Bite and Ravage

If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? (Paul of Tarsus, Galatians 5:15, The Message,

I saw this morning on Twitter that there is a critical hubbub in the media about Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and their book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. I am all for freedom of speech and open debate in the media. I believe strongly in the dialectic and it’s power to keep a democracy on track and honest. However, for the dialectic to work, antithesis must be substantive. In this case, the attacks consist largely of opinion and some unsubstantiated polemic. It truly does seem to me a case of biting and ravaging fellow countrymen and patriots. Does this in any way contribute to defeating ISIS or protecting our freedom from Jihadists in general, or from any other enemy for that matter?

Since the public debate seems to have veered definitively toward the anecdotal, I will make bold to share my point of view on the work of Willink and Babin.

  • As a septuagenarian with a Ph.D. in education, an M.A. in French, and a B.S. in Humanties, I have done lots of reading and writing. I find Extreme Ownership substantive and well written. Books on leadership and business operations are favorites of mine. In that genre, Extreme Ownership is for me absolutely among the very best. For example I find it to be on a par with Good to Great and other favorites from Jim Collins. I find it just as effective as the work of Andy Andrews, e.g. Mastering the Seven Decisions. In one special way, Extreme Ownership sets itself apart from other books of the same genre: It offers one unifying principle applicable in almost any situation: ownership. This is for me easier to live and apply than twenty-one or seven or even three principles as presented in other leading works on leadership.
  • I am a great aficionado of audio books and have been for decades. I find the quality of the naration in the audio verison of Extreme Ownership superb, equal to or better than any previous listening experiences.
  • As a retired U.S. Air Force officer and Air Force Academy distinguished graduate, I believe Extreme Ownership should be required reading for every Air Force Academy cadet. I only wish I had understood how to take extreme ownership of my career when I graduated. The Air Force would have earned a much better return on its investment in me. Of that I feel quite certain.
  • I would welcome the chance to  meet Willink’s and Babin’s detractors in private or personal debate. I feel strongly that Willink and Babin are sincere and principled as well as highly competent. I believe that Extreme Ownership came along at a critical point, both for me and for our nation. Extreme Ownership is “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14, New International Version,

I am providing links to the various formats of Extreme Ownership below in the event any reader of this post wishes to become more familiar with the work.




Brussels Target Easter

Just saw TV5 French news. It appears the target date for the ISIS Brussel’s attacks may have been originally Easter Sunday and/or Monday to kill as many Christians as possible travelling during this period. The arrest of Salah Abdeslam in Brussels by Belgian and French security forces on Friday, March 18, 2016, may have precipitated the attacks that occurred in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22.

So what may this Easter weekend bring?


How to Lose to ISIS

I can’t tell you how to succeed, but I can tell you how to fail: Try to please everybody. (Attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt)

A former student of mine, Sandy Wardenburg, had the insight to place this quotation at my place-setting for her magnificent wedding dinner when she and another former student, Mike Waggett, were wed. She was right about this advice, and, of course, right to marry Mike, an outstanding pilot, military leader, and educator.

So I thought of Sandy’s insight when I saw the retweet from Leif Babin announcing the Fox News special War Stories: Fighting ISISscheduled to air March 25, 2016. I can’t tell you how to beat ISIS, but I can tell you without the slightest doubt how to lose.

My mother-in-law, now deceased, gifted me a book before I deployed to Vietnam: Le Manifest du Camp No. 1. My mother-in-law was French. She also gifted me several other books on the French experience in Vietnam. So before I deployed and monsoon nights in my hutch, I was reading about how the French lost their war in Vietnam, a part of what was known as French Indochina at the time. Then I would hear and read the press releases from the U.S. about our own war. It was like re-reading the history of the French debacle. Two things became clear to me: 1) U.S. primary policy makers seemed oblivious to the lessons from the French defeat; 2) We would lose. We did.

Among the books I read at the time, Le Manifeste du Camp No. 1, by Major Jean Pouget, struck me as the most insightful. As I look at my well worn copy, I see from my hand-written note that I finished reading Major Pouget’s book on June 13, 1970, more than half way through my one-year tour in Nam. When I read Leif Babin’s retweet of the Fox News announcement, the memories came flooding back, in particular the key insights and lessons Major Pouget had gleaned  from the French politico-military defeat in Indochina.

To lose: Misunderstand the nature of the conflict.

Jean Pouget characterized the nature of the French conflict in Vietnam as a fight between archangels:

Justice was a cause worthy of sacrifice and they, the officer prisoners of Camp No. 1, were among those who accept to die for a great and noble cause. They were ready to march in the ranks of her army, to fight for Justice as they had for Liberty.

Now though, Justice and Liberty were dividing the world, and the two archangels were engaged in a fight to the death. The battle of the archangels made the entire earth tremble, and everyone had to choose a side. . . . Now they had to choose between two archangels of light, both princes of Men and lieutenants of God. (Pouget, 1969, Le Manifeste du Camp No. 1, p. 259, Arthème Fayard, Paris. Translation from the French by A. Allen Rowe)

ISIS clearly is a different enemy and the theater of battle not at all French Indochina. However, it appears to me that our issues do indeed go well beyond military strategy and tactics. Can we continue as a nation to flaunt our self-indulgence and hope for victory? I have raised children. They always knew when I was wrong. And, they still do. What do the children of the world see when they look at the U.S. today?

Also Paul of Tarsus might agree with Major Pouget: Some major forces are involved:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places. (Ephesians 6:12, Amplified Bible)

To lose: Continue with business as usual

“We can wage this war with business men and mercenaries, but to win it we need saints and heroes.” He recalled the words of Major Julien, his battalion commander who was killed the year before. Julien lived like a saint because he had prepared himself to die like a hero. . . . “We must purify and harden ourselves . . . and become revolutionaries. We must reform our outdated world, do away with injustice, crush the arbitrary tyranny of bureaucracy, and build a promise of society so beautiful that its construction will become an exalting task for all humanity” (Pouget, 1969, Le Manifeste du Camp No. 1, pp. 18-19, Arthème Fayard, Paris. Translation from the French by A. Allen Rowe)

Some politicians try to lull us into complacency. There is nothing to be complacent about. Last week Brussels. Where next?

To lose: Fail to understand the power of an ideologically committed foe

One of the books I read, the title of which I do not recall, explained how the French lost the battle which lead to their loss of the war. They called upon artillery experts from both the U.S. and Britain to evaluate the situation before taking their stand on the plain at Dien Bien Phu. The experts said that the enemy would never be able to install heavy artillery on the steep hillsides surrounding the plain, and light artillery would be out of range. Of course,  history proved the experts wrong. Under the leadership of General Vo Nguyen Giap, the Viet Minh drug heavy artillery up the steep hill sides, set up the pieces in natural lime stone caves and proceeded to blast the French forces into surrender. Of course, Giap went on to defeat the U.S. Forces as well. We ere gravely if we assume, as has been claimed in Washington, that in ISIS we face a bunch of thugs. These are vicious combatants with leaders whose ego and religious zeal drive them to seek victory at any cost.

To Lose: Fail to recognize watershed events

On November 16, 2014 U.S. Citizen Peter Kassig, aide worker and former Army Ranger, was beheaded in a gruesome ceremony along with some 18 other hostages. To me this was not just another act of violence far across the world. This was a watershed date.

The men who carried out this execution promised to bring such acts of vengeance to the streets of America. What spirits motivated these executioners? Would they spare your son or daughter, your father or mother, your brother or sister? Or you? What stands between them and our homes?

The preceding quotation is from the preface of my short Kindle book, Always Eat to WinJust the thought of Kassig’s execution makes me nauseous. The fact that our nation scarcely flinched at this heinous crime saddens me beyond measure. Who, though, saw this as a milestone event? Did you?

To Lose: Do not take ownership.

Pass the buck along. Kick the can down the road. Blame, blame, blame.

To Win: Own the Threat

The best manual for victory: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.




War in Our Time

Preface: The backdrop of this post is the terrorist attacks that rocked Brussels four days after Belgian and French security forces arrested Salah Abdeslam in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels. The violence spreads.

You will continually hear of wars and rumors of wars . . .  those things must take place. (Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 24:6, Amplified Bible).

Do you remember the name Neville Chamberlain? He preceded Winston Churchill as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Here is what he said to the British people on September 30, 1938 after landing at Heston Aerodrome upon his return from his meeting with Hitler:

The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. … We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.

Later the same day outside of 10 Downing Street, Chamberlain offered hope and comfort to the British people,

My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.

I am no government official, but please trust me when I say there will be no peace for our time. Those of you who know history know that Chamberlain was tragically wrong. I hope you can see that anyone who assures you peace and security in the face of the ISIS threat does so for their own benefit not for yours.

What Churchill offered his people after replacing Chamberlain at the political helm of the country was something quite different: “blood, toil, tears, and sweat”

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory. Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. (American Rhetoric: Online Speech Bank, text and audio)

You may be sure that what we face in ISIS and the various other Islamic terrorist groups constitutes an even more “monstrous tyranny” than that of the Third Reich, against which Great Britain stood alone until the United States entered the battle.

In the context of our present situation, you may find appropriate for your consideration and reflection a passage from the speech Jocko Willlink presented upon his retirement from the Seal Teams:

As long as man is, war will always be, always. And our great nation will always need men to do what is in our nature: Kill the enemy. Kill him as he sleeps. Kill him as he plots. Kill him as he hides. Kill him as he fights. That is our nature, and that is our solemn duty. (Jocko Podcast 11)

It is my belief that anything less than attacking our terrorist enemies with such complete vigor will leave our entire nation, our sons and daughters and everything we hold dear, exposed to violence such as we have never known upon our continental soil since our own Civil War.

And the take away? I believe that each of us must be the best we can possibly be so that collectively as families, communities, states, and a nation we will be strong enough to stand against the threat of all terror. I have found Extreme Ownership an unparalleled help in my life in this regard. May it be so in yours.




Infamous Days

Monday, December 7, 2015, I went to The New York Times online with history on my mind. With anticipation I clicked on the video of  President Obama’s Sunday address to the nation regarding the December 2 violence in San Bernardino. I thought the President would refer to another infamous day in the history of this nation. He did not make the reference I expected. A bit disoriented, I searched beyond the article. Finally in the “On this day” closing of the edition I found a brief entry:

On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese warplanes attacked the home base of the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, drawing the United States into World War II. More than 2,300 Americans were killed.

Am I just an anachronism, thinking back to times long past that are today irrelevant? I can not help but believe that if we do not know our history we do not know ourselves. And if we believe that ISIS/ISIL is just a group of “thugs” as President Obama states, I suggest we do not know our enemy.

Know your opponent, know yourself, no peril in a hundred battles. Not knowing your opponent but knowing yourself, win one lose one. Not knowing yourself, not knowing your opponent, every battle must be lost. (Sun Tzu, The Art of War, last sentence of Chapter 3, author’s adaptation)

If you can spare 4 minutes and 47 seconds, you may see something worth seeing.