Dear Tesla List:
Ed Yourdon, one of the most brilliant computer minds in our Nation has "hung
it up" and dropped out of the Year 2000 warning business. He was recognized
as a true expert on computer hardware and software issues 2 years ago until
he started telling the TRUTH to everyone about what might happen in the Year
2000. You can read his "Sayonara" letter at www.yourdon.com . Ed wrote the
book, "Time Bomb 2000" and I recommend it to all of you. I have followed
his writings for over 20 years and I do respect the man. He is NOT a
"nutcase" or "doomsdayer"...but just a concerned citizen trying to help
everyone "prepare" for the Year 2000. He wrote the letter below on April
17, 1999 and I am posting it here for you all to read. Everyone should make
some preparations for the Year 2000. Even if it is just a "bump in the
road", you will be ready for any other natural or man-made disaster that
could happen where you live. Since I care about all of you, (yes, you too
Wallace and Fred McG... GRIN ), I hope that the article below will "alert"
some of you into making some preparations for the Year 2000. To not do
so... would (IMHO) be a mistake.
Y2K And Kosovo
Relax: this is not going to be a political rant about the Serbs or the
Kosovars. I'm not the guy who started the rumor that the Kosovo bombing was
a devious plot to use up all of the non-Y2K-compliant Cruise missiles. I'm
not one of those who believes that the war is a fabricated "Wag the Dog"
scenario to distract everyone's attention from scandals and crises looming
at home. Having disavowed these conspiracy-theory connections, it's
perfectly reasonable to ask: what is the connection between Y2K and Kosovo?
It was my wife who made the connection, during a dinner-time conversation
about the awful television images we had watched earlier in the day, with
thousands of desperate, homeless peasants streaming across the border,
carrying nothing but the clothes on their backs. My wife, who knows that I
tend to see almost everything through Y2K-colored glasses these days, said
to me, "If the best strategic planners of the United States and 18 other
NATO countries were unable to predict what would happen when they started
bombing, why on earth would you believe they'll be able to predict the
consequences of Y2K?" Why indeed? It was an excellent question, and I've
been mulling it over ever since.
If you've been watching the press conferences, interviews, and
"talking-head" television shows, you must know that virtually all of the
senior U.S. government spokespeople strongly deny my wife's assertion: they
argue that they did know in advance what would result from the initiation of
their bombing campaign. Every time my wife hears a poker-faced government
official earnestly proclaim that they fully expected to have 700,000
refugees crammed into box-cars and buses and herded across the border to sit
for days in wet, freezing fields of mud, she shakes her head in disgust.
"If that's really true," she says, "they should be ashamed of themselves."
But of course, neither she nor I -- nor, it seems, most of the members of
the media -- really believe that it's true. The unavoidable impression from
watching the television images is that the speed and ferocity of the Serbian
response took the politicians and the military by surprise. The sheer
volume of the refugee exodus appears to have taken everyone by surprise.
The fact that virtually none of the Kosovar refugees have any interest in
being temporarily relocated to a military base in Guantanamo, Cuba
apparently took our government planners by surprise -- though it's possible
that the Guantanamo option itself was only created as a hasty reaction to
the equally unexpected requirement that we would have to participate, along
with the European countries, in any refugee relocation at all. Who in his
right mind would expect 20,000 refugees to volunteer to be herded onto
airplanes to fly halfway around the world in order to spend months, or
possibly even years, squatting in a military compound surrounded by a
I promised that this would not be a political rant, and I'm really not
trying to second-guess what the politicians and military planners should
have done; nor do I intend to criticize the massive efforts now being
carried out by dedicated relief workers from around the world. I mention
all of these unpleasant details of the past few weeks only to illustrate the
metaphor that my wife proposed: what if Y2K turns out to be as bad, as
serious, and as unexpected as the events of Kosovo?
If indeed it does turn out to be as bad -- e.g., if 700,000 citizens of a
major American or European city are completely disrupted by infrastructure
failures, and have to walk out of their city with nothing but the clothes on
their back -- are we going to find ourselves listening to government
spokespeople earnestly telling us, "Yes, we knew this would happen"?
Ironically, one could argue that the government (ours, and 18 others) should
have known what would happen in the former Yugoslav republic, since the
bitter ethnic rivalries have been going on for hundreds of years. But Y2K,
as we all know, is an unknown event; while we may all have a range of
personal predictions and expectations, we can't point to similarly intense
examples of computer problems, as the Serbs and Albanians can point to
examples from their own history.
And if there is a serious Y2K problem, can we expect the "military" response
to be muddied and muted by political wrangling? As many commentators have
observed, if NATO was really "serious" about the military campaign, it would
have unleashed a massive bombing attack on the first day of the war, in much
the same way that the U.S.-led coalition unleashed its campaign against
Baghdad at the beginning of the Gulf War. Maybe it was a good thing that
the foreign ministers of 19 countries decided not to let the military bomb
the Serbian TV broadcasting center or the government headquarters in
Belgrade; but I suspect that the military planners are complaining privately
that their chances of success are being seriously undermined by the
political second-guessing. Again, this is not intended as a political rant;
I respect the feelings of any Serbian readers of this column who might argue
passionately that no bombing of any kind should have taken place. It's the
metaphor that I'm trying to focus on: if indeed Y2K leads to a humanitarian
crisis as serious as what we've watched during the past few weeks, can we
expect a crisp, military response from FEMA or the National Guard -- or will
the relief efforts be thrown into disarray by the politicians? Before you
answer that question, remember that Y2K is a global phenomenon: if a Y2K bug
leads to a toxic chemical explosion in country X, the consequences may cross
national borders into countries Y and Z. If a nuclear power plant runs
amok in Eastern Europe on Jan 1, 2000 because of a Y2K problem, can we
expect the 19 NATO countries to respond more effectively than they seem to
have done with the Kosovo crisis?
I'm not suggesting for a moment that I could have made better decisions
about Kosovo if I were in President Clinton's shoes. I'm sympathetic to the
statements that there were no obvious alternatives, and that the NATO
strategy was the best of a series of bad options. But I can't help looking
at the events of the past few weeks and asking the same metaphorical
question that my wife asked: If the best strategic planners of the United
States and 18 other NATO countries were unable to predict what would happen
when they started bombing, why on earth should we believe they'll be able to
predict the consequences of Y2K? Given all that we know about the Balkans,
and given all the historical precedents of ethnic conflict in the area, one
might have thought the government planners would have done better. And
given all that we don't know about Y2K, and given that it's a global
phenomenon rather than a regional phenomenon, one might well wonder whether
the governments of the world have any idea at all what will happen.
One area that particularly concerns me is Y2K contingency planning. It's
common to hear government officials -- particularly at the local and state
level -- confidently proclaim that they already have well-established plans
and procedures for riots, floods, and various forms of natural disasters.
Y2K, they explain to their constituents in town meetings, is just another
form of disaster; consequently, they're already prepared for it. Well, yes,
to a certain degree -- if Y2K takes the form of a "traditional" emergency.
But most emergencies are short-term and localized; Y2K may not be. With
most emergencies, assistance is available from other parts of the country
that have not been affected; that may not be the case with Y2K. And with
most "normal" emergencies, the emergency "systems " (911 emergency
communications, fire trucks, police cars, etc.) are functioning throughout
the crsis; but with Y2K, the emergency systems themselves may be part of the
problem, rather than part of the solution.
Can I prove that any of these worst-case Y2K scenarios will happen? No, of
course not. But it seems to me that a certain amount of caution and
humility would be appropriate when dealing with a complex phenomenon like
Y2K; and that's not what I hear from our government leaders. Don't worry,
they tell us in a condescending manner, we've got it all figured out. We're
in control. We know what to expect. We know what to do.
Yeah. Just like Kosovo.
Ed's books Cool books Cutter IT Journal
Copyright 1999 by Edward Yourdon . Updated April 17, 1999. Comments to Ed