Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 11, 2009

Mark Chubb: Our Best Selves

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Strategy — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 11, 2009

Today’s author is Mark Chubb.  As Phil noted on Monday,  Mark is joining HLSWatch and will be posting regularly on Wednesdays.  Today is his first post.  Please join us in welcoming him to HLSWatch.

A few weeks ago, when Phil approached me about assuming a more active role as a contributor to HLSwatch, I was apprehensive to say the least.  After following and participating in the discussion of resilience strategy he led based on the framework of George Kennan’s Long Telegram, I am now more anxious than ever.

I do not expect to match Phil’s rhetorical eloquence or his evocative sense of history.  His grounding in the classics, his willingness to call upon historical antecedents in his quest for meaning in our current circumstances, and his ability to challenge us to find strategic insights in the detailed tasks that lie before us inspires me but, I fear, lies just beyond my reach.

What I do hope to offer the blog and its loyal readers is a perspective grounded a bit in both theory and practice.  As Phil noted in his introduction of me, I have spent a good deal of my career in local government and the emergency services.  Another big chunk of my career has involved policy analysis, with an emphasis on risk informed decision-making, risk regulation, and hazard mitigation.  While I am affiliated with a couple of academic institutions these days, I make my living advising local government as a practicing emergency manager in a metropolitan city.

I assumed my current responsibilities after spending most of past decade in New Zealand.  My time abroad gave me a much different perspective on homeland security than many of you enjoyed.  I say “enjoyed” with a sense of irony, for I assume that this work was far from entertaining even for those of you who devoted a considerable share of your professional lives preparing yourselves in anticipation of the opportunity to apply your special skills to the defense of our country.

Among the many things that became apparent to me while living in a friendly country that considers itself a limited partner and an occasionally reluctant but nonetheless committed ally of the United States, is that America’s position in the world has changed considerably from what it was for most of the post-war era.  Our friends and foes alike no longer see themselves forced to choose between polar opposites, and see the world in a much more nuanced way than many, if not most, Americans do.

Citizens and subjects abroad share Americans’ apprehensions about the future.  Even in many of the developed nations we count among our closest allies, most people do not wonder whether their children will live better lives than they did.  They know they won’t, at least materially, and have come to order and value their priorities a bit differently than we have.  In doing so, they have come to question things we still seem to take for granted, like the worthiness of capitalism as an organizing principle for their economies.

Their questions about capitalism and the role of the state run congruent if not parallel to a rising tide of ambivalence about democratic institutions that runs at least as deep as Americans’ own distrust of our governing bodies and elected officials.  While we may still have faith in democracy, we seem to have lost much of our commitment to the civil discourse that should accompany it.  Polarization, extremism, demagoguery, and the politics of personal attack have come to characterize many, if not most, of the discussions surrounding important policy issues in our country (see Sunstein 2009 for a thorough discussion of group dynamics and their effect on discourse).

At the same time we wage wars against extremism abroad, we have become increasingly extreme in our own practice of democracy (see Ratcliffe & Lebkowsky 2004 for an interesting review of the effect of electronic media, including blogs on the polarization of public discourse).  As such, is it any wonder that we have continuing difficulty not only engaging our allies, but also in convincing those under the thumbs of our adversaries that we offer a better way?

Divining a new strategy to guide our involvement in the Af-Pak Region, like the effort to renew policies governing our domestic security, depend upon our ability to see these issues not as separate and isolated concerns but as part of a broader policy mosaic.  We cannot afford to see debates about health care, energy independence, climate change, or job creation as separate from homeland security anymore than we can afford to see national security and homeland security as distinctive much less independent policy domains.

In the coming weeks, I hope to focus my contributions on how we might engage our communities in a civil discourse about how we can work within existing institutions, from the bottom up, to renew our democracy and strengthen our security.  In doing so, I hope to explore the ways in which such an effort reflects our best selves and builds the sort of resilience that Phil Palin asked us to consider over the last few weeks.

On this Veterans’ Day, I would be totally remiss if I failed to recognize the sacrifices and contributions of the generations of men and women who have served this country with distinction.  Their efforts have secured for us the liberties we enjoy and celebrate today, while enabling us to share the gifts of our aspirations and ideals – our best selves – with a world in which these values remain almost as unique as they are precious.  It is my most fervent wish to pay homage to the dedication and sacrifice that characterizes the faithful service of our veterans in my contributions to this forum.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

November 11, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

The Eleventh minute, the Eleventh hour, the Eleventh day, the Eleventh month of 1918! A date that will always mark the close of the first phase of the suicide of WESTERN CIVILIZATION! IMO of course. An opposite view is expressed at least partially by Modris Ekstein in his book entitled “The Rites of Spring–The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age.” Published 1989 and ISBN #0-385-41202-9!
Okay Mark are you in fact a Canadian Citizen and live and work in CANADA? Disclosure, my father born in CANADA–Lethbridge Alberta. My grandfather Cumming was senior engineer for Canadian Bell and ran the phone system for Western Canada prior to WWI. He was born in US and returned to MPLS,MN to found an engineering firm–Beecher-Cumming.
Why do I question you and mention this? Very simple! Prior to WWI the border between Canada and the US was completely open. Then shut by CANADA in early 1915 to prevent Canadian draft dodgers from fleeing to the US. Ironic, yes in light of history. Hey, who knows but Climate Change may drive northerly migration yet.

Anyhow welcome aboard and will be interesting if answers to questions above are yes if you can give comparative insights to Canadian Homeland Security. Interestingly in 80’s Canada entirely militarized their Emergency Managment under a new statute. And have now almost entirely reversed course. Will be interesting if any of you posts deal with civil-military issues (it having just been revealed that outside DOD, DHS has highest percentage of veterans in its ranks). Perhaps culturally can-do [do what?] types as opposed to more civilian approach of why are we doing this? Well still hoping for creativity and sense of public service not just collecting pay and retirement planning while still working. Those in civil service I saw stacking arms early were always seldom my friends or allies.

Anyhow welcome aboard and yes agree Phil was right on! Until Alexander destroyed Classical Greece and its interest in democracy and spread Hellenism by military conquest and extended the often disclaimed Greek Empire, at least in Athens they were struggling with the issue of role of oligarchs who wanted a Republic and not a democracy. That is course is what the US got, in part, as documented in Federalist #10, the founding fathers feared democracy. Well as a believe that power in the government flows upwards from the people not downwards, and the US is about government of the people, by the people, and for the people glad to have a Canadian helping US out. But for the Act of Commonwealth though just so you know don’t believe in sovereigns either by right of birth or elected. So looking forwards to your posts.

Comment by Mark Chubb

November 11, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

As it turns out, Bill, I am an American by birth, but also a naturalized New Zealand citizen; no Canadian ties whatsoever. My British paternal forebears were Celts that hailed from the southwest of England, mostly around Tavistock. My mother’s people are mainly Irish and Scots-Irish folk.

I too find it interesting that so many military veterans find their way into the ranks of DHS and its agencies. The same was true for many years about local emergency services, which operated under civil service hiring preferences that favored veterans. This changed for awhile after Vietnam, and may be shifting back again as the norm as the nation looks for ways to reintegrate service members.

This, of course, begs the question whether placing veterans, an awfully large number of whom have suffered terrible physical and psychological traumas, into high-risk, high-stress, high-consequence civilian jobs is a good fit. We know they have a can-do attitude, but should wonder, as you seem to suggest, “do what?”.

I have sensed a growing rigidity and sense of entitlement among my former colleagues in the fire service (for instance) that troubles me. We have little empirical evidence to support claims that fire company staffing and travel times from stations to incidents affects incident outcomes in aggregate, although it often seems sensible to assume so in individual cases. Despite this deficit, we seem to have put very little effort into answering persistent questions about how investments in these services pay dividends.

Firefighters and their chiefs have overcome the lack of evidence by investing huge sums of money and sweat equity in political activism at every level of government and the private standards-making system in an effort to force the hands of their employers. I have to wonder whether their activities are any different from those of other lobbyists and special interests when it comes right down to it. These observations, among other things, have made me much more interested in the “how” aspects of public service as opposed to the “what” aspects, although I acknowledge the importance of both.

Thanks for the warm greeting. I am looking forward to continuing our online discourse.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 11, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

No rush but would be interested on your take sometime on how the FIRE SERVICE has been impacted in last three decades over the increasingly complex (requiring further training and expertise) world of EMT/EMS and HAZMATS!

Thanks for returning from New Zealand. Did you live on North or South Island?

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