we do when we are faced with other ethical dilemmas in the future? Will we accept the loss of American lives to preserve a principle? If so, how many American lives constitute an acceptable price? Will it still be a “false choice” if things actually came down to that? Will we just wait until it happens to make a decision? Regarding the economic crisis, Mr. Obama wisely acknowledges the difficulties and warns of painful times ahead. The expectation, though, is that the government will somehow make things right. Thus far, this has involved massive cash bailouts that haven’t seemed to work and the plan seems to call for more of the same. What if they don’t work, either? What then? The current recession is being compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s. But things are much different today. Expectations were not so high back then. Most of us were poor in the 1930s but nobody expected a bailout. Today, we have a bailout mentality. People are demanding that the government fix things and if government fails in its attempt to do so, things could get ugly. So the government will most likely (1) continue to print money to throw at the problem compounding the debt that future generations will bear and (2) create public works jobs. But government-created public works jobs did not pull us out of the decade-long Great Depression. In fact, it took a world war and an immense defense build-up. What will it take this time and is there a plan for it? Or will we just hope for the best? CRO copyright 2008 J.F. Kelly, Jr. J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California.

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