#10Weeks Chapter 10:



Terrorism is only a tool

With the “War on Terror” we declared war on a TACTIC. We declared war on a METHOD. We may as well have declared a War to Eliminate Ambushes or a War to Eliminate Sniper Fire. I was one of those earliest Warriors on Terror, and I’m equally guilty of having missed the bigger picture during the passionate early years following 9/11. Terrorism can be used byand is used byaggrieved individuals of every nation, faith, and color. We should update the world’s understanding about terrorism: it is far, far more effective and economical to “fight” violent extremism by preventing it.

In this small world, we must realize that our neighbor’s troubles are also our own.
Oscar Arias Sanchez

The primary focus of this book is on reducing conflict and, by extension, terrorism. Terrorism is less an inevitable horror, and more a useful method for effecting some desired change in others. I mentioned earlier that the use of terrorism is an admission of weakness. Because terrorists lack more legitimate means of influence, they settle for violent spectacle. Each of us, by virtue of our birth into the human race, is eminently qualified to understand much about this destructive and despicable behavior. Its origins are firmly rooted in human nature.

I’ve spent years engaged in counterterrorism. In various roles I’ve been tasked with “becoming” our adversary for the purpose of envisioning and advising an effective defense. I’ve studied terrorists with the purpose of understanding them—as a sympathetic insider. Terrorists share one thing in common with every other human being on earth: human nature.

Humans seek a secure, satisfying condition. It’s unnatural, exhausting, and miserable to devote your life to unconscionable violence…unless some other unacceptable imbalance in your life compels it. This refers back to underlying grievances.

We’ll always have some need of combat power, as some adversaries will always threaten violence. But some defensive energy is aimed in the wrong direction. If we can affect the sources of terrorism in proactive ways, we can reduce our dependence (and our expenditures, each of which represents a small victory for the terrorist) on endlessly improved defenses and rising costs for force-based supremacy. We can avoid playing into the hands of enemies like the late Osama bin Laden, who boasted that one of his tactics was to count on the cost of wars to bankrupt the United States.

On the subject of bin Laden, there is no more recognized authority than Peter Bergen, CNN’s National Security Analyst. Author of The Osama bin Laden I Know (Free Press, 2006) and his latest, The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda (Free Press, 2011), Peter is one of the few Western journalists in the world to have interviewed the founder of al Qaeda face-to-face. He provides insights unavailable to purely theoretical analysts of the ugly real world of this group and its former leader. In Holy War, Inc. (Touchstone, 2001) he addressed the issue of actual terrorist motivations:

“Why is bin Laden doing what he is doing? To attempt an answer, we have to refrain from caricature and instead attend to bin Laden’s own statements about why he is at war with the United States….

“Of all the tens of thousands of words that bin Laden has uttered on the public record there are some significant omissions: he does not rail against the pernicious effects of Hollywood movies, or against Madonna’s midriff, or against the pornography protected by the U.S. Constitution….

“Bin Laden is at war with the United States, but his is a political war, justified by his own understanding of Islam, and directed at the symbols and institutions of American power….

“In addition, treating ‘Islam’ as a monolith defies common sense. There are as many Islams as there are Christianities.”

I say Amen to that final observation, especially. My own pastor in a Presbyterian church once told me that not only were other religions—Hinduism; Islam—“cults” and therefore bound for the fiery pit, but that other so-called Christian traditions—Baptist; Methodist—are as well. And not only those, but other Presbyterian branches were similarly wrong-headed and deserved any ultimate punishment as may befall them.

Whether its intent is to restructure a government, repel a foreign force, or acquire some other accommodation, the raw material of terrorism (terror) is merely a method of persuasion; a voice. Some people choose actual words as their voice. Some choose the expression of political power. Some, called terrorists, seek to change an unacceptable situation by force. Behind this choice, in every, single case, is some perceived grievance.

Sometimes the solution to a grievance is within easy reach.  It only requires awareness of the problem; in my hometown, if I see that ten dollars I’ll never miss can relieve the hunger of a family for a day, my options are reduced by compassion—to one.

Recognizing that grievances can sometimes be relieved by simple awareness of the lives of our neighbors brings a responsibility. If we can easily solve stubborn pain points, we should. How many thousands of little needs could be satisfied by redirecting the development costs of one missile system? How many generations of new missile systems, on the other hand, might we need to buy because we disregard little needs?

If we do try, how far might the ripples extend from our best attempts to satisfy little needs? How many others might be inspired to take little steps based on this example? Either choice can lead to self-fulfilling prophecy. Either choice can initiate a cycle of behavior. Isn’t it time we chose little needs first, before new long-range missiles? Time we chose new cycles of help and trust over the cycles of hate and suspicion?

If we address the elephant in the room called “grievance” and discover the keys to reducing misunderstanding and miscommunication; if we reduce the retaliation that springs from a poorly handled today; if we rewrite our future by learning from our past, then how many of our own loved ones might be invisibly spared from that threat in years to come?


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 7: Self-interest (Simple needs)



Simple Needs

Why did you do the first thing you did this morning? My guess is that was driven by a physical urging to head for a certain room of the house. But why did you do the second thing you did? Was it starting the coffee, or the heater, or the television? This was driven by self-interest. Those are obvious examples, but think through to some action less obvious; how about the first thing someone else “made” you do? Did you go to school, work or chores? That would have been based on self-interest, too. You may have wanted to avoid a scolding, or losing a paycheck. Every conscious choice is based on some personally “preferred” outcome, even when we can’t immediately recognize it as preferable. 

Each of us has an opportunity to play a far more apparent role than at first glance,
and to do so individually as well as collectively,
and not to leave such matters to others or to chance alone.
Jonas Salk

                       KILL Powerful Peace @04

Sure, we worked hard, but relaxing later with hummus, Arabic tunes and our own, private hookah bar was ample reward. (Not all examples of self-interest look so much like the shameless self-indulgence pictured here.)

Leafing through an issue of The Counter Terrorist magazine (Security Solutions International, May 2010), I read an excellent piece entitled “Agent of Influence in Undercover Operations.” Bill Majcher wrote that during his decades undercover in law enforcement, gaining the confidence of some of the most unsavory characters on the planet, he always reached his target through that simplest of influence tools: self-interest.

Bam. If you replace Majcher’s agenda of “exploiting human greed for apprehension purposes” with one of “exploring common ground for peacemaking purposes,” you’ll find the overlaid approach to be nearly identical. I’ve spoken with Bill and CT Mag’s Editor Chris Graham about these commonalities.

Understanding motivators is a powerful, universal principle of influence. The Undercover Operations article insists that individuals—all individuals—base all their decisions on self-interest.

Perhaps your mind is blurting out, “Say it isn’t so! What about Mother Teresa?” Well, what about her? I say Mother Teresa was in fact motivated by the deepest of self-interest…as was Adolf Hitler.

Granted, their interests diverged radically. (That’s an understatement.) She was unable to sit by while millions suffered and died. He, on the other hand, was unable to tolerate the peaceful existence of millions. Beneath it all, we find the same driving force: what mattered (self-interest) to these larger than life figures ended up being where they chose to invest their energy. It’s the same for each of us.

The thug who robs a couple on the street is no more selfish than the frightened husband who steps between the thief and his wife. One is selfish enough to steal property at the material and emotional expense of his victims. The other is selfish enough to deny his own well-being in order to protect his lady. He prefers to risk death rather than see her harmed.

In this sense, self-interest is neither good nor bad—do we judge the need to eat as “good” or “bad?”—it simply is what it is. This basic human motivator is a powerful aid in guiding human behavior.

During my recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve witnessed countless examples of self-interest driving otherwise unnatural behaviors. As mentioned previously, some of the roadside bombs that kill and cripple American soldiers are placed by husbands and fathers at the end of their rope. They need money. There is no alternative financial source for basic survival.

Let me repeat that for dramatic effect: there is no alternative financial source for basic survival.

Many of these men do not desire to harm our fighters. Each is simply forced to choose between his son and mine. The answer is clear; the choice is obvious. In the United States and other stable nations, a desperate father can turn to assistance through unemployment insurance, welfare payments, or homeless shelters. For thousands of desperate fathers in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, again—there is no alternative financial source for basic survival.

Try to comprehend what you would be willing to do to ensure your family’s very survival. Now consider what opportunities this gives those of us who have resources. It takes very little to help people who have nothing. If that help deters IEDs or hatreds that blossom into terrorism, isn’t it a pretty good investment?

Consider an example from Michael Yon, former Special Forces soldier, combat journalist, and author of Moment of Truth in Iraq (Richard Vigilante Books, 2008):

“When the compromises negotiated by Petraeus expired, many of the ex-professors and administrators at Mosul University lost their jobs permanently. The retired and disenfranchised military—who had helped keep the growing insurgency at bay—were now told they wouldn’t be part of the new Iraq, in direct contradiction to promises made by commanders on the ground. The most able and dangerous men in the country learned they could not trust American military commanders. Trust, the first and most important hill on the moral high ground, and we had abandoned it. Unable to support their families, cut off from their own country’s future, furious at the new regime that had made them pariahs, these men were an insurgency waiting to happen. They did not wait for long.” [Italics mine]

If we just think ahead a little, such mind-bogglingly negative consequences can be avoided. Anyone reading this should be able to put himself into the shoes of one of the men Michael describes, and easily imagine how he would be impacted by the same circumstances.

Also from Moment of Truth in Iraq: “General Petraeus has pointed out for a long time that there is no purely military solution to the fighting in Iraq.” Sounds a bit like Defense Secretary Gates’ aforementioned, “We cannot kill or capture our way to victory,” right? It’s no coincidence that they both sound like the assertion in Powerful Peace that we have to balance hard and soft powers to have any worthwhile effect.

Now I’m going to jump the tracks just a little to wrap up with another important passage from Michael’s book. Later on in Powerful Peace you’ll read a chapter entitled, “It’s the children, stupid.” Here’s a taste of the same compassion to be found in Moment of Truth in Iraq:

“American soldiers can’t take it when they see a kid get burned. If they are in the neighborhood on a mission and they see a burned kid, they will cancel the mission to get the kid to an American aid station, which, technically, they shouldn’t be doing. But a lot of tough soldiers get weak knee’d when they see a kid in trouble. They’ll shoot insurgents all day and all night and can’t get enough of it, but when they see a kid hurt, they’ll stop and drive off with the kid. Thousands upon thousands of these obviously spontaneous actions had a profound effect on how the Iraqis see us. They knew we did a lot of stupid and overbearing things, even brutal and criminal things at times. But they also could not deny that, on the whole, our people had a heart for them, or at least for their kids. And who couldn’t like Iraqi kids? Practically everywhere the kids loved to see the soldiers, and the soldiers loved to see the kids.”

You may think this is simplistic. It is. To ensure our own best interests, global engagement must include such thinking alongside arms and sanctions. If we absolutely must hate and kill each other over stupid disagreements, let’s at least make sure it’s based on “reasonable” and time-tested animosities…like politics and religion. Let’s do our best to make sure a father is never again killed for being unable to feed his children.


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 6: Alternatives (I won’t make my wife a prostitute)



I won’t make my wife a prostitute

What will any man do when faced with a range of unacceptable choices? He’ll select the least lousy option and proceed accordingly. It may be that violent crime is the only game in town. But what if more appealing alternatives could be provided, at little expense to the providers? The reach and reward of generous thinking holds great promise. Like all ASP solutions, this is a Return on Investment that pays the investor in improved personal security. We need to invest in solutions. 

This whole thing sucks, you know?
I mean, it all coulda been avoided so incredibly easy….
To shame a man like that, and back him into a corner;
seems to me that something is out of whack, not someone.
“Jim Palumbo”

The title for this chapter was born during a conversation at the American embassy outpost in Basra, Iraq. It was quoted by an Iraqi friend, the senior cultural advisor to our diplomats there. He was passing me a comment from another friend out in town, a Baswari (Basra resident) who was not—not yet—fighting on the side of the insurgency: “I won’t make my wife a prostitute.”

This Baswari was one of thousands of unemployed Iraqi men, living in pathetic conditions with unemployment several times greater than the U.S. experienced at the height of its recent recession. He needed work, because his family needed food. He told my friend the options were simple: 1) acquire gainful employment; 2) put his wife to work as a hooker; 3) emplace an improvised explosive device (IED, or “roadside bomb”) to earn the freelance insurgent “supporter” rate of $150—and thus feed his family for a month.

On point 1, with nearly 30% unemployment (70% in some areas, and 80% for women), he had no opportunities. On point 2, he had taken a stand. Door number 3 remained the only avenue. If our soldier is killed by the IED he emplaces, what will our response be? Appropriately, we will capture or kill this now-valid enemy “target,” this pitiful actor at the end of his rope, this family’s only possible breadwinner…greatly worsening the situation of a woman and children already in desperate need. Via video feeds, I’ve watched live as men were disintegrated by our costly missiles—adding another expense to this spiraling drama—and wondered at their stories. How many would have fit into this scenario of desperate choices? Final tally in such a tragically unnecessary scenario: one dead American, one dead Iraqi, and two families in two hemispheres torn apart.

The slain bomber’s neighbors will long remember the circumstances in the neighborhood, the fate of this man, and the consequent suffering of his family. The cycle will continue.

For years I’ve written and spoken about the urgent need for individuals and populations with dominant power to look through the eyes of other individuals and populations. More deliberate, more pervasive engagement is a systematic way of reducing conflict on all sides. If this is the era of the “social network,” we should probably put away old patterns of isolation and fear; so many opportunities exist to learn about the Other. Again in the words of Stephen R. Covey (Principle-Centered Leadership, Fireside, 1992):

“If you want to overcome the pull of the past—those powerful restraining forces of habit, custom, and culture—to bring about desired change, count the costs and rally the necessary resources. In the space program, we see that tremendous thrust is needed to clear the powerful pull of the earth’s gravity. So it is with breaking old habits.”

The struggles we prevent can range from passive-aggressive hassles in the workplace, to taking an unwelcome knife in the ribs, to wars between states based on trembling platforms of misinformation, ignorance, paranoia and reaction.

Let me offer just one highly preferable alternative to killing a man who puts out an IED to kill an American to earn $150 to give his daughter some food: if he contracts to not take hostile action against our forces, let’s give him $300 to subsist for one month. That’s right; let’s double his income, giving him a one-time, good-deal payout of $300 to care for his family as he chooses. There’s only one condition; that he not participate in attacks against our forces or his own struggling government. He’ll be made to understand this with crystal clarity: any violation of the agreement will yield radically amplified legal, and perhaps lethal, consequences. With such an agreement, and for the potential gain to all parties, I’d write this check from my own family’s accounts!

In the next month, let’s offer him the same $300—only this time, we’ll attach a string: he has to sit through vocational rehabilitation classes to learn a trade like electrical work. Heaven knows, shattered nations are in desperate need of qualified electricians to begin patching together a safe and reliable infrastructure. The hazards of electrocution, and the certainty of regular electrical failures, are common risks in Iraq.

The third month, let’s attach another string to receive $300: he’ll accompany a master electrician as an apprentice in town, reinforcing the lessons he learned in his classes. His compensation now includes not only double pay for greatly reduced risk, but also the experience for a new career, the self-esteem of providing for his family, the peace of mind of household economic security and the stabilization of his local neighborhood.

(It’s not hard to imagine the shame and anger of men who cannot satisfy their families’ needs. For a vivid illustration of the extremes to which a man may be driven, watch Denzel Washington in John Q (New Line Cinema, 2002). John Q’s friend, Jim, spoke the great line I used as the intro to this chapter. “This whole thing sucks, you know? I mean, it all coulda been avoided so incredibly easy.” Do we really want to be looking back over the next, bloody, intercultural conflict and find ourselves saying the same thing after lives and limbs have been lost?)

The fourth month, and every month afterward, our participant will be required to earn his $300 by working as an instructor-electrician and escorting new apprentices coming up through the same program.

The fifth month, we can begin to split the salary cost, with the host government’s paying half and preparing to assume what is ultimately a domestic responsibility.

Within half a year, starting in month six, the local national government should bear the entire, minimal, cost of these salaries in exchange for improved public power distribution and a reduction in injuries/mishaps caused by faulty wiring. No coalition soldier is killed by the men in this program, because they receive twice the income for a safe and rewarding occupation. Equally important to their families and neighbors, they rediscover self-respect. No wife is pimped, no child is hungry, and the rebuilding of a society is in full swing. We hold the leverage and authority of the original work contract, and his understanding of doubled or tripled punishment for violating it.

The scheme describes an electrician as its subject, but struggling countries have equally urgent needs for masons, plumbers, builders, and more. Reconstructing the infrastructure becomes a growth industry itself, building up a growing network of local economies, made up of service and goods providers, manufacturers, and clients.

How could these costs work out, you ask? Well, according to conservative estimates at the time the subtitle-quote was spoken, the U.S. government alone paid more than ten billion dollars a month to run the war in Iraq. Two years later, the cost in Afghanistan was about the same. If we round that total down for argument’s sake to nine billion, the proposed $300 monthly wage rate could extend to thirty million work-study program participants.

Of course, each country only has about thirty million citizens altogether….

Obviously, we’re not going to stop paying for bombs, bullets and butter. So let’s divert just one thousandth of those nine billion dollars, and begin rebuilding the nation with 30,000 men. Or take just one ten-thousandth (0.01%, or $900,000) and start with “only” 3,000. That’s 3,000 families stabilized, 3,000 potential bombers prevented, and 3,000 fewer chances for our soldier to be torn apart. He will be more likely to return safely to his own beloved family. Imagine where this could take us.

But where would we find less than one million dollars to spare? Well, you could start by cutting out the gourmet ice cream cart at my dining facility (DFAC). My comrades and I will find some way to bravely carry on without creamy delights smothered in luscious toppings. It is a war, after all. And that’s a small personal price to pay to reduce the number of desperate men and buried bombs.

Real, unlimited solutions in the unlimited world of conflict are within reach, if we are willing to use imagination, daring, and the vast reservoir of experience held by security professionals and policy makers who refuse to get back into the box.


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!

Unique opportunity in January: One-day DC workshop on building your own Red Team!

Always wanted to know more about Red Teams, but were afraid to ask? How about spending a full day learning how to build your own from the ground up, from one of the most experienced Red Team leaders around?


This is a quick-turn public service announcement to get the word out on a never-before-seen opportunity. My friend Jeffrey Carr, founder of the Suits and Spooks nationwide security conference series, has asked me to run a full-day seminar for security officers, company leaders and other interested individuals on the nuts and bolts of building a Red Team right in the heart of your organization.

I can promise you a unique and experience. This will be a fast-mover—one month from today in Washington, DC, I’m going to present a distillation of my years conducting and leading Red Team operations worldwide…in one 9-hour session. You and/or your security representative will be taught from the ground up on everything RT: practical applications and the high value your own Red Team can bring; essential and optional components of an RT; RT staffing and optimizing; major fails of misunderstanding an RT’s purpose, and more.

Following instruction, participants will be assigned to competing Red Team mission cells and apply their newfound skills to attack a real-world hard target…and in this game, not everyone gets a trophy! When they eventually return to your organization, they will be fully equipped and motivated to raise your team’s security posture to all-new levels.

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