The Year of Starting Over

Chinese New Year was early on the Western calendar that year but the real holiday happened in North Korea. State television interrupted the normal schedule for a speech by an Army colonel named Yee hardly known outside the barren state.

Colonel Yee announced that Great Leader Kim had passed peacefully in his sleep and none of his family members were ready to step into such huge shoes. Yee said he was asked by his colleagues to take up the chair of a new State Administrative Council, whose members included a Navy captain, colonels from the Army and Air Force as well as the senior administrators of the nation’s largest food and clothing collectives. The council would manage the brave Korean people through this difficult transition.

Yee finished his speech by stating that the Council’s first decision had been to withdraw troops and materiel from positions bordering “our family to the south.”

Confused American intelligence analysts had already seen this via satellite coverage, quickly notifying their bosses who had, in turn, interrupted the President and Secretaries of State and Defense from their dinners.

Colonel Yee ended by stating simply that the Council had also determined that nuclear enrichment was no longer a required element of the brave Korean peoples’ development. Accordingly he hoped that “our family members to the south” and their friends would see fit to resume shipments of desperately needed food and material aid.

World reaction was swift: astonishment. Had their been a coup? Yee was, after all, barely a part of the senior military cadre who commanded the Army regiment assigned to protect the North korean capitol. Conservative pundits were skeptical and urged the President to use American forces to roll north while the DMZ was still open. Liberals were just as vociferous in demands that aid be sent on the next available plane.

Before either side could get enough support to do anything, Colonel Yee and several other members of the State Administrative Council appeared again on television. This time the broadcast originated from Pyongyang and sitting with them were the South Korean President and his top cabinet members.

Colonel Yee spoke first.

“The time for the division in our family is over; as was said, a nation divided against itself cannot stand and so tonight we have agreed to end this separation. Together we will forge a bright future that our sons and daughters will build, one that will bring joy, health and prosperity along the entire length of our peninsula.”

Then South Korean president spoke, detailing their plans. He asked the people of the world to see their newly forged nation as an inspiration.

The world’s people did, for the most part. Stock and bond markets raced to new highs with aid loaded onto ships and planes less than 24 hours later.

Eventually details leaked out–as they will even from a place that had been for so many years shielded by secrecy–and we learned that Kim, his adult family members, the senior leadership of North Korea’s military and the top scientists and managers of their nuclear program had all died between noon and 3:00 the day of Yee’s first speech.

Yee was, in fact, the most senior North Korean inside their borders to survive.

Chinese New Year had indeed come early.

In mid-February the world was still sorting out what this new Korea meant when the next bombshell exploded. The CEOs and presidents of the ten largest banks in America, Britain and Japan, as well as the top executives of the largest hedge funds and private equity companies were all poisoned on George Washington’s birthday.

Different poisons were delivered via different channels but with total, fatal accuracy.

Capital markets and pundits were not joyful that day or the following weeks. Almost the entire gain recorded since the ‘good’ news from Asia evaporated by Friday and the remainder soon after.

“We heard a message and our organization is going back to basics, back to what we did that fueled economic growth for the US and for the world,” said Georgina Simand, the new CEO of Citibank, on Bloomberg TV the morning after her appointment. “No more financial engineering or creating Towers of Babel out of mounds of imaginary debt.”

March was the month the ayatollahs and hard liners in Iran, including most of the Republican Guard, died. In the riots that followed so many bodies were destroyed that cause of death died with them. Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States erupted too, none of the ruling families surviving the month. Oil markets temporarily crashed over fears of lost production but the rioters were smarter than that and did little damage to wells, pipelines or ports.

So ended financial support for Islamic terror groups; a few fought on while as supplies and money lasted but most channeled ambitions into political parties. As the Muslim Brotherhood had done some time before in Egypt, Hezbollah became the majority party in Syria while a reformed Taliban were once again atop Afghanistan. Palestinians merged the West Bank territory under their control into Jordan and the Gaza Strip with Egypt; Lebanon was a strange case still being figured out.

The summer months were quieter; a chance to catch one’s breath and find a new equilibrium. In Asia and South America rebels and governments found new ground to talk; Africa didn’t go easily but did find some calm. Tweeters and standup comics got their sarcasm back and @cuteemergency was trending again by making people smile with silly photos of kittens and puppies.

On September 11 the presidents of Russia, America, Korea and China made a joint offer to India and Pakistan to mediate a lasting peace. “Whether the respective national governments accept our offer of mediation or not,” said President Nezhanov of Russia, “multi-national teams are coming in one week to take control of both nuclear arsenals, which will be immediately dismantled.”

The four partners announced their own arsenals would be massively reduced in the same time frame. Behind closed doors, Israel was given a similar requirement for their atomic weaponry. Reluctantly their government agreed.

Thanksgiving in America was celebrated like no other. So much had changed for so many. The same question was asked around many tables that afternoon: who’s next?

An answer came from a surprising if not totally unexpected source.

An earthquake measuring 9.1 on the Richter scale ripped the earth at 2:00 am Eastern Standard Time on December 1st. Centered under the ocean south of Asia, it unleashing a horrendously devastating tsunami. Sea levels had been rising a few inches a year for the past decade but the tsunami unleashed a tidal wave that blasted through the low lying islands and coastal zones of South Asia.

Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Guam, Micronesia, Sri Lanka, the eastern coast of India, southern China, Taiwan and many smaller island countries were simply decimated. More huge quakes followed around the Rim of Fire as Japan, the American and Mexican west coasts, Argentina, the whole of Central America were inundated.

Death tolls throughout the affected zones were uncountable and continued long after waters calmed, from disease, starvation and pure misery. Banditry was rampant as governments struggled to restore basic services to the legions of homeless.

The world sank into a funk. People couldn’t believe that a year which had brought so much change for the better and generated real hope for the future could end in utter darkness and horrific loss.

Emotional whiplash, some geek tweeted, and in true Internet Age style the phrase went viral.

On January 2nd of the next year a tech billionaire tweeted a photo of himself with four other mega-wealthy retirees and their families standing in front of a row of 747 cargo haulers, with supplies being loaded on board. The only text was three hash tags:

#startingover #morecoming #wecandoittogether

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