#10Weeks Chapter 5: Restraint (Cause a Pause)



Cause a Pause

The cycle of harm and loss is nearly unbreakable without deliberate effort. Needless to say, this high-minded ideal can be challenging to practice when bullets, fists or words are still flying. 

I tried to talk with them, but they couldn’t hear me over their RPGs.
Eric Hatter

@03 CH05 BLACKOUT VERSION Charlie 2001 BandW

Our platoon, shortly before 9/11/01. Despite a wide range of interests and capabilities, there was an unbreakable unity of purpose. (Author to right, sans trademark beard.)

I want to share a favorite The Naked Gun (Paramount Pictures, 1988) movie exchange in which the late, great Leslie Nielsen, as Police Lt. Frank Drebin, encounters a thug sent to kill him. The assailant yells, “I have a message for ya from Vincent Ludwig!” and begins firing at Drebin. He continues, “Take that, you lousy cop!”

Frank yells back, “I’m sorry! I can’t hear ya! Don’t fire the gun while you’re talking!”

(By the way, I strongly recommend you rent or buy Naked Gun for an hour and a half of delightful peacemaking…it’s very hard to hate while you’re laughing.)

The opening quote for this chapter is from a comment posted at our blog, PowerfulPeace.Wordpress.com. Eric “Madd” Hatter, a longtime friend and fellow retired SEAL, made the point that some of the concepts in Powerful Peace can seem a little unrealistic. The RPG’s he mentions are the “rocket-propelled grenades” that were fired at him in Iraq. His comment is a facetious reference to my apparent desire to hold hands with terrorists/insurgents and sing Kumbaya.

While on the surface he appears to oppose my position outright, I couldn’t be more pleased to have this counterpoint expressed so succinctly. It’s exactly why frank dialogue is important. “We” (Rob and Eric, or The West and The East, or any other We and They) can begin to understand what we don’t understand about the other by just saying what we think is going on. That opens the exchange of information, which begins to clear up dangerous misunderstandings.

Yes, sometimes you gotta shoot a guy.

The message of Powerful Peace is not to attempt reasoning with an insurgent who is aiming an RPG at me. In that moment, there is only one option if I hope to see kith and kin again. By now you can imagine what it is.

Powerful Peace isn’t “either-or.” Either-or is the enemy of Powerful Peace, because it says such things as, “either you claim my religion—or I can kill you;” “either you’re in my political party—or I can’t respect you.”

“Either you’re with us…or you’re against us.”

In contrast, responsible living is more appropriately an “all,” as in accepting “all options” available for a particular situation. Builders are masters at selecting the right tool for each job. A hammer will drive home a screw, but poorly. And I could probably, eventually, drive in a nail with a screwdriver—but I’d need some aspirin afterward!

I’ll use the dialogue tool to engage the community that breeds the guy that wants to kill me with an RPG. Ultimately, the idea is to engage with communities that don’t yet even have guys that want to kill me with an RPG. For example, I would love to reach a potential “guy with the RPG” while he’s a child, years before his radicalization, and help his family help him become an engineer, a physician, or a musician instead of an insurgent. If changing the entire world is a bridge too far, we can at least nibble around the edges of bitter conflict; one person, family or neighborhood at a time.

As I wrote in an essay entitled “Becoming Your Enemy” in 2005, “The next evolution of terrorist threat mitigation is elimination, before the hateful cause exists, by working with the source.” We have to learn to operate in the “space” referred to by Viktor Frankl and championed by Stephen R. Covey: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lie our growth and our freedom.” (7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Free Press, 1990.) In other words, I can react to others according to old habits and assumptions…or I can try to understand what’s going on, and respond in a manner much more likely to move me toward my true goals.

In military planning we often refer to enemy and friendly groups as Red forces and Blue forces, respectively. Appropriately, a third color is sometimes used to describe those locals resident in a conflict area who are not willingly allied with either faction. This great majority of those among whom an insurgency or war swirls, these moms and dads, kids and grandpas, is called “Green” forces. (Note: sometimes “local nationals”—i.e., Afghans in Afghanistan—are subdivided into White, for neutral civilians, and Green, for official local military or government personnel. Philosophies differ; I prefer to simplify this for ease of reading.)

Green is an interesting selection, considering how other bloody games (viz. rugby) are also fought on a green expanse.

For too long, we have given only passing notice to the human beings suffering amid hostilities. Seeing little more than a burden of humanitarian needs, we have frequently failed to recognize this living backdrop as a key component of our operational success or failure.

Nowadays, however, insightful commanders are changing the paradigm. Major General Mike Flynn, former Deputy Chief of Staff (Intelligence) for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, published a paper entitled “Fixing Intel; A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistanwith the Center for a New American Security (CNAS, 2010).

In this clarion call he declares that we have relied on kinetic (offensive) operations too heavily, neglecting to study and understand the host population. This does not mean we should abandon kinetic capacity. As you’re reading throughout Powerful Peace, you’ll also find in Fixing Intel that the ability to fight and to kill is essential. Yet you will also read about a “…tendency to overemphasize detailed information about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it….”

In other words, the lives and needs and interests of people among whom we are fighting have not been factored in adequately to even support our own best interests.

From that same document, we read the quoted guidance of General Stanley McChrystal, then-commander of ISAF: “The conflict will be won by persuading the population, not by destroying the enemy.” In my advisory capacity I often point to the fact that Red actors are simply former Green citizens who have crossed into our enemy’s camp. (In some cases, an individual is literally Green by day and Red by night.) And again, this crossing over is always caused by some perceived need or grievance, whether due to economic constraints or a desire for revenge. If we are able to effectively address these, therefore, we stand to gain. Every increase to the ranks of Green forces reduces the Red by one.

Consider the practical effects of this large group on both friendly and enemy efforts: the human aspect of life, or HAL, is a powerful motivator. In difficult situations it can override cultural biases and swing a local population toward either side. On a sports field, the turf stays quietly in place. It stays level. Not so with dynamic, feeling, human terrain.

The “Green forces” human terrain rises up to shelter our enemy when he is the lesser of evils, and it channels us in the right direction when he is not. Our footing is closely connected to and dependent upon its inclination.

The vast, green field is as real, and as necessary, as any other planning factor for our eventual victory in armed conflict…the fact that we just might help save some kids in the process is of course a pretty tasty gravy.

Powerful Peace is apolitical. We can learn to grow beyond blind adherence to ideology. No single party holds a monopoly on making a safer world for all our families. Once a person understands our mutual responsibility to one another and the goodwill it can engender, she can begin to exercise the CAP, that cause-a-pause option, for the greater good of our species and herself. Remember: we don’t have to “like” each other in order to “accept” one another. Every human is a stakeholder, and every one of us is a potential agent of peace.


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own hard copy, or load up on a gift bundle? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 4: Smart power (Smarter, not harder)


Smart power

Smarter, not harder

Hate leads to harm leads to loss leads to hate leads to harm leads to loss leads to hate…. This cycle is vicious and persistent. So persistent, in fact, that there can be no “spontaneous solution”no softening of heartswhile shots are still being traded. Reconciliation is hard. Breaking the cycle requires insight and courage and humility; the same rational, compassionate and moral human guidance you will see again and again. We’ll talk much more about “Mind” in the next section, but here’s a primer on “smart power.” 

Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man
as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.
Mohandas Gandhi

On the wall of our traditional Japanese martial art (jujutsu) hall (dojo) hangs a sign:

Avoid rather than check

Check rather than hurt

Hurt rather than maim

And maim rather than kill

For all life is precious and no one has the authority to take it away

As a member of the aforementioned dojo, a retired SEAL, and an advisor to the Department of Defense, I have to speak out for improvements to our “whole of government” campaign for national security and international engagement. We begin by acknowledging that the two are inextricably connected. Counterterrorism itself is all too often relegated to the military and other coercive organizations because the problem is popularly seen as being one of violence. It is not…not entirely. The State Department’s role in countering terrorism should be recognized to be as important as, or more than, military power. Unfortunately, the reality is that we don’t have an optimal balance among American national assets.

The terrorist actor uses violence as a voice and as a means of influence. He manipulates the environment to manipulate minds. The real battlefield is not a horrifying five-second explosive attack, a dramatic five-minute gunfight, or an agonizing five-hour recovery of human remains. The war of terror is for the mind, and this “Long War” is truly a long one…of five years, five decades, or five generations. More importantly, resorting to terrorist behavior is an admission of weakness, because the user does not perceive that he holds any legitimate method of influence.

Most importantly, the extended nature of this long war is a blessing in disguise. Since most humans possess the capacity to learn and to grow, it is possible to convey to even the bitterest rivals that force-on-force problem solving is a self-defeating exercise.

The ultimate source of a threat is not the motivated attacker facing us, but more accurately his distorted thinking—he has come to see our entire family, culture or religion as his enemy. To accomplish real progress with a long view takes courage. Choosing not to fight, wherever and whenever alternatives exist, is courageous; actively reserving our capacity for violence is courageous.  Far from being a display of weakness, this choice is a bold statement of the United States’ and its allies’ deep commitment to full-spectrum global security.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates famously insisted, “We cannot kill or capture our way to victory.”

Reserving the capacity for force, however, does not mean we abandon, reduce or degrade it. On the contrary, the better we refine our ability to destroy, the more evident our full range of options will be on the world stage. The more apparent our capacity to cause harm, combined with our clearly seen determination to avoid its use, the more credible will be our commitment to preventing violent conflict.

Focused violence is essential to specific situations. The most obvious example is the threat posed by a suicide bomber (PBIED, or personnel-borne IED). Quick, violent action by those threatened means the difference between their life and death and a life-or-death moment for any innocent men, women or children in the vicinity. My friend Sean Mickle remembers perching on a rooftop in Iraq and watching in slow motion as his individual bullets impacted the chest of a VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) driver. This rolling car bomb was hurtling toward the compound housing Sean and his unit of U.S. Marine Corps “Recon” commandos. His wounding the driver resulted in a premature detonation, which may have been caused by a “dead man” switch, triggering the device when the driver’s hand pulled away from the console or steering wheel. This premature detonation probably prevented a small-scale version of the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 220 of their fellow Marines. Sean’s story provides an excellent illustration of necessary violence.

Copious use of this “hard” option may seem efficient and productive. Factoring in the human cost, however, the tool can become inhumane, irresponsible and frustratingly counter-productive. Hard power casually applied can continue to harden all actors until conflict appears irreconcilable. Such a lose-lose proposition is in no one’s best interests.

Conversely, “Soft” power—the term coined by Harvard’s Joseph Nye in 1990—captures the dynamic of leveraging international influence by means of attraction and persuasion through appealing aspects of national culture, values and institutions. “It is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” (Soft Power; The Means to Success in World Politics, PublicAffairs, 2004) Consider as just one example Japan, which in past decades embraced select portions of U.S. culture (baseball, poodle skirts, Elvis) and, correspondingly, maintained open channels through which political, military, economic and other sharing flowed for mutual benefit.

Soft power’s conceptual offspring, “smart” power, is the tailored blending of soft (persuasive) and hard (coercive) powers for every specific situation. According to Professor Nye, “Smart power is the combination of the hard power of coercion and payment with the soft power of persuasion and attraction.” (The Future of Power, PublicAffairs, 2011). Nye and co-chair Richard Armitage further explain in the CSIS Commission on Smart Power; A smarter, more secure America (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007):

“Smart power means developing an integrated strategy, resource base, and tool kit to achieve American objectives, drawing on both hard and soft power. It is an approach that underscores the necessity of a strong military, but also invests heavily in alliances, partnerships, and institutions at all levels to expand American influence and establish the legitimacy of American action. Providing for the global good is central to this effort because it helps America reconcile its overwhelming power with the rest of the world’s interests and values.”

Extending Professor Nye’s international relations theory of smart power to the interpersonal level, I point to the application of smart power as a grassroots approach for local as well as global peacemaking. Simply being more mindful of unintended consequences, and exercising our ability to speak out and act, gives individuals real power to make a difference. Think of this as applied smart power, or ASP, well within the reach of every concerned citizen. And without balancing closer relationships, what hope is there for improved global engagement? Like parents who overcome differences to raise a healthy family, macro-level, external conflict reduction rests on the building blocks of effective internal relationships. Ultimately, as the old hymn goes, “Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me.”

I promised to make this a primer, and not an encyclopedic analysis of smart power. Let me keep that promise. Academic discussion never stimulates like real-world examples of a topic anyway, so let’s move on to some stories of friends and foes and failures and successes in applying smart power for balanced peacemaking.


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own hard copy, or load up on a gift bundle? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 3: Loss (Everybody loses)



Everybody loses

The cycle of harm, by its very intention, results in loss for one or more parties. During one assignment with the U.S. Special Forces in Iraq, I attended the funeral of a brother soldier killed in the line of duty. This loss was a somber occasion that inspired me to recall and blend stories of loss from all perspectives. The experience painted a systemic image of the interdependent, connective tissue of self-perpetuating violence which sometimes feels so natural as to seem inescapable. Courageous men and women have to reject the lethal spiral. Courageous men and women are the last hope when fires of hatred threaten to consume us all. 

Two aged men, that had been foes for life,
Met by a grave, and wept – and in those tears
They washed away the memory of their strife;
Then wept again the loss of all those years.
Jean Paul

 @03 CH03 Chaplain at Fallen Soldier's Cross

Our chaplain prays over the dogtags of the man in this story


We honor a fallen comrade. Hundreds of strangers converge from all corners of our little camp in Iraq. America the Beautiful plays quietly, reverently, as members from all services, agencies, and companies walk up, one by one, filing into clean ranks.

Our chaplain takes the podium, in his uniform and matching camouflage-patterned military stole, bringing our attention to God’s sovereignty over this solemn event. He speaks of a family’s loss and a hero’s honor.


In the adjacent Iraqi town outside the base, a mother and father clutch at each other and weep desperately. They cannot know yet whether their four-year-old daughter will survive the shrapnel wounds torn deep into her abdomen, thigh, and scalp. They know they are fortunate just to have a doctor’s attention; that he lacks anesthesia is a cost of being born here.


Our commander steps to the microphone. He praises the selflessness of this man who had gone forward time and again into harm’s way. The commander has lost many brothers, in many battles. He bears the pain with practiced stoicism. He praises the courage of a good man whose child will never again fall asleep under Daddy’s comforting smile; whose wife will never again melt into those strong arms.

The man’s wife and child have been notified of their devastating loss. An irreplaceable piece of their own souls died on the side of the road, with their man, on that day.


The mother and father now sit numb. Their hearts died the instant the doctor failed to save their little girl. They stare vacantly through red and swollen eyes as his staff cares for the small, torn daughters of other families.


Six thousand miles away in the United States, a nation snarls and chews at itself. Citizens complain that elections are only a choice for the lesser of evils. National unity fades to a distant memory, mere flickers of the brotherhood that shone after those horrific terrorist attacks during one breakfast in the new millennium.

The media stoke the flames of dissatisfaction, telling pieces of truth to uphold the assumptions of their owners. Ratings rise. Competing outlets create divergent realities. “News” programs become thinly-veiled political support machines. Sales of advertised products soar as each camp more zealously devours its own “news.” The very real enemies of freedom and democracy around the world cackle with glee at a spectacle of national disharmony driven by selfish, divisive gain.


The dead girl’s fourteen-year-old brother had been a gentle boy, destined for musical greatness that might have lifted the hearts of millions. Now, his own heart destroyed by hate, he vows to join the resistance against the insurgency and kill as many as possible. Within the month, he will destroy three other families’ sons…before being shot to death.

Elsewhere in town, an armed group converges on a lightly-occupied mosque during prayers and takes seven worshipers away. These men are the wrong “type” of Muslim, and the subsequent brutality of their deaths will horrify and pacify the neighbors of seven abruptly fatherless families. It is possible to be tortured to death.

Seven more mothers and wives are utterly shattered. Each will suffer terribly at the loss of her husband; learning that he himself suffered terribly in a slow death will be far worse. Worst of all will be the desperate years of begging or whoring to feed hungry children.


My thoughts return to our ceremony beneath a blazing sun. The heat is oppressive. There is so much loss.

I ache, deeply, for my own. Before he was killed, this was my brother in this world. It is my loss that this good man is dead.

I have lost this little girl, my precious sister in this world.

I have lost the rational, respectful discourse with my countrymen that determines who will lead one great and undivided nation.

I have lost the kind and gentle boy who would heal souls with his music.

I have lost the seven husbands and fathers and sons.

We have lost when reconciliation is less important than revenge.

We have lost when hate-filled parties thirst for the blood of the Other.

We will lose, again and again, each time we choose not to confront this tortuous cycle—the cycle which itself is the ultimate enemy.

We have known loss, today.


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own hard copy, or load up on a gift bundle? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks Chapter 2: Harm (Blowing up Baby)



Blowing up baby

The cycle of hate naturally results in a desire to harm. Sometimes children and other vulnerable members of a population are deliberately targeted. More often, they are harmed (emotionally and physically) because they were in the wrong place at the right time during an attack against some “legitimate” target, ranging from an estranged spouse to an enemy soldier. There have been casualties of war for as long as there have been warsbut once we acknowledge that some fights are not worth fighting, we find ourselves accountable to prevent as many as possible. 

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

These beautiful children were severely injured by an al Qaeda car bombing near their school. Their friends died.

I happened upon a photo of two little girls who had been blown up by al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) at their school in Kirkuk on April 2, 2007. It’s my favorite picture; I keep it as a screen saver to remind me of who I serve and to put my own troubles in context.

I work for them and others like them. They don’t pay me for my work, but those who do pay me understand that, ultimately, I work for those little girls.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The pain, terror and anguish of the precious children in this silent image speak deafeningly.

These small girls, probably about four and eight years of age, sit on a hospital table with their faces twisted in pain. Both are having a very bad hair day—exploding cars will do that to a person. The younger has thick, curly locks and, except for being covered in her own blood, could be a little Arab Shirley Temple.

Although most of the blood soaking her white T-shirt and pants is probably from a minor but fast-flowing scalp wound, you can just make out that her delicate right hand is damaged, too. She’s favoring it to keep it from touching anything. She needs desperately to be held, and seems to be reaching for someone off camera…with little gold bracelets dripping blood, she’s feeling a million miles away from the security, love and peace she so deserves. It is a peace she will never again fully know.

“Hard power” (the capacity to use violence or some other coercive force) will always be a necessary element in the real world. You’ll read more about it in chapter 4. There will always be people who will not pause long enough to be reached by any other means. For them, we bring the force fulcrum all the way to the harshest end of the scale. This was the self-selected fate of Osama bin Laden. And though you will read much more in Powerful Peace about additional alternatives, sometimes violence is the only appropriate course of action. My uniformed brothers continue that mission, even as I press on with my new calling in front of a keyboard.

God, how I long to suit up and rejoin the mission! I want to pay back, to the monsters that did this, everything they deserve—with interest. If you came to this table for a Kumbaya solution, you’ll be disappointed. I don’t denounce violence; I embrace it. I keep violence as close as my hands and my heart. Because I do, I am more often spared from having to use it. My heart doesn’t ache for these children. It explodes. Forcing out burning tears, my heart explodes like the car bomb that tore them and their playmates apart.

Yet despite a boiling rage, I remind myself—we must not abandon balance. We have to respond, not react. In the next chapter, we’ll look more at the Why Not of lashing out, but for now let me say, to be more effective we have to learn to engage among and across relationships, households, and societies—most especially into concentrations where the hatred is most firmly rooted. Destroying alone leads to more destroying. This is the terrible paradox. It’s almost impossible to imagine breaking the cycle of harm when you feel so hurt and hateful, but there is no other hope for these girls and millions like them.

If we don’t reduce harm on the wider scale through improved interpersonal and international relations, this will happen again, and again, and again…and again.


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own hard copy, or load up on a gift bundle? Click here for hard copies!

#10Weeks to Powerful Peace is back!

Welcome to the inaugural post of this year’s #10Weeks to Powerful Peace campaign! Near the end of 2013, we started hanging chapters of the book here at the blog, one chapter each weekday, and people said I was dumb for making it available–nobody would buy the book, if they could read the whole thing online!

But that’s not what happened. In fact, more people began buying Powerful Peace than ever, because they were able to fall in love with the stories and the concepts and they discovered that they wanted to share it all with many others.

Take that, greedy naysayers. ;)

More important to me, putting it out here as an update through the holidays makes this work available to many more who may not otherwise be able to read it, think about it, and share it!

And that’s why I wrote it.

So please pop back in every weekday evening between now and Christmas and (hopefully) you will enjoy this walk through one SEAL’s lifetime at war and the vital lessons on dignity and respect and practical peacemaking it has taught.


#10Weeks Day One:
Chapter One:



September 11, 2001

The history of violent conflict traces back in many oral traditions to the very first humans. This opening chapter offers a first-hand account of one of the most hate-based and hate-producing events of modern history. Close the book for a moment, and take a second look at the cover. The number in the bottom-right corner of my photo is the original date stamp of that shot, taken while training Arab SEALs at their base in the Middle East. It was exactly seven days before September 11, 2001. And it was exactly seven days after my wife and children flew out of Boston on a flight number that two weeks later would be incinerated and immortalized in fire and blood. Yes, friends…I am familiar with hate. 

In hatred as in love, we grow like the thing we brood upon.
What we loathe, we graft into our very soul.
Mary Renault             

  @01 CH01 SEALs - Rob and Shaun shooting        Teammate Shaun Marriott and I perfect the art of force application. (Note brass shell ejecting above scope.)

My American SEAL platoon and our Arab SEAL hosts watched in living color on satellite television as the second plane dissolved into the second of the Twin Towers. It was approaching evening where we were, several months into a deployment to the Persian Gulf. We sat frozen, burning in silent rage, staring as nearly twenty deluded murderers exploited the most advanced technology to carry out the most primitive evil. Having slashed women to death with razor knives, these “men” committed suicide, proving they were brave enough and strong enough to kill thousands of innocents—among them unsuspecting office workers, little old ladies, and infants.

These murderers called themselves “warriors.”

We were all naval commandos in that room, some American, others the “local nationals” we had been sent to train. Ironically painful and poignant, we had been teaching our hosts skills that would make them better at killing terrorists. Yet not one of us could lift a finger to prevent what was happening in the United States.

As we sat together in that remote Middle Eastern barracks, each was very much alone with his thoughts. The Americans thought of loved ones and Teammates a world away. My Arab friends thought of…well, I hope to one day share another cup of tea and ask them. (As you may imagine, things got a little busy during the days that followed. Within weeks, I would be conducting reconnaissance for the invasion of Afghanistan.)

There we all were. Nearly twenty Arabs and Americans, living together in those barracks; nearly twenty Arabs, dying together in dispersed teams of terrorist hijackers. Had those cowardly bastards chosen to face our little international group, man to man, 9/11 would have turned out differently. They wouldn’t have had to work so hard to make their way to hell, for one thing. At our hands, hell would have come up roaring to greet them.

And three thousand gentle, innocent souls would still be alive with their families.

Not one word was spoken for hours during the spectacle. If one of the local SEALs had laughed or expressed any satisfaction in what we were witnessing, I believe I would have killed him on the spot. This is not a boast. It’s a confession, a shameful admission. I’m very ashamed it’s true. These were my friends, but we were so choked with hurt; we were so thirsty for revenge.

Here was a bitterly painful sense of helplessness, for some of the most dangerous men on earth. We were supposed to be the protectors of our countrymen. Each December Seventh at the SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Team in Hawaii, in fact, we swam the five miles around Pearl Harbor’s Ford Island. Commemorating the original Day of Infamy in 1941, this ceremony sent the message that hostile actors were welcome to attack again if they wished…we would be ready this time.

Instead, in September sixty years later, we were on the wrong side of the planet.

We were supposed to be the ones who would sacrifice all so fellow citizens could sleep safe in their beds at night. Yet we would sleep through that night with troubled dreams, safe in our own beds, while thousands of innocents under our protection suffered and died in a crushing, inescapable nightmare.

In addition, within our platoon I had the unique awareness that only two Tuesdays earlier, my wife and children had flown from Boston to California, just as a plane I had watched disintegrate had been scheduled to do. Later, my wife would tell me a strange detail. During the early part of their flight on August 28th, a man of apparent Middle Eastern descent had been roaming the cabin and studying the passenger seating, crew stations, wings and more. He had been carrying an Arabic language newspaper. She wrote it off as unreasonable suspicion on her part, but remained troubled by his intense focus on surveying the airplane…especially the wings. Of course, this may have all been coincidence.

It is no coincidence, however, that I have a personal understanding of hatred. That’s the first thing I want you to understand.

Unlike my loved ones sobbing through a tortured morning rush hour in the United States, I sat among Arab friends and allies in the Middle East and watched 9/11 unfold. Some in my mixed group of highly trained commandos may have empathized with the grievances of the al Qaeda (AQ) terrorists piloting those improvised cruise missiles.

If that last statement strains your comfort level, I’m satisfied. Peacemaking is not the fluffy stuff of rainbows and unicorns. It is not exclusive to well-intentioned activists shouting “Ban War!” Peacemaking is the right—and the burden—of all of us, and it sometimes includes the use of force. Without just war, Hitler’s quest would have destroyed millions more. Genuine conflict reduction requires the capacity and willingness to strike, combined with a determined restraint and the guts to stare straight into the face of hate…and then choose a reasoned response.

Yes, some of my friends did (and do) empathize with the grievances AQ uses to justify hijacking airplanes. Note the careful use of this phrase “empathize with the grievances.” I know none of our Arab partners in that host platoon were radicalized terrorists. If one had been, he would have exploited our trust and killed us while we slept. The symbolic value of slaughtering a few American SEALs would have been irresistible. As demonstrated by the 9/11 hijackers, even sacrificing his own life to accomplish this would have been acceptable to an extremist with an opportunity.

This may be difficult to reconcile according to our ordinary sense of reality, but we are in extraordinary times. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary effort. If we have the courage to consider the Other’s reality, empathy with grievances is possible and productive.

Here’s one poorly hidden elephant in the room:  Unresolved grievances and the anxieties they compel keep solutions at arm’s length. In many of the countries I’ve visited around the Middle East, the horror of Palestinian children killed in Israeli attacks is advertised widely and discussed passionately. For Israelis, on the other hand, the constant threat of devastating Palestinian rocket and suicide bomber attacks is a deep and chronic pain that can make reasoned negotiation seem unreasonable. Neither side will ever run out of iron-clad reasons to avenge the pain it has suffered; nor will either side ever accept its own marginalization or elimination, so all the struggle and rhetoric in pursuit of dominance for either extreme can only serve to prolong the suffering of innocents within both populations.

Many participants can sense this. Isn’t it time many more admitted it? Isn’t it time both parties, with their thoughts on their children, stared straight into the face of hate and said “Enough?”

As mentioned earlier, actor/director Don Cheadle and humanitarian John Prendergast have done exactly that in another abscess of raging human conflict in another part of the world. You’ll read about their “Enough Project” and book, The Enough Moment, in chapter 25 on Commonality.

Only the absolute cessation of violence allows space to work through underlying issues and pursue stability and reconciliation to benefit both parties. Yet all too often, hatred is so intense that a participant will choose personal suffering over personal peace as the price required to cause his adversary pain.

Until squabbling siblings, barroom brawlers or aggressing armies establish at least a cold truce, until the participants can “cause a pause,” the cycle of retaliatory violence continues to escalate and solutions fly ever further from reality…and more innocents suffer for our folly. At the most basic level there is no such thing as a corporation, an army, a nation, or even the book club where you may be reading this—each of these entities is nothing more than a collection of individual human beings in willing cooperation, backed up in some cases by lists which are also nothing more than shared understandings between individuals.

The human is the lowest common denominator, from the smallest to the greatest social organization we have ever established. This universal individuality, to be revisited later on in the sections on Heart and Soul, is the reason peace cannot spread except by individual choices and actions…like yours. Understanding and peace don’t come about by some mysterious accident while we squabble over crumbs. Boardroom, bedroom and battlefield are universally populated only by individual human beings, and only those who consciously choose and act can improve conditions for all of us.

The solution lies not at but between the extremes. Only here can balance—and peace for those under your care—be found.


Thanks for reading! Remember, #10Weeks is going to post every weekday evening between now and mid-December. The best way to stay up on these chapters is to just click to subscribe at the top of the page!

And one more thing: I have finally begun laying down the tracks for our AUDIOBOOK version of Powerful Peace! My company has an exciting promotion for pre-orders, and you can see that if you click here to pre-order the audiobook.

Want to get your own hard copy, or load up on a gift bundle? Click here for hard copies!

With deep sorrow, saying farewell to the editor of Powerful Peace

Two Robs on a happier day

Two Robs on a happier day

I’ve been distracted recently, and here’s why. I want to introduce you to one of those special people who make the world a better place for all of us. Although Rob G (as compared to the beardless author “Rob D” in this old pic) is no longer with us, his legacy will last a long time.

I wrote a pen and ink notecard to Rob Grogan nearly a decade ago, telling him how nice it was to experience his “Front Porch” magazine and its pleasant stories of real, nice people in a real, nice town. He was apparently surprised to receive a message that didn’t rely on electricity for its delivery, and wrote back. We picked up a conversation that ended with our final chat just over a week ago, when on his enclosed front porch we sipped our favorite espresso drinks from this very same shop in that very same town.

When we first met, Rob asked me to write a piece on some of the good things I told him about having seen in some bad places from my lifetime at war; moms and dads, babies, celebrations, kindness and generosity…you know—life. As I headed off to a year in Iraq I faithfully kept those stories coming for each monthly issue, then continued them with work in Afghanistan and other locales. (To be perfectly honest, I didn’t always make deadline, but I did always make the issue.)

That column ran for more than two years. We called it “For Goodness’ Sake” because it was about exactly that—human goodness. Some of those stories made their way into your copy of Powerful Peace. In fact, you can read some of Rob’s own words in the final paragraphs of Chapter 35, if you have it close at hand.

Rob was writing about having been in Russia, and that’s the same trip from which he and Virginia first brought home their beautiful baby princess, Lexi. Rob always bragged about Lexi’s accomplishments: in gymnastics, in her resourcefulness in starting a little business while just a teenager, and on and on. When now-grown-up Lexi, Rob and I sat down over coffee a couple weeks ago, he excitedly told me, “I’m going to be a grandpa in May!” We really believed he would be there when baby comes. In fact, I’m still sure he will be.

Rob is a man’s man in the way that this old SEAL admires a “real man.” He didn’t have big muscles, or tell everybody what to do—those are things I don’t give a shit about. He just cherished his wife and child, offered kind words in abundance, questioned how and where we could do better for society at large, and made people feel cared about whether he was setting copy or pulling a tap at the local bistro on his weekly service night.

My friend Rob Grogan succumbed to a long-lasting, tortuous cancer a few days ago. I don’t cry very often, but I’m crying today as I try to process this. He was in genuine agony for long stretches of the illness…yet he remained positive and encouraging even when those around him lost courage from time to time. And as I headed back out into that stiff winter wind, and crunched across the snow to my car after our visit, I was happy and buoyed up by a spirit that would not be—could not be—has not been—repressed.

So that’s my story of Rob Grogan, a great man, in a brief essay. But there is one other thing I want to tell you about. Rob’s ordeal was incomprehensibly expensive, especially for a self-employed magazine editor in a small town…whose grandchild is due in just a couple months. They’ve been struggling with so much for so long.

I invite anyone who wants to help Rob’s family, no matter how small the amount: click in to www.SEALofPeace.com and pick “Donate” at the top button bar. We’re having a memorial service on March 16, and every single penny that comes in beforehand will go to helping Virginia and Lexi manage those ordinary financial pains that will inevitably come along with their extraordinary grief.

Finally: if you choose to contribute, please make sure you include your name and phone number with the donation. I want to call every, single donor to thank you personally.

Participate in the full first session of Greatening right here and now!

Our first of four “Greatening” online seminar series sessions was a hit. We had dozens of people committed to digging deeper into their capacity as humans, and peeling off limitations. We still have three weeks to go, and I am very excited about the decision the SEAL of Peace team made to share everything from Week 1!

That’s “everything” as in everything: the full recorded seminar I ran live, the pre-reading materials our participants received beforehand, and even the actual course materials on “Body” that I walked the class through during the event this week. So if you want to print out the documents and spin the tape at home, you can literally do the entire session and see what you missed.

Coolest of all, when this turns you on enough to want to jump in and complete the course with everyone already doing it, you can click over to our seminar site at www.GREATENING.org and still register. It even has a big discount because the first session is past!

Here’s the link to the recording. Drop us an email at INFO@SEALofPeace.com if you want to have the materials sent to you right away.