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.
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 Afghanistan” with 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.
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