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Becoming Your Enemy

“Applied Smart Power” provides the essential missing link for adaptive conflict reduction

Understanding is the indispensable key to lasting, effective counterterrorism.

The ancient adage “Know thyself” is similar in concept and scope to the old military
standby, “Know your enemy”. In the ancient yin/yang symbol, yang is clearly defined only by
the presence and shape of yin. In physics, it is possible to measure a force by studying its equal
and opposite reaction. With humans, we best know who They are when compared in relation and
response to Us. This urgently requires an accurate picture of ourselves and how we influence the
surrounding world.

Radical fundamentalist terrorism is growing more potent. This is due to a combination of

factors, including upwardly spiraling advances in technology and the terrorist’s determination to
combat perceived worsening social corruption. The task of those charged with protecting others
is becoming correspondingly urgent and demands open-mindedness. It requires understanding –
not a pep rally look at how we think things are and hope they are going, but an unflinching look
at how things really are.

Without a hard look at the fight, at the enemy, and especially into the mirror to see what
we represent in this global neighborhood, we lack adequate perspective for a comprehensive look
at where events are probably heading. How do we develop this enhanced perspective? By
listening. The US, The West, The Coalition…whatever our identification in each moment of
crisis, we are not alone in the neighborhood. Neither is every global neighbor hostile or deceitful,
and feedback from neutral sources can reveal glaring defects or simple inaccuracies in our self

We need to understand in greater depth just what it is the terrorist so violently opposes.
We blurt “Occupation,” “Westernization,” or “Globalization,” feel satisfied with this pat answer,
and rush off to defend against the next attack.

This reactive approach is analogous to a physician’s treating a patient’s skin condition by

lancing each boil as it comes to a head. In contrast to effectively treating the underlying disease,
lancing alone is painful, prolonging, scarring, and potentially fatal. Imagine this hypothetical
living organism to be the world we inhabit, and terrorism a global cancer. The very real danger
of new and worsening symptoms is alarming. An infection of thinking can spread through people
groups as swiftly as a virus through the human body.

It is also easy and convenient to assume that an enemy is unreasonable, crazed or evil.
This has been an effective indoctrination tool for military commanders throughout history. It is
the same justification fundamentalist leadership preaches, about our side, to inflame followers.

Copyright J. Robert DuBois. Becoming Your Enemy, 2005-2010

VoDuBo Consulting,; Phone 540-903-7855
“Crazed” thinking represents an extreme deviation from commonly shared values and
beliefs. The commonly shared values of the United States reject 9/11-type attacks on a civilian
population. However, every people group around the world has its own perspective on the
motivation that resulted in that fateful day. Many admire the killers with some sympathy.

If we look back just six decades in U.S. history we note that, however revolting in human
tragedy, Americans generally accepted the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a necessary
step to prevent worsening aggression by the Japanese military machine. As the lesser of two
evils, it effectively ended the war in the Pacific.

Beyond this rationale, however, how many Americans felt a sense of satisfaction at these
counter-attacks? The devastation unleashed on a civilian population served as payback for the
national suffering inflicted at Pearl Harbor. This is the perspective of the terrorist, resentful of
systematic abuses from his enemy. Looking through his eyes, we can begin to see how and
where he is motivated to act next.

Some commonly shared values are universal. Individuals on every continent take
pleasure in such events as celebrations with family and friends, local arts, and good food. These
represent the Human Aspect of Life. At the core of HAL is a nature that is identical, common
ground upon which we could all “get along” if not for cultural paradigms and local competitions
which have grown so drastically apart over the millennia. Do not women and men complain
about one another in every language and in every region? Although its expression differs
according to cultural norms, that particular conflict transcends political and religious boundaries.

Each terrorist is a person and has a family of origin. Each family has a neighborhood of
origin, sharing similar experiences and belief systems. Each of these neighborhoods is a member
of a town, and a region, and a nation. Nations themselves are members of a neighborhood unique
to their continent. These represent various masses of humanity with shared values.

As the result of thousands of years and thousands of miles of separation, significantly

different worldviews have developed. These personal views are essential, to each of us, to
understanding one’s own life in context. A challenge to our perspective can mean a challenge to
our identity or an affront to loved ones.

Millions in each camp therefore see others not only as very different, but as very, very
wrong. The notion of wrongness stirs up a reactive tendency to reject or oppose different cultures
without due consideration. This unthinking opposition provokes a similar reaction within the
opposed. (Who reading this essay has not once felt offended at being judged wrongly?)

Osama bin Laden himself comes from a family that shared vacations and celebrations.
Although the family has publicly denounced his methods, deep currents of money continue to
flow to al Qaeda from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The root feelings of bin Laden’s terrorist
agenda are therefore not anomalous, or some “extreme deviation,” but a way of thinking that is
shared by many.

Copyright J. Robert DuBois. Becoming Your Enemy, 2005-2010 2

VoDuBo Consulting,; Phone 540-903-7855
The strategy toward persistent success is twofold: immediately, by using proven (force
and deception) methods to counter ongoing hostilities; ultimately, by understanding and
satisfying (as able) the simple, human hopes and dreams of terrorism’s human resource pool.

We need to connect with the centers of these populations. Western agencies already have
representation in many global communities, and non-governmental organizations have
individuals connected into most levels of most societies. The infrastructure is in place; all that
remains is to institutionalize a concerted effort to acknowledge reasonable representatives.

This essay does not promote placation or impotent dependency on world opinion, as is
often charged in criticism of the United Nations. What is crucial is a case-by-case use of the most
effective methods for each problem. Some (many) crises of hostility can be resolved with
dialogue to reduce misunderstanding; some (few) will always demand a “kinetic solution” from
the business end of a rifle. The violence option, however, is a double-edged sword. Each kill
might increase the enemy force by radicalizing others. If the unintended, innocent victim is a
cherished toddler or revered grandmother, resulting hostility is greater still. And understandable.

Further complicating the issue is the matter of worldwide opinion. America has been
soundly and constantly criticized for its “cowboy” manner in responding to terrorism, and while
desperate times do indeed call for desperate measures, complex times likewise call for complex
measures. Antagonizing the international bystanders draws energy away from the real fight while
we bicker. It is counter-intuitive to foul the global playing field by ticking off the referees, whose
opinions we might sway by seeking deeper, mutual understanding.

Some crises can be preemptively avoided by using existing, intrusive methods of

intelligence and coercion. Best of all, however, will be the next evolution of threat mitigation:
elimination, before the hateful cause exists, by working with the source. Thoreau said, “There are
a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” If we care to
understand well enough, open exchange and cooperation can starve the very roots of terrorism.
Statecraft and interpersonal engagement are more important, in the long run, than military might.

Realistically, as long as mankind is composed of flawed and fallible human beings (in
other words, as long as mankind exists,) we can safely assume that an absolute, final peace will
not occur. The highest goal would be the attainment of international harmony with no loss of
national sovereignty. Yet the further we progress in peace and leisure, the more free space exists
within society for self interest to grow, shared urgency to fade, and personal, zero-sum desires to
take hold. When one group inevitably succeeds in flourishing at some expense to another,
dissatisfaction inevitably leads to conflict. As with the condition of the human body, therefore,
global security will always require consistent, measured effort to sustain.

Copyright J. Robert DuBois. Becoming Your Enemy, 2005-2010 3

VoDuBo Consulting,; Phone 540-903-7855