Who is the most dangerous person in the world?
Tony Sakey posed multiple questions to the 14 people sitting around a table in the Howell Carnegie Library on Wednesday.
What is the most dangerous country in the world right now?
Who is the most dangerous person?
“There is no right or wrong answers folks,” said Sakey. “Right now, at this point in history —who is the most dangerous?”
Most of those around the table, who have been gathering monthly since January to discuss with each other various world topics, wrote their answers fairly quickly on a slip of paper, which they folded and passed around the table back to Sakey.
The group was taking part in a discussion on nuclear security, part of “Great Decisions,” a Foreign Policy Association initiative billed as “America’s largest discussion program on world affairs.”
The discussion, pre-determined by the Foreign Policy Association prior to 2017, is remarkably relevant to present day as President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un lob insults at each other — including “madman” and “dotard” and wage a war of words.
Sakey notes that today there are approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons “laying around,” with the U.S. possessing about 7,000 of those, and Russia claiming slightly more — at about 7,500. North Korea is estimated to have up to 60 nuclear weapons.
Those gathered in the library’s basement weren’t seeking shelter or to solve the world’s problems in a two-hour session, but their aim was to be better informed citizens, to educate themselves and learn from each other, and then make their voices heard to leaders who are grappling with nuclear security as well as other issues.
They discuss some things not commonly found in the comments section of social media posts discussing current issues — including the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — and some things that are, including former President Barack Obama. Sakey tells the group not to feel bad if they don’t know what the nuclear triad is — which is simply the three possible delivery systems for nuclear weapons — land, sea and air — adding that even Trump didn’t know what this was.
Instead, he asks if it bothers them to know there are more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in existence.
“Isn’t that overkill?” asks a woman in the group, to laughs.
When the laughter dies down, Bob Ellis, a 56-year-old Howell City councilman, psychiatrist and retired Air Force colonel said he believes the biggest risk is a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists.
“If al-Qaida gets one, where are we gonna target (a counter-offensive)?” he asked. “It’s not a country setting it off, it’s criminals.”
“Terrorism is a totally different animal and if people are willing to risk utter destruction of everything for religious beliefs, nothing is safe anymore,” said Bruce Omundson, a retired Lansing Community College professor of philosophy, world civics and mythology.
Kathleen Zipper wonders what would happen if Kim Jong Un were to take aim at Seoul, the capital of South Korea, just 35 miles over the North Korean border, a scenario recently pondered in a news article she read.
“That’s scary,” she said. “What can we do?”
Another member of the group said she doesn’t think the answer is to aggravate the situation “like the president is doing with braggadocious words. You don’t inflame crazy people.”
Before watching a video to wrap up their final “Great Decisions” topics for the year — others have included the European Union, Saudi Arabia and the geopolitics of energy — Sakey announces the votes for the questions he posed earlier in the meeting.
Five members of the group think North Korea is the most dangerous country, while the USA received two votes for most dangerous, and Russia and Iran garnered one vote apiece.
A member of the group said she is puzzled by the votes cast for the U.S. Others answer that the U.S. is provoking and alienating other countries.
As for who is the most dangerous person in the world, Sakey counts one vote for Russian President Vladimir Putin, four votes for Kim Jong Un, and seven votes for Donald Trump.
While these issues can and have prompted contentious debate, no one in the group in the Howell Library raised their voices to one another and have been remarkably civil in their discussion.
After the group dispersed, Ellis said the “Great Decisions” discussions were successful because they present information in an interesting way, requiring accountability for reading from participants, and help all to a better understanding of various viewpoints through face-to-face discussion.
“The other thing that is nice about this program is it’s a reputable source and what you are reading (and viewing) is from subject matter experts.”
“I like the fact that you have civil discussion with different points of view that often change or moderate your own,” he said. “It deepens your awareness of issues that are crucial to civilization continuing. It’s also just plain fun to enjoy the camaraderie of other people... Opinions without understanding make you manipulable. People who come here are already committed to listening to each other. We have had serious disagreements, but if you disagree about an issue you understand, you can modify or broaden your perspective and reduce the animosity level.”
As for Sakey, who has taught in adult education for many years, including with GM, Ford, and GE, he said his role as moderator in the program was not to tell participants what to believe, but to encourage “inclusive learning — hearing many opinions and judging value of their own.”
This is the first year the “Great Decisions” program has been offered at the Howell Carnegie Library. The program is offered in communities all over the U.S. and locally is also offered at the Hamburg Library.
For more information, visit www.greatdecisions.org
Contact Susan Bromley at [email protected] or on Twitter at @SusanBromley10.