America Needs a Hotwash

By Brandon Blackburn, OpsLens

To no great surprise, in the wake of such tragedies ranging from the shooting in Orlando to civilian deaths in places like Louisiana and Minnesota to the murder of police officers in Dallas, the script has become all too common in the aftermath. Social-media conveyed mourning by politicians, celebrities, and the general public in the hours to follow such events quickly fades into those groups departing the fleeting harmonious middle in mass exodus returning to their base, resuming their robotic talking points. It’s become an all too frequent rerun that fails to sustain a unified nation that can heal and find solutions together.   Hollow talking points and rhetoric is not the answer.

We need to learn from each and every one of these experiences, recognizing that each one comes with a unique set of lessons learned. But to do so requires a logical review of the facts.  All of them. It is what our law enforcement and military personnel do on a daily basis. That’s where we need to start. What is deemed armchair quarterbacking through most of our society plays out by way of what is known as a hotwash in military and law enforcement parlance. The difference is that with a hotwash emotions are kept in check. As it is the after-action discussion and evaluation of an agency’s performance following a certain act, hotwashes are vital to learning what procedures are working and what procedures are not.  Ultimately it is a way to evaluate, assess, and learn.

Hollow talking points and rhetoric is not the answer

The process of a hotwash is not conducted as a knee-jerk reaction either. Rather, it’s commenced once there is satisfaction that the investigation and collection of the facts are complete.  Upon that, relevant personnel will conduct a thorough review of the entire findings, sticking solely to the facts.

Imagine if our country had a moratorium on the expression of opinions about an event on social media for say even 48 hours, as the facts became more clear. Not on the exchange of human emotions like sadness or prayerful support mind you, but on espousing opinionated judgments that are so often based on half truths or, even worse, outright inaccurate reporting.  If we all agree to withhold judgment until all of the facts are in, would that lead to greater civility and a respectful debate of those facts?

Granted it’s not a feasible proposition, particularly in this 24-hour news and social media world we live in. But the ability to recognize when assumptions are driven by emotions before they are presented can give logic and fact-based assessments a chance to steer the conversation.

When a police officer is the triggerman on the one hand, it certainly can close the gap between that officer being branded a cold-hearted killer out for blood to someone having to make a split second decision in defense of his life, and possibly others. Would the facts show that the Minnesota police officer believed he was coming upon an armed robbery suspect who committed the crime by brandishing a gun in a threatening manner? If so, does that provide a different context to his actions? Conversely, do the facts ultimately support the passenger’s testimony on that day? If this is the case then we need to entrust and elect officials who will ensure that the appropriate punishment will be doled out.

The unfortunate reality is that we rarely know the full story until the cameras are off and reporters have moved on to the next salacious event…

A more likely outcome as a result, could show that a tragedy occurred which negatively impacted the lives of all sides involved.  A mistake, albeit a grave one.  Any human who takes pride in or thrives on the killing of another, even an adversary, is few and far between.

As a white man I cannot ever fully empathize with the trepidation a black individual must feel in certain encounters, and in turn civilians can’t ever fully appreciate the challenge of having to make life and death decisions in the blast of a gun’s muzzle. Sometimes, in those moments, the players don’t have the luxury to know nor consider all of the facts. But in our review as a society, we do.  Hindsight is an asset. And we owe it to the lives affected by such events to utilize it appropriately. There is no justifying the loss of any innocent life, but the way by which we brand an event as a nation can help us make sure that a life is not lost in vain.

The unfortunate reality is that we rarely know the full story until the cameras are off and reporters have moved on to the next salacious event.  At this point the facts might be backpage news. But even though a statement is stricken from the record in court, does the jury all of a sudden not hear it? It is no different in the public court of opinion, and that is the one that matters. Just ask Darren Wilson.

Brandon Blackburn is an OpsLens contributor and former CIA Counterterrorism Officer with a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and an MBA with a concentration in International Business. During his time with the CIA, Brandon served multiple tours in the Middle East, to include Iraq and Jordan, and in Afghanistan. Brandon consults with businesses and media on national security related issues with his consulting firm B4B Enterprises.  He can be followed on Twitter @Bran_Blackburn.


Join the conversation!

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, vulgarity, profanity, all caps, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain a courteous and useful public environment where we can engage in reasonable discourse.