Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 30, 2009

The Long Blog: A path taken, then retraced

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 30, 2009

Editorial Note:  This is an unfinished draft post that I decided to discard… or at least not  further explore at this time.  I perceive the need to move from arguing strategic concept to justifying strategic benefit, as I have begun to do in the post immediately above.  Before the digital age this would never have left my desktop.  But just in case, you are digging through these posts in an effort to fall to sleep…


After explaining the origins and implications of Soviet neuroses, Kennan proceeds to predict how the the neuroses will be expressed in practical policy at both the official and unofficial levels of Soviet decisionmaking.

In two previous posts I argue American neuroses must be seriously engaged by any effective homeland security strategy.  On this Friday before Halloween we could proceed like Kennan to describe how our neuroses are already playing out at both official and unofficial levels. 

Several posts at Homeland Security Watch have told these horror stories.  The most widely read since I joined the blog was the recent, “Do I have the right to refuse this search?” 

There are several ways to read Chief Walker’s report on her encounters with the TSA.  Perhaps you will join me in perceiving official behavior that,

is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost,

is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things,

shows rigidity and stubborness.

These are three of eight symptoms listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) as criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder.  This disorder is described as, “a pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency…”  A preliminary diagnosis requires evidence of at least four of the eight criteria. 

Considering the crates of fingernail files, scissors, and other flotsam gathered at security lines, I wonder about the DSM-IV criterion that reads, “is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value.”  But I am stretching the point.

By now you have either conjured your own examples of neurotic official behavior or you have rejected my hypothesis that an unresolved conflict between  national ideals and current experience is America’s greatest vulnerability.   

While we needed a specialist like Kennan to explain Soviet neuroses, most of us have the background and ability to assess the condition of our immediate context.  Whether we have the wisdom, skill, and will to do so is another matter.  Self-awareness is much more difficult than other-awareness.

I will depart from Kennan’s predictions of how neurosis will play out in policy and strategy. My goal is to reduce the role of neurosis in our homeland security policy and strategy. 

Fundamental to a less neurotic approach, as outlined in Wednesday’ post, is to embrace the tragic.  In doing so we can reclaim what I perceive is an essential — but misplaced — core American value.

The Declaration of Independence starts solemnly enough, but can we deny the embrace of tragic potential at its close? “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”   The Federalist Papers are gripped with a sense of tragedy and argue only a system that accepts such reality might mitigate its effect.

At Gettysburg and in his Second Inaugural, Lincoln’s eloquence is  the explicit outcome of his implicit embrace of the tragic.  In 1933 the new President’s great challenge was to give a suffering nation renewed courage.  Early in his first inaugural Roosevelt sets out,

In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunk to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; and the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone. More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

Accepting our tragic condition is a prerequisite to making meaning of our situation.  In that dark reality is the potential for transcendence.  This is the essential foundation of resilience.

When I first began to press for resilience as a strategic priority — nearly three years ago — I was told it was wise and hopeless.  “It implies hardship. No politician is going to offer hardship,” is what one long-time emergency manager told me. “They’ve got to promise protection, come what may.” If that’s true the United States is done-for. 

Most over the age of twelve know that any such promise is a lie.  Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “The deepest definition of youth is life as yet untouched by tragedy.” In our personal lives we are well-acquainted with tragedy. We understand its inevitability and its potential. 


Then I was probably going to consider the difference between dealing with a population of citizens compared to a population of consumers.  This might have involved discussion of how the last half-century of mass communications has masked our experience of tragedy. I would have  argued  (not sure I would have convinced myself, much less you) that the consumer culture does not — at least not yet — define the culture as experienced. But it has undermined what we understand to be a citizen and the role of citizens.  An even bigger problem with citizenship is the tremendous geographic mobility of the last half-century.  While all of this masks tragedy, it does NOT alter the real experience of tragedy… and may even sharpen and romanticize tragedy.  But you see why I decided this winding path was not appropriate for the purposes of this blog.  I certainly would not have finished my swan-song by Thanksgiving.  So this is — at least for now — a dead end.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 30, 2009 @ 10:22 am

Actually sorry this is a dead end because only read this post after commenting on post above. Some similarities.

The professional marketers of politicians and the professional marketers of consumer goods have much in common. Stimulation of the market through various means good and bad from my viewpoint. Example, big PHARMA ad seems to have provoked both the medical profession and population at large into utilization of ethical drugs in a wasteful way that is also antithetical to good medical practice. Again why such heavy consumption of psycotropic drugs in the US? It does seem that the current regulatory framework of food and drugs has failed yet cannot seem to be reformed. The addition of prescription drugs to Medicare absolutely contained prohibitions on either competitiveness or efficacy. What is that all about except corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse, yet tolerated as part of a federal program and in fact given the benefit of statutory protections. This in a system in which the basic blood supply for emergencies is mismanaged and threatened but again nothing done. The marketers have so skillfully fragmented the whole that the individuals impacted no longer fail to understand that fragmentation.

And as to DSM-IV sounds like the OCD list could be aptly applied to many terrorists.

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