GWOT Hangover: “I’ll take it from here”

I'll take it from here
Not sure of the origin of this cartoon – but it was everywhere in the military in the weeks following 9/11. Our company armorer had it posted right there at the weapons cage.

We’re in the deluge of 9/11 reflections. Articles, documentaries, ceremonies, and tweet storms. It’s everywhere.

And it should be.

I find myself wanting to do nothing but engross myself in all of them while also avoiding every last one.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about if I have anything useful to add.

I’m not sure that I do.

I’ve written about my experiences in and around 9/11 – a lot. I’m from New York City. My father worked for the FDNY. I joined the Army just before 9/11 and it happened while I was at jump school. My entire military and academic career has been wrapped up in what happened, why, and our response to it.

That’s all personally interesting, but it’s not that different from most folks I serve with. There are variations of intensity and experience, but it’s all very similar.

Instead of thinking about what it all means for me, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what it means for us.

9/11 was a psychological weapon of mass destruction.

It shocked us into action and overreaction. It was a power-punch directly to the forehead. We were shook.

Do you remember this video (2003) of Tom Friedman discussing our reaction to 9/11?

We need to see American boys and girls, going house to house, from Basra and Baghdad, asking ‘what part of this sentence don’t you understand?‘”

Watch the video. It’s angry. It’s absurd. It’s counterproductive. I don’t agree with the argument.

But I also remember this sentiment being the feeling in the air in the days, weeks, and years directly after 9/11. It didn’t matter what was logical. It mattered how we felt. We made decisions and we carried them out.

Then twenty years goes by.

When I think about 9/11 now, I don’t really thinking about 9/11 at all. What I think about is the GWOT effect.

What I think about is the burning desire to help, to marshal that patriotism into action and churn, and churn, and churn. And have it come up empty.

“To be sent overseas to divide by zero.”

I’ve seen men and women of all ranks and in all different jobs throw themselves into the fire only to get burned.

What began as a mission of justice became something much grander.

So here we are.

Twenty years is a long time.

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Watching it happen

I’ve written about this before.

And it’s happening again.

We’re living in a very strange time, where events are beamed to our televisions, computers, and phones as they happen.

Real people are out there – in the arena – doing incredible things and experiencing real trauma.

And we watch – in real time – and critique, scowl, and gossip.

The flash-to-bang is getting shorter and shorter. 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were the opening acts.

January 6th and the fall of Kabul are the most recent manifestations of this phenomena.

Things used to happen and then you’d read about it, dispassionately, in a newspaer the morning after. If you were lucky, there was a picture that accompanied the article.

Today it’s all reaction and little reflection.

Emotion and absence of mind.

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FICINT: Imagining our own destruction

This blog is becoming a shill for great podcasts.

During this episode, Mr. August Cole discusses fictional intelligence (or FICINT) and how it can help leaders understand emerging concepts such as the cognitive warfighting domain. August observes that plausible fictionalized future scenarios which are rooted in academic research communicate to leaders and decision makers better than do white papers and powerpoint slides. He also emphasizes the importance of experimentation and stress testing ideas. One of August’s primary goals with his writing is to use FICINT and narrative to prevent strategic surprise.

The Cognitive Crucible Episode #33 Cole on FICINT and the Cognitive Warfighting Domain

When I read Ghost Fleet, it scared me. Future war is terrifying.

But it also motivated me to work, and to keep working to get ahead of some of the challenges it prophesizes.

Ghost Fleet is a work of “FICINT” or “fictional intelligence,” a play on the other “INTs” of the intelligence community (SIGINT, HUMINT, etc.).

One of the key findings of the 9/11 Commission Report is that we suffered from a failure of imagination. FICINT offers a way to imagine future threats, and then, hopefully, prepare for them.

This was a great episode. Things that stuck out below:

On writing about a “Crimea-like” unconventional warfare campaign waged by the US (Underbelly).

“What rules would US and allied forces break in wartime? When you go back in history, it’s quite clear that norms and rules are broken in every single conflict, like unrestricted submarine warfare in the 20th century – so what’s the equivalent of the 21st century? Is it going to be breaking down all the barriers of data access?”

Returning to the idea of “what rules are we going to break,” Cole empahsises the point that we can use FICINT to start thinking through these problems now.

“The more time we can invest in understanding the ethical, legal, operational, and doctrinal implications now, the better chance we have to make those decisions as carefully as a country like ours needs to during a large scale conflict.”

The podcast wraps up with Cole recommending listeners read Agency by William Gibson. Gibson, for the uninitiated is the author of Neuromancer, which is the inspiration for much of the “cyberpunk” genre of fiction.

I haven’t read either (yet), but Cyberpunk 2077 is up next.

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Today is September 12, 2001

141209_hirsh_hayden_gty.jpg

I recently finished General (Ret) Michael Hayden’s book, Playing to the EdgeHe has also been making the rounds on television as well promoting the book and offering his thoughts on the current presidential campaign, so I’ve gotten a lot of Michael Hayden lately. I’ve come to really appreciate what seems to me a very reasonable approach to security, policy, and politics from him. He comes off as extremely thoughtful and a true critical thinker.

Anyway, the book takes the reader through Hayden’s career, the bulk of it during his time as the director of the NSA and CIA. There was a passage where he describes a sign in one of the headquarters buildings (I don’t remember if it was NSA or CIA) that read, simply:

“Today is September 12, 2001.”

It was simple, but striking. If you were an adult on 9/12/2001, it’s hard to overstate how that felt. The sign is designed to stoke the fire that burned in those days and months directly after the September 11th attacks.

I found myself feeling ambivalent about the sign. On one hand, I can see the utility of stoking that fire, especially long after the event when complacency sets in. On the other, is there not some value in moving away from that fire over time? Is an action we may have taken on 9/12/2001 as appropriate as on 9/12/2016?

It’s just one of those things that gets me thinking.

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Khalid Sheik Mohammad on American Soldiers: They play video games and kill themselves

Soldier playing video games

I’ve been sitting on this for a few weeks now. Khalid Sheik Mohammad, one of the plotters behind the 9/11 attacks wrote a manifesto covering his views on a number of things. Of particular relevance to readers of this blog is this paragraph about American soldiers:

In the same manner, hundreds of American crusader soldier men and women join the U.S. army, wear the latest military gear, eat the best food in Iraq and Afghanistan, and play with their play stations while their enemies, the poor Muslim can’t find their daily bread or jacket to protect themselves from the harsh snowstorms over Afghanistan mountains, but at the end, the American soldiers go back home and commit suicide but the poor man still with his dry bread and black tea lives with his poor wife in their humble muddy house but with happy hearts and souls.

You can read the whole thing here.

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