Opinion Editorial February, 2023: Ignoring Red Flags
opinion editorial
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

Stock licensing available.

In S22E6 of the TV series South Park a police detective states: "...outside of school is the one place kids are supposed to be safe." The line is too ironic to be comedic, and was likely intended as sociopolitical commentary on school shootings in the United States.

Last month, when the mayor of Newport News, Virginia, called the shooting of his teacher by a six-year-old boy a "red flag," his statement was tautological. It has since emerged that the school had allegedly ignored three similar red flags earlier on the very day it happened. A week ago the teacher's attorney announced that the victim would sue the school district. While this case could set legal precedents in the US, it is unlikely to set any precedents about heeding such red flags.

If we had invented news stories last month to demonstrate that we don't take red flags seriously, we would have invented ones similar to this and the other news stories referenced in this op-ed. Sadly, none of them is invented.

In Haiti, society finally collapsed and descended into anarchy. Yet the red flags had been flying for a long time. There was even an appeal late last year for foreign intervention to prevent precisely this collapse. Only now are we talking about taking concrete action. It will take longer and cost much more to restore society there than if we had heeded those red flags.

In Brazil, over a dozen indigenous Yanomami were airlifted for emergency medical treatment as President Lula accused his predecessor of genocide. While such an accusation should never be made or taken lightly, it is likely that Bolsonaro's policies at least contributed to the situation. Yet, only two weeks earlier Bolsonaro's supporters had attempted a US-style insurrection to restore him to power. Once again, the red flags had been visible for some time. The crisis in the Yanomami reservation was already well documented; many of Bolsonaro's supporters were saying even before the Brazilian election that they would not accept defeat.

The Doomsday Clock has been tick-tocking red flags for almost eighty years. Last month it moved closer to midnight (the end of humanity) than ever before. This was mostly due to Vladimir Putin's main hobby — red flags about which have been around for years. Strangely, the announcement cited "Russia's thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons..." I know of no such threats; the only threats I've seen are not veiled at all. While the Kremlin called the announcement "alarming," it also, predictably, blamed NATO for the situation. It can be even more dangerous to misinterpret red flags than to be blind to them.

This month's photo shows a young girl in northern Laos who was not ignoring a red flag. She lives in a community where few red flags exist. Like most indigenous communities around the world, hers is tiny and isolated — almost self-sufficient. Perhaps a return to such communities as the societal norm is now the only way to deal with the red flags that we all face.

NASA and DARPA announced last month that they would demonstrate, in the next few years, a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion space rocket. That would be a major enabler of a realistic, future human colony on Mars. Taken together with SpaceX's progress toward that same goal last month, the timeframe for establishing the next tiny, isolated, almost self-sufficient human communities may be only decades away. When we first went to the moon we took a flag and planted it there. As we now look to colonize such places, we need to understand the danger of taking our red flags with us.

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