Monday, December 14, 2015

Our Muslim Problem

I generally try to limit political commentary here. Instead, I prefer to provoke thought with glances at the past balanced with views of theory and philosophy, rather than promote a thought with opinion and conjecture. My sense in the past many months is that a current of conjecture is shaping a dangerous narrative that has many parallels in history. The negative rhetoric surrounding Islam in general and Muslims in America in particular demonstrate a disturbing banality of evil. In a previous post on this blog, which was later published on e-International Relations, I talked about the absurdity of this banality. Here is the summary of what Hannah Arendt portrays in her provocative work, Eichmann in Jerusalem a Report on the Banality of Evil:
The title holds Arendt’s thesis, as Amos Elon, suggests: that evil, at some level, exists in a banal form. However, Arendt does not actually mean that evil, of the Nazi sort, is commonplace. Rather, she clarifies her intention by suggesting instead that the horrible characteristic of evil, as demonstrated by Eichmann, is in the thoughtlessness with which he administered the Final Solution. Her point is that Eichmann and other Nazi party members were neither predisposed to commit such atrocities nor were they altogether mentally twisted. Their systematic and mechanistic approach to murder, to the extent of considering it “liquidation,” removed a human element from the act of killing, replacing it with legalistic procedure. This procedural aspect of the way Eichmann went about his job, as if he took more satisfaction in the accomplishment of process than in the outcome of those processes, defines Eichmann’s evil as banal, and, therefore, beyond thoughtful horror. One could interpret Arendt’s view of the “banality of evil” as exceeding what is “normal” evil, which is to say something inhuman and far worse than evil itself.[1]
We may ask, what is happening in America with an evolving narrative that fears Muslims? I ask, what is happening that a swelling current of people are further shaping that narrative toward hate? People are shaping it, either deep in their roots of belief, or in some banal fashion, as Arendt implies. I worry it is the latter.
There is a counter narrative to ignorant banality, and that is humanity. I want to commend an insightful and personal illustration of the human aspect surrounding this ongoing discussion. Here is a great piece – well written, thoughtful, and human – by a good friend and pastor. While he describes his experience as “My Muslim Problem,” his lessons are really a call for us to recognize that what we face within ourselves is our Muslim problem.

[1] Royo, Joseph. "Review - Eichmann in Jerusalem." e-International Relations . November 14, 2013. (accessed December 14, 2015).

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas 1914

We approach Christmas, and we carry on the seasonal narrative of Christmas parties, wassailing, ridiculous gift exchange games, caroling, and mandatory re-runs of the classics: White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, and of course National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. These are all wonderful intermissions between one year and the next, between the grind of daily life and faith, family, and friendship. Interestingly, there is a historical parallel in war intermissions – the truce.

One such truce, the famous Christmas truce of 1914 is similarly surrounded in lore, and today we reflect on the human narrative portrayed in those 24 hours. The severity of WWI war tactics was a shocking shift in the extreme of the human contest. It is in part why the stories of that night and day, some of which are questionable, offer a nice relief from the contrast of the rest of the war. Many resources out there debate the stories about this period. However, one I found helpful was by historian Peter Hart. He captures the essence of it in one Captain’s recollection:

“Not a shot all night: our men had sing-songs— ditto the enemy. He played the game and never tried to touch his wire or anything. At 8:30am I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with “Merry Christmas” on it, and I climbed on the parapet. He put up a sheet with, “Thank you” on it, and the German captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed  and saluted and got down into our respective trencheshe fired two shots in the air, and the war was on again!”[1]

I commend Peter Hart’s essay for more background on the story and stories of that time. Subscriptions might be required, or you can find it through academic databases.

Hart, Peter. "Christmas Truce." Military History 31, no. 5 (2015): 64-70.

[1] Hart, Peter, "Christmas Truce." Military History 31, no. 5 (2015): 64-70, p. 70.

Monday, December 7, 2015


December 7, 1941...

Take five minutes or so and revisit the infamously famous speech by Roosevelt, detailing the sudden change of American life. The initial few phrases of the speech are now quite familiar, but take note of several aspects further along. Notice what happened beyond just the attack on Pearl Harbor. Japan initiated a broad offensive, that in today's context could be considered a form of swarming the operational environment - overwhelming the adversary with decisions from many directions.  We offered a glancing reference to the swarm phenomenon as Antoine Bousquet described it in the chaoplexic way of warfare. This raises the question, how would we deal with forms of swarming today, specifically with terrorism? The context of 1941 provides some lessons. Here are two references to remember that date and to remember that our nation has dealt with tremendous threats to our national security

Audio excerpt of Roosevelt's speech

Roosevelt's annotated first draft 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thinking About Chaoplexity in the Wake of Recent Events

Football is a chaotic game. The strategy and play calling, highly complex. So as your favorite teams engage in a chaotic struggle of complexity this weekend, reflect on what that might mean for warfare. A fascinating book by Antoine Bousquet, which was a publication of his PhD thesis, attempts to explain the progress of warfare through progressively more progressive stages. His thesis, The Scientific Way of Warfare, argues that scientific development has in large part shaped the way of warfare as technologies change the nature of human interactions.

His central thesis "rests on a broad social and cultural understanding of the role of science and technology in distributing and organising [sic] bodies, both human and artificial, on the battlefield as well as orienting thought on the practice of warfare.” Bousquet makes the case for four warfare transformations characterized by four metaphors: mechanistic warfare – the clock, thermodynamic warfare – the engine, cybernetic warfare – the computer, and finally chaoplexic warfare – the network. In 2007, he suggested we were entering the "chaoplexic" stage - a synthesis of chaos and complexity in a network-centric environment.

You can read Bousquet’s thesis in a weekend. Take note of chapter 8, which addresses chaoplexity, and think about the impact of a digital ecosystem. In the wake of recent ISIS related attacks in Lebanon, Egypt, and Paris along with shooting incidents, like in San Bernardino, how might the digital ecosystem change the principle of mass whereby an opponent could mass effects physically, through virtual, network means. In other words, what could global swarming look like in a connected, network-centric world? More importantly, how could a national security strategy prepare for such a phenomenon?

You can access the thesis from the London School of Economics: