Tip of the hat to AFCEA for its 2008 Information Sharing Conference. They have provided one of the most remarkable resource pages we’ve seen, with audio as well as slides. Although focused primarily on the technical side of sharing, the event touched on content and culture.
A few of the many presentations that caught our attention:
Every Miltary Person, and Ideally Every Citizen, SHould View,
June 21, 2004
This is the only documentary film to make it on to my list of 470+ non-fiction books relevant to national security & global issues. It is superb, and below I summarize the 11 lessons with the intent of documenting how every military person, and ideally every citizen, should view this film.As the U.S. military goes through the motions of “transformation” while beset by the intense demands of being engaged in a 100-year war on six-fronts around the world, all of them against asymmetric threats that we do not understand and are not trained, equipped, nor organized to deal with, this film is startlingly relevant and cautionary.
LESSON 1: EMPHATHIZE WITH YOUR ENEMY. We must see ourselves as they see us, we must see their circumstances as they see them, before we can be effective.
LESSON 2: RATIONALITY WILL NOT SAVE US. Human fallibility combined with weapons of mass destruction will destroy nations. Castro has 162 nuclear warheads already on the island, and was willing to accept annihilation of Cuba as the cost of upholding his independence and honor.
LESSON 4: MAXIMIZE EFFICIENCY. Although this was McNamara’s hallmark, and the fog of war demands redundancy, he has a point: we are not maximizing how we spend $500B a year toward world peace, and are instead spending it toward the enrichment of select corporations, building things that don’t work in the real world.
LESSON 5: PROPORTIONALITY SHOULD BE A GUIDELINE IN WAR. McNamara is clearly still grieving over the fact that we firebombed 67 Japanese cities before we ever considered using the atomic bomb, destroying 50% to 90% of those cities.
LESSON 6: GET THE DATA. It is truly appalling to realize that the U.S. Government is operating on 2% of the relevant information, in part because it relies heavily on foreign allies for what they want to tell us, in part because the U.S. Government has turned its back on open sources of information. Marc Sageman, in “Understanding Networks of Terror”, knows more about terrorism today than do the CIA or FBI, because he went after the open source data and found the patterns. There is a quote from a Senator in the 1960’s that is also compelling, talking about “an instability of ideas” that are not understood, leading to erroneous decisions in Washington. For want of action, we forsook thought.
LESSON 7: BELIEF & SEEING ARE BOTH OFTEN WRONG. With specific reference to the Gulf of Tonkin, as well as the failure of America to understand that the Vietnamese were fighting for independence from China, not just the French or the corrupt Catholic regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, McNamara blows a big whole in the way the neo-cons “believed” themselves into the Iraq war, and took America’s blood, treasure, and spirit with them.
LESSON 8: BE PREPARED TO RE-EXAMINE YOUR REASONING. McNamara is blunt here: if your allies are not willing to go along with you, consider the possibility that your reasoning is flawed.
LESSON 9: IN ORDER TO DO GOOD, YOU MAY HAVE TO ENGAGE IN EVIL. Having said that, he recommends that we try to maximize ethics and minimize evil. He is specifically concerned with what constitutes a war crime under changing circumstances.
LESSON 10: NEVER SAY NEVER. Reality and the future are not predictable. There are no absolutes. We should spend more time thinking back over what might have been, be more flexible about taking alternative courses of action in the future.
LESSON 11: YOU CAN’T CHANGE HUMAN NATURE. There will always be war, and disaster. We can try to understand it, and deal with it, while seeking to calm our own human nature that wants to strike back in ways that are counter-productive.
For those who dismiss this movie because McNamara does not apologize, I say “pay attention.” The entire movie is an apology, both direct from McNamara, and indirect in the manner that the producer and director have peeled away his outer defenses and shown his remorse at key points in the film. I strongly recommend the book by McNamara and James Blight, “WILSON’s GHOST.” In my humble opinion, in the context of the 470+ non-fiction books I have reviewed here, McNamara and Bill Colby are the two Viet-Nam era officials that have grown the most since leaving office. He has acquired wisdom since leaving defense, and we ignore this wisdom at our peril.
Strategic Context for Understanding 11 Sep Attack on America,
September 15, 2001
Robert S. McNamara
Of all the books I have read or reviewed in the past two years, this is the only one that comes close to addressing the bitter truth about the fundamental disconnect between our perception of ourselves as “the beacon of truth”, and the rest of the world’s perception of us as “interventionist, exploitative, unilateralist, hegemonic, and hypocritical.” Those that would seek to understand just how long our Dark Ages will last would do well to start with this book while also buying a copy of the map of “World Conflict and Human Rights Map 2000” available from the PIOOM Project at Leiden University. Beyond that, selected portions of the Shultz et al book on “Security Studies for the 21st Century”, where detailed comments are made about both knowledge gaps among our policymakers and non-traditional threats, are recommended.
There is no question but that the Attack on America of 11 September 2001 has awakened and even frightened the American public. It has elicited conventional assurances from other nation states. What most Americans do not understand, what this book makes brilliantly clear, is that two thirds of the rest of the world is glad it happened. I quote from page 52: “…at least two-thirds of the world’s people–Chinese, Russians, Indians, Arabs, Muslims, and Africans–see the United States as the single greatest threat to their societies. They do not regard America as a military threat but as a menace to their integrity, autonomy, prosperity and freedom of action.”
Whether one agrees with their depiction of two-thirds or not (or whether they see the Attack as a well-deserved bloody nose or an atrocity beyond the pale), the fact is that the authors paint–together with the PIOOM map–a compelling picture of billions–not millions but billions–of impoverished dispossessed people suffering from failed states, crime, slavery, starvation, water shortages–and an abundance of media as well as propaganda showing the US fat and happy and living the consumer society dream on the backs of these billions.
Of all the policy people I have followed over the years, Robert McNamara and Bill Colby are the two that have in my view matured and broadened the most after leaving the halls of power. The deep insights that I find throughout this book-a partnership expert between McNamara with the global reality and power game insights, James Blight with the scholarly underpinnings-are extraordinarily applicable to the challenges that we face in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 Attack on America. In particular, their dissection of the United Nations-what works and what does not-and their recommendations for future initiatives that are multilateralist and focused on the prevention and amelioration of the root conditions that are spawning our terrorist challenges, are vital reading for policymakers, diplomats, warriors, and financial magnates.
I am very concerned by any effort to militarize our response to the terrorist challenge-this is a long war that requires a fundamental restructuring of national intelligence and counterintelligence; a $100 billion a year effort to address the root causes of instability worldwide and a redirection of US foreign and defense policy away from unilateralism (for instance, we must now support the International Tribunal and an international island prison for those convicted of war crimes as well as acts of terror). Our military is still needed, but it too must be restructured to provide for four major capabilities all equally capable: CINCWAR, CINCSOLIC, CINCPEACE, and CINCHOME. I can only hope that this book, which I recommend highly, is read and understood before we start to throw money at the problem in counterproductive ways.