By Brandon Blackburn:
Our nation’s security is a leading concern for many citizens and as such the topic is a highly divisive issue. Both sides of the aisle consistently argue over policies to address a range of threats from immigration to ISIS. Amidst this political battle, do you find yourself identifying more as a hippie or a hawk?
Depending on the media outlets and talking heads to which you subscribe, it can often seem that there is a war to eradicate one or the other and that there is only one right way to be. But fear not because to succeed as a nation, we need both.
The reality is that the threats to our national security and personal safety are often times complex. The solutions require a mixed set of skills, intellect, and emotions. Are you a bleeding heart liberal who struggles or refuses to peg a threat to an individual group? Be grateful there are men and women willing and able to confront our enemies head on. As George Orwell put it, we sleep peaceably in our beds at night because of the men and women who are able and willing to engage in violence on our behalf. Violence that is an unfortunate necessity bred not by our own desires, despite what might be conveyed by certain media circles, but rather by those of our enemies. Our hawks are the hunter so that none of us become the hunted. For we face enemies who make no distinction between those who cling to guns and those who cling to granola. And if you’re the latter? We need you too. Recognize that after the fog of war has cleared, it is the battle for hearts and minds that will ensure our hawks’ fighting was not in vain. That is a battle fought best by those whose greatest strength is their emotional sensitivity, or whom many might define in general as hippies.
It is not to say that each side doesn’t possess the traits of the other. The problem we face, however, is one predicated on the notion that the two traits are exclusive. As with anything, there are outliers who warp each side’s understanding of this. Sure, both claim a subset that represent the extreme adapters, many of whom are relegated to woodsy areas with questionable bathing practices. This is true for both fringe hemp loving hippies and the bunker mentality hawks as both seek to live off the grid and are equally untrusting of the mainstream. And these extremes are the ones that tend to become the stereotype. As is the notion that coexisting is not meant to be. That one must prevail over the other. This of course goes a long way to sell papers and get viewers, and the exaggerated characterizations are what lead to divisiveness and expose ignorance. But if we take time to get to know each other, we will find that at the foundation of it all most of us want the same things. So for the sake of this argument, and our country, let’s ignore the outliers and focus on the majority.
The operators patrolling the streets at home and abroad who are tasked with confronting the bad guys take their charge of lethal action seriously. Make no mistake, fear and the weight of their work is always front and center. But it is the ability to walk through it and carry on despite it that allows them to succeed. The taking of a life is not a joyous moment. And the minute any human gets a thrill from such actions is the minute they need to seek another calling.
As for the other side, when our operators decompress we need to have their backs and provide them support. We need to give them a world to operate in that is unified in the total defeat of an ideology that values death over life, while at the same time providing the checks and balances necessary to ensure engagement with force is used only when necessary. We need to explain to the innocents, whether those affected directly by certain actions or watching on the periphery, when this is the case. If discretion really is a better part of valor, then these traits are vital for keeping the work done by the hawks as honorable. This will ensure that where the exceptions to honor exist, the violators are held accountable.
So where is the common ground? To find it we need to start with a true understanding of the threats and the ensuing conversation about how to work together to combat them. The ultimate defeat of ISIS or a similar group will be predicated on the capturing of hearts and minds who subscribe to the overall ideology. That will involve all of us playing to our strengths in a way that gets results, not sows division. We need as a nation to recognize and appreciate that each person’s experience shapes their beliefs. The real measure for us all comes when we look at our own practices, and not always our politics. That’s what this country has always been about. And that is what our country’s survival will depend on.
Brandon Blackburn is a Senior 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.