In the wee hours of the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up and could not get back to sleep. In an attempt to put myself back to sleep, I picked up a book I had been reading, William Strauss and Neil Howe’s The Fourth Turning published in 1997.*
Several years earlier I became intrigued with their vision of how history unfolds in orderly cycles rather than in linear flow described in Generations.** The details of their theory were rather complex and I had not completely mastered nuance or structure.
That morning I got to the chapter entitled “A Fourth Turning Prophecy.” According to their theory, a Fourth Turning was a two decade or so span of time in which some dramatic event would “catalyze a Crisis” that would define that period of time and subsequent history. This turning came on the heels of the previous turning they called an “Unraveling.”
“In retrospect, the spark might seem as ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as trivial as a Tea Party. It could be a rapid succession of small events in which the ominous, the ordinary, and the trivial commingled.” (FT, p. 272)
Based on previous historical trends they had observed, the writers proceeded to spell out several plausible scenarios that may occur “circa-2005.” By now my returning sleep was disturbed by what I was reading:
–a fiscal crisis . . . a state lays claim to its residents federal tax monies . . . tax rebellions spring up in other states. . . treasury bill auctions suspended . . . militia violence . . . . cyberterrorist attacks . . . demands issue for a new Constitutional Convention;
–a global terrorist blows up an aircraft . . . the U. S. launches a preemptive strike . . . Congress declares war . . . authorizes unlimited house-to-house searches . . . opponents say president concocted emergency for political purposes . . . foreign capital flees the U.S.;
–impasse over the federal budget reaches stalemate . . . president and Congress both refuse to back down . . . near-total government shutdown triggered . . . president declares emergency powers . . . Congress rescinds his authority . . . Congress refuses to raise debt ceiling . . . defaults loom . . . Wall Street panics;
–Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce spread of new communicable virus . . . disease reaches dense populated areas, killing some . . . Congress enacts mandatory quarantine . . . president orders National Guard to cordon off unsafe neighborhoods . . . mayors resist . . . urban gangs battle militias . . . calls mount for president to declare martial law;
–Growing anarchy throughout former Soviet republics prompts Russia to conduct training exercises around its borders . . . Lithuania erupts in civil war . . . negotiations break down . . . U.S. diplomats captured . . .President sends troops to rescue them . . . Iran declares alliance with Russia . . . gold and oil prices soar . . . Congress debates restoring the draft. (FT, pp. 272-273)
Even though my emotions were whirring, my eyelids were growing weary by the time I read: “It’s highly unlikely that any one of these scenarios will actually happen.” (FT, p. 273) Comforted somewhat by this thought, I dropped off into fitful sleep around 4:00 a.m. with the hope that surely events of this magnitude were not possible.
It was a false hope, as events soon would prove. I should have read a little longer and paid more attention to the sentence following the one I was reading that night.
“What is likely, however, is that the catalyst will unfold according to a basic Crises dynamic that underlies all of these scenarios: An initial spark will trigger a chain reaction of unyielding responses and further emergencies. The core elements of these scenarios (debt, civic decay, global disorder) will matter more than the details, which the catalyst will juxtapose and connect in some unknowable way. If foreign societies are also entering a Fourth Turning, this could accelerate the chain reaction.” (FT, p. 273)
I did not return to this book for a couple years at which time I wrote in the margin of page 273:
“I was reading this page during the early hours of September 11, 2001. I could not pick it up to re-read it again until 9/21/03. I could not bring myself to look at it. W. G. McAtee”
Here it is again, 9/11!
Seven years since Strauss and Howe’s target date of “cira-2005” now have lapsed. Has the event ending the latest Unraveling happened and the next Crises been ignited? When did it happen? Are we now in the Fourth Turning? What do these strange sounding Strauss/Howe concepts mean?
My thoughts on this occasion drift back to The Fourth Turning for answers.
(to be continued)
* Strauss, William and Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy. New York: Broadway Books, 1997. (FT)
**______, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584-2069. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1991. (G)
9/11/12 © McAtee & weegems, 2012