ACT 4. Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Macbeth opens with a clap of thunder

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mewed

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mewed

underscoring the lightning in a stormy sky as three witches huddle about their cauldron keeping the pressure up and manipulating the players. The three witches prophesied that Macbeth could be king right at the beginning of the play. Macbeth read all subsequent actions by all other players as fulfillment of that prophesy. Macbeth’s crazy, ambitious wife maintained the noise level so he didn’t ever quite connect the dots. Macbeth lost sight of the fact that he, and only he, controls his destiny. He made his choices; he exercised his free will, to murder Duncan then Banquo and, finally, McDuff’s family. In the play, the witches foresaw and, perhaps planned, Macbeth’s tragedy but he did it all to himself. The “double, double toil and trouble” was Macbeth’s choice.

Shakespeare is among my favorite storytellers and so appropriate for today. Macbeth used suggestions from others to justify his own decisions.  Would he have still done those things if he hadn’t met the witches? Many of us, me included, listen too intently to the hags who scream at us from television sets and across the Internet. I work a regular trap line of news sources, think tanks, and analysts. We endow today’s witches with intelligence not always in evidence; with knowledge not always there. If we make our decisions and decisions for others based on what our harpies cry, then we need a ‘Dutch uncle’ talk to the person in the mirror. The other extreme are those folks who read nothing and listen to no one as they trudge through an unexamined life. They need to find the person in the mirror.

North-Korea-TwitterOn April 14, 2013, the news was filled with the North Korea and U.S. game of brinksmanship. Like Wizard Chess, pawns were moved into position in Russia, China, and the Pacific Rim. Sabers were rattling like angry Diamondback rattlesnakes and missiles delivery systems and smart ships moved to their squares on the board. On April 15, 2013, three pressure cooker bombs exploded in Boston and poof, North Korea was all better or, at least, invisible. Meanwhile a little noted story on the docking station reflects a sad and truly scary situation.

The lead is AP Exclusive: Air Force sidelines 17 nuclear missile officers; commander cites ‘rot’ in system[1].  Basically, the story is that seventeen Air Force launch officers responsible for the Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles were non-performing. According to the article, “… an internal email written by Lt. Col. Jay Folds, deputy commander of the 91st Operations Group, which is responsible for all Minuteman 3 missile launch crews at Minot. He lamented the remarkably poor reviews they received in a March inspection. Their missile launch skills were rated “marginal,” which the Air Force told the AP was the equivalent of a “D’’ grade.” The U.S. is losing its ability to defend itself. “Underlying the Minot situation is a sense among some that the Air Force’s nuclear mission is a dying field, as the government considers further reducing the size of the U.S. arsenal.”

Nuclear_weapon_size_chartNo one likes nuclear weapons but as long as there are enemies who have them, we certainly should know how to deal with the weapons. The number of people with the knowledge and experience to address a nuclear weapon in the field is decreasing at an alarming rate in theMacbeth_illustration11_mid U.S. and increasing at an alarming rate elsewhere in the world. President Obama has a stated goal of zero nuclear weapons through negotiations. I hope he achieves his goal. In the meantime, the loss of capability to understand, work with, and manage nuclear technology is a dangerous trend.

Individual U.S. citizens are generally well accepted in the international arena but the U.S. government is neither loved nor respected. As individuals, we would do well by studying the lessons of Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Macbeth. We can exercise our free will and make our choices wisely at the voting booth. We can hold our leaders accountable and responsible. The tale in Minot, North Dakota is a real story and may portend real tragedy sometime in the future. “Harpier cries ‘Tis time, ’tis time.”