IT IS ONE of the most well-known scenes in cinematic history. Don Vito Corleone, head of the most powerful of New York’s organized-crime families, walks alone across the street from his office to buy some oranges from the fruit stand. He mumbles pleasantly to the Chinese owner, then turns his attention to the task at hand. However, his peaceful idyll is shattered by the sounds of running feet and multiple gunshots—and he is left bleeding to death in the street, as his son Fredo cradles his body.
By a miracle, he is not dead, only gravely wounded. His two other sons, Santino (Sonny) and Michael, as well as his consigliere, Tom Hagen, an adopted son himself, gather in an atmosphere of shock and panic to try to decide what to do next—and how to respond to the attempted assassination of the don by Virgil “the Turk” Sollozzo. This, of course, is the hinge of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, one of the greatest movies ever produced by American cinema. However, given the present changes in the world’s power structure, the movie also becomes a startlingly useful metaphor for the strategic problems of our times.
The aging Vito Corleone, emblematic of cold-war American power, is struck down suddenly and violently by forces he did not expect and does not understand, much as America was on September 11. Even more intriguingly, each of his three “heirs” embraces a very different vision of how the family should move forward following this wrenching moment. Tom Hagen, Sonny and Michael approximate the three American foreign-policy schools of thought—liberal institutionalism, neoconservatism and realism—vying for control in today’s disarranged world order.
Read here how following Michael Corleone's example can lead America back to world prominence (if not dominance).