Many of us have heard the saying “bad things come in threes” or its preferred counterpart about good things. For some reason, we like to think in threes. There are countless three-worded phrases like mind, body and soul and slogans like Snap, Crackle, Pop. Stoplights have three colors-red, yellow and green. The Declaration of Independence declares three inalienable rights-life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The United States government created by the Constitution consists of three branches-executive, legislative and judicial. When you really start paying attention, you find the number three all over the place across pop culture, literature, sports, religion and national security.
As kids, we were first introduced to the power of three in literature. Fairytales use the number three to tell memorable stories such as the Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Later, as young adults, we watched TV shows or movies in which teams of characters existed in threesomes-the Three Musketeers, the Three Stooges or Three’s Company. The number three makes a decent showing in athletics too. In most sports competitions, including the Olympics, there are three places for winners or medals-gold, silver and bronze. The number three plays a role in many important game rules. In baseball, a pitcher needs three strikes to get an out. In basketball, the three-pointer shot offers the largest sum of points in a single basket. In football, an independent field goal earns three points.
Even the realm of national security is susceptible to the power of three. During the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear triad of nuclear weapons launched from bombers, submarines and land-based ballistic missiles deterred the Soviet Union from attacking the United States. The bombers and land-based ballistic missiles were intended to support a first strike attack against the Soviet Union. The nuclear weapons on submarines were held in reserve for retaliation. Strategists argued that this retaliatory capacity would deter the Soviets from attacking in the first place. And in this way, the U.S. nuclear triad guaranteed the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) which prevented nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States for several decades.
There is just something about the number three. It feels right. It feels complete. There is power in the number three-omne trium perfectum.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that authors like to write trilogies. Some of my favorite movies and works of fiction are trilogies-The Lord of the Rings by J.R. Tolkien, the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Matrix and Star Wars. With the most recent episode The Force Awakens, Star Wars may soon become a trilogy of trilogies (original, prequel and sequel).
In the early planning stages for my novel The Nuclear Conspiracy, I decided to write a trilogy for three reasons. As an aspiring author, I’m aware of the slim chance of making any money off of my first book. A trilogy means I will have two more books in the hopper to help market the first. Also, I wanted to have sufficient time to launch my heroine, Morgan Shaw, into an unexpected career and new identity. I’ve always admired characters like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan or Ian Fleming’s James Bond and dreamed about creating a strong female character with equal staying power that will last well into my writing career. Like Ryan and Bond, Morgan is not born into hero status, she will be made. At the beginning of the first book, Morgan starts her new job as a professor at the National Defense University. By the end of the third book in the trilogy, Morgan will be transformed and think differently about herself and where she fits in the world. My trilogy will tell this story and possibly launch a series of future books with Morgan as the protagonist.
As a writer, I mostly hope to entertain my readers with riveting, suspenseful and thoughtful stories. But as I began writing The Nuclear Conspiracy, I realized that I have a great deal to say about the current state of affairs in American politics and want to share some of my deeper thoughts about where we are headed as a country. So, I began organizing the three books in my political thriller trilogy around the three interrelated themes of power, money and religion and started to sketch how my commentary about American politics would be intertwined with the story plot and characters.
Power, money and religion/ideology are essentially mechanisms for control. And each of these is found at the heart of politics, which is ultimately about who gets what, where, when and how. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle observed that humans tend to form social units such as families, tribes, villages and cities that are organized by reason. He noted that humans organize and engage in political activity in order to live a “good life” consisting of security, economic stability and justice. To provide for the good life, some form of authority or government must be established to decides who gets what, where, when and how. Much of human history revolves around people experimenting with different types of governments to achieve certain desirable ends (e.g., monarchic, aristocratic, oligarchic, authoritarian, democratic). Typically, leaders have used power, money and/or religion to rise to positions of authority.
In the design of the U.S. government, our Founding Fathers set out to protect certain inalienable rights including the equality of mankind, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and guard against the dangers of power, money and religion. They embedded the “American Dream” in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Since our country’s founding in 1789, the governing framework established by the Founding Fathers has been severely tested and survived the tests to form a stronger union. For much of the past century, people have flocked to our country to experience the freedoms and independence offered by our great democracy. And for years, immigrants such as my family have risen up from nothing to achieve the American Dream. Today, however, our country has reached an important juncture. The political climate in the U.S. has become vicious and unproductive. For the past decade, Congress has been severely polarized and unable to make important political decisions needed for the continued welfare of our country. Big money appears to have more say in politics than the average Joe, creating a sense of hopelessness for positive change for the smallest voice. Wealth in the U.S. is becoming more and more concentrated among the top 1-5% of Americans. For most people, the American Dream seems to be moving farther and farther beyond reach every year. Growing inequality has fueled resentment against new immigrants and highlighted ethic, social and religious divisions across the nation. And religion is becoming radicalized on many fronts from the jihadists to the far right evangelicals. Meanwhile, science is democratizing at an impressive pace, leading to diffusion of power from governments and offering average citizens new tools for uprising. Will our perfect union survive these difficult tests?
In my trilogy, these conflicts will provide a backdrop for my characters and the plot. Each book will focus on a single macro theme-power, money and religion. The Nuclear Conspiracy will delve into the theme of power. The book takes place in 2020 during an election year and most of the plot unfolds a week before Americans vote for the next President of the United States. The incumbent and first female President faces off against a popular far right Tea Party candidate, an old family friend of Morgan’s family. Which candidate will win the opportunity to shape our country for the next era? Stay tuned…
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.