The American Idea

Posted June 24, 2014 by schoultz
Categories: American idea, American idealism, Innovation, Passion, Resilience

I was recently asked to sit on a panel discussing the Future of the American Idea, hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation.  I shared the panel with three very distinguished speakers in American political discourse: Peggy Noonan, Bill Kristol, and Gary Kasparov.   Thanks to my good friend Michelle Van Cleave for nominating me to be part of such a distinguished group.  The below essay is essentially what I offered to the discussion.

Meb Vietnamese kids1military

I believe that the American Idea can be expressed in four key values: Courage, Idealism, New Beginnings, and Community. These values are epitomized in two very different, but quintessentially American communities – recently arrived immigrants, and the US military.

The story of Meb Keflezighi is a great example of how immigrants continue to embody the values of courage, idealism, new beginnings and community.   Meb spent his childhood struggling to survive with his family in a village in war-torn Eritrea. After many years of courageous effort and persistence, his father succeeded in bringing Meb and his family to America, and with the help of the Eritrean-American community and their new American friends, Meb and his family were able to make a life for themselves in San Diego. Meb was 12 years old when he arrived, and speaking little to no English had to step up and adapt quickly to the new language and culture in San Diego. In school, he found that he had a talent for running, and after stellar performances at San Diego High School, he went on to attend UCLA and become an NCAA champion in multiple events. In 1998 he became an American citizen and represented the US in the Athens Olympics in 2004, bringing home a silver medal in the marathon to his adopted country.  He has since become the first American in over 30 years to win the New York City marathon, and then, though given little chance for winning, became the first American in three decades to win the Boston Marathon in 2014.

When people claim that Meb is more African than American, he responds forcefully and proudly  “I am an American!” When a friend of mine accompanied Meb to an Eritrean-American gathering in his honor, he was struck when the event began with the pledge-of-allegiance to the American flag.  Meb’s ten brothers and sisters have all attended college, to include some of the best institutions in the United States, a tribute to the courage, hard work, love and dedication of Meb’s father and mother, and the support of their community.

My good friend Kim, a second generation Vietnamese-American has shared with me much of her life growing up in the very tightly knit Vietnamese-American community in Atlanta and Southern California. When new immigrants arrive from Vietnam, the Vietnamese-American community rallies behind them, with a strong sense of shared obligation to support new arrivals, and help them get on their feet and adjust. The Vietnamese American community holds new arrivals accountable for making their own way with the help they receive. They are expected to become contributing members of their communities and to represent the best of the values of the Vietnamese culture, while respecting, and adapting to the values and customs of their new country.

To Meb and Kim, and to the Eritrean and Vietnamese-American communities, America is still the land of unlimited opportunity, not of unlimited entitlements. The American Idea is still fresh, inspiring, and real – it hasn’t become infected with disillusionment and cynicism.  The stories of Meb, Kim, and so many other immigrants follow the pattern of many of our European-American forefathers who left “Old Europe” to begin anew in America. Our immigrant forefathers, and immigrants coming to America today, have all exhibited the courage and idealism to break from the old and venture into the unknown, to start over and build strong communities that reflect and embody the American Idea.

Similarly today, members of our military represent those same values. All have courageously volunteered to leave their old lives, to make new beginnings, and to accept the dangerous mission that serving in the military on behalf of America entails. The military culture is demanding, but it is also infused with idealism and optimism as it seeks to embody the values of honor, sacrifice, and service-above-self that represent the best in America and the best in its service members. Each of the military services actively strives to create a sense of community which holds its members accountable for pulling their own weight, for contributing to the greater good, and for representing the values that continue to make America a place where courageous idealists from around the world want to come to make a new beginning and build great communities.

The American Idea recognizes that some have not always been treated well on its behalf. African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans and others have legitimate grievances regarding how some have interpreted the American Idea. Past abuses cannot be undone, but they can be acknowledged, and lessons taken from them to help new generations to do better in the future as the American Idea evolves and becomes more inclusive.

The American Idea is not about looking backward with regret– it is about looking forward with optimism.  It is about proudly proclaiming “I am an American!” and boldly stepping into the future, striving to live up to high ideals that make strong and vibrant communities, communities that sustain the American Idea that sustains us all.

Gary Kasparov, Bob Schoultz, Peggy Noonan, Bill Kristol, and Jimmy Kemp at the Jack Kemp Foundation Conference.

Gary Kasparov, Bob Schoultz, Peggy Noonan, Bill Kristol, and Jimmy Kemp at the Jack Kemp Foundation Conference.


A Bias for Bold Action

Posted May 27, 2014 by schoultz
Categories: Businesss Leadership, Character Development, Executive Coaching, heart, Innovation, mediocrity, NOLS, Passion, Resilience, Uncategorized, Values

Tags: , , , ,

audacity-augments-courage-hesitation-fearI was recently invited to provide a Navy SEAL’s perspective to a conference on risk management.    As I was preparing my remarks, I realized that throughout my career in the Navy, “risk management” had been inherent in my duties as an officer and leader of audacious men in high risk operations, but I had never given the concept of risk management much thought.  I felt a little like the fellow who was amazed  to learn that he’d been speaking prose all his life and didn’t even know it!

In thinking about it, I realized how important risk management can be to proper planning and success, but also how, if given too much emphasis, it can inhibit bold action and throw sand into the gears of progress.

Risk management is certainly an important aspect of good planning and decision making – an organization should go into any endeavor with its eyes open, understanding what could go wrong and how to manage potential impacts.   Careful consideration of risk can help determine whether a plan has a reasonable chance of success, and whether potential benefits justify likely or even unlikely costs. All of that is indisputable.

But an over-emphasis on risk management can torpedo one of the most important factors in any plan’s success:  Bold, confident commitment to a plan. Too much attention to risk management can focus an organization on all that can go wrong, rather than on what should go well and what bold action is required to ensure that it does.

A focus on risk can infect a team’s confidence, and over-caution can lead to inaction, or taking half steps, or playing not-to-lose.  We’ve heard the catchphrase to: “Always hedge your bets,” and cautious admonitions to be prudent, play it safe, don’t expose yourself, leave yourself a way out, never over-commit.  This can be practical advice – especially to ensure you get at least “half a loaf.”  But, while the careful approach may sometimes be wise to ensure survival, it won’t promote bold, audacious action.   And it won’t inspire subordinates to truly commit to a plan.

In their seminal book, In Search of Excellence, Peters and Waterman repeatedly found that great corporations had what they called “a bias for action.”   They noted that “The most important and visible outcropping of the action bias in excellent companies is their willingness to try things out, to experiment…..Most big institutions… prefer analysis and debate to trying something out, and they are paralyzed by fear of failure, however small.”  This was true 30 years ago, and it remains true today.

When I was serving at the Naval Academy, I presented an out-of-the-box proposal to then- Superintendent Vice Admiral Rod Rempt, to create an opportunity for midshipmen to participate in National Outdoor Leadership School courses during the summer.  He responded that he didn’t think it was a good idea, that it didn’t fit, we’d never done anything like this before, midshipmen already had more options than they could manage, etc, but then he said (and I’ll never forget) “What the hell – let’s give it a try! How can I help?” Ten years later, over a quarter of midshipmen choose to challenge themselves for 24 days in the wilderness with NOLS every summer, and I give Rod Rempt a lot of the credit for his willingness to take a chance and support a subordinate leader’s initiative.

The bold leader inspires subordinates to believe in themselves, their team, their strategy, and their ability to get results.   Subordinates know a risky plan when they see it, and it’s important that they trust that their leaders have competently weighed the risks involved, and share in that risk.  But it is more important that they know their leaders are confident and committed to the success of the plan, and are ready to commit boldly to its execution – in spite of the risks. History is full of examples of committed and confident teams succeeding where success was deemed unlikely or impossible; there are also innumerable examples of timid leaders and teams snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  Napoleon pointed out that in war, morale is to material as three is to one.

But there can be a fine line between being bold and audacious, and being blind and fool-hardy.   The motto of the Navy Seabees is “Can Do,” but they also say “Too much ‘Can-Do’ can do you in.”  John Wayne once said, “Life is tough. It’s even tougher when you’re stupid.”   But I’m arguing against risk managers injecting too much “Can’t Do” into vision and planning.

Great leaders have a bias for bold action, but prudently manage risk. Excellent managers on the other hand, are expected to be the voice of prudence and caution, to be their organization’s risk managers, while still leaving room for experimentation and well-calculated audacity.   In my own career, I have played the role of the cautious manager, raising red flags when (what I perceived to be) irresponsible and dangerous ideas were being proposed and considered.    I have also been the bold, aggressive leader who my team routinely had to rein in, to make sure we didn’t get out in front of our own headlights.  When the balance is right between bold but prudent leaders, and cautious but confident managers, there are few limits to what an organization can accomplish.

I was recently asked to speak on how great leaders and teams respond to chaos and uncertainty.  In my remarks, I noted that bold leaders know that while chaos and uncertainty are dangerous and warrant caution, they also present great opportunities.  The bold, aggressive leader will carefully watch chaos, staying alert, agile, ready to neutralize threats, but also ready to strike when opportunities present themselves. While the bold leader is wary of the danger inherent in chaos, s/he keeps the front site focused on opportunity.

When the going gets tough, the bold leader stays focused on opportunity.  Chesty Puller, when told that the Chinese had him and his Marines surrounded in Korea, is reputed to have responded: “That simplifies the problem.  The bastards can’t get away from us now!”   He didn’t  (as far as I know) then ask his staff for a risk management plan. But a good chief of staff would have prepared one for him anyway!

“The credit belongs to the man <or woman> who strives valiantly; who spends himself in a worthy cause… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid <risk managers> who neither know victory nor defeat.”  (Teddy Roosevelt, adjusted slightly…)

Manage risk, but always with a bias for bold action.


The Fifth Factor

Posted March 30, 2014 by schoultz
Categories: adaptability, Businesss Leadership, Character Development, Executive Coaching, heart, Resilience, Uncategorized, unseen order of things

number 5 on fire 2

Ok, what’s the “Fifth Factor?”

That is the question I frequently get when I tell people I named my company “Fifth Factor Leadership.” This simple question seems to deserve a simple answer, but I don’t have a simple answer, except my standard wise-guy response: It comes right after the fourth factor.

Which of course leads to the next simple question: OK, what are the first four factors of leadership? To which I answer: It depends on who you ask.

In my own work, I use and refer to a number of different four factor lists: The four leadership roles I learned from the National Outdoor Leadership School: self, peer, designated, and subordinate leadership. Or the four descriptors I offer as characteristics of elite teams: Purpose, Trust, Focus, Camaraderie (PTFC). I talk about Commando Leadership in terms of four components: Solidify the team, Energize the team, Authentic leadership, Live the mission (SEAL – cute eh?) Chris Lowney’s book Heroic Leadership suggests four qualities of great leaders: self-awareness, heroism, ingenuity, and compassion/love. Dr Al Pierce, my first military ethics mentor, wrote of Admiral Stockdale’s four components of moral leadership: a noble cause, proactive pursuit of that cause, self-sacrifice for the cause, and willingness to ask/direct others to make similar sacrifices. My friend, and leadership guru George Reed refers to the Four F’s of what people seek in work: Fun, Funds, Fellowship, Feeling, which I like to parody with the young SEAL’s version: Fighting, Fornicating, Fitness, and Fun.

Four is a good number of factors – easy to remember and appealing in a primal way. While such lists are indeed useful in helping us to understand complex concepts such as leadership, character, culture, it is important to ask: What is missing here? What else?  The Fifth Factor is a statement that we should be just a little skeptical of lists of four (or five, or six) factors which explain something as complex and human as “leadership.”

The Fifth Factor is essentially a conversation starter. The answer to ‘What is the Fifth Factor?’ deserves a couple of cups of coffee, a conversation, or even a longer shared experience, which of course, most of us don’t have time for.  When pressed, I’ll respond that “The Fifth Factor is good judgment built on experience and good character” which satisfies most people who are busy and polite – kind of like, “I’m fine, how are you?”

But that short answer does not satisfy me. Good or great leadership is so very context dependent. What works well in one context often doesn’t work in another. Sometimes the Fifth Factor may be drive, ambition, and vision, and sometimes caution and care. It may mean the leader being an asshole (that’s the technical term for ill-humored and uncompromising) when that is what is called for to get individuals or a team out of their comfort zone, to achieve more than they believe they can. Sometimes the Fifth Factor calls for the leader to damn the torpedoes and drive on at full speed, other times to back off, cut losses, find another path, and survive to fight another day. Sometimes the Fifth Factor demands that the leader focus all of his/her energy on a specific problem or person, other times to delegate, pull back and stay focused on the big picture. Sometimes the great leader is rational and analytical, and other times s/he simply follows gut instinct, and listens to the universe for guidance….

How do we know which is the right approach? Great question! We often don’t know….but we must act.

I have chosen a name for my company that evokes an intangible concept which can’t be readily defined or taught.  This certainly gives me flexibility, but is counter to what conventional wisdom would advise.  But I believe that “good leadership” itself is intangible and hard to define, which (paradoxically) is what makes it so interesting to study and talk about. Good leadership is so interesting because there are so many examples of what many have called good, or effective leadership that don’t fit the classic examples that inspire us.  Ask anyone who has succeeded in significant leadership roles and in different contexts. There is no answer that completely explains what works and why in one case, and not in another.  Sometimes it is X. Sometimes it is Y. Honesty? Compassion? Commitment? Attention to detail? Humility? Passion? Self Confidence? The good leader has to compromise each of these on occasion. Yes, even honesty.

Is it enough to simply say that good leadership works, and afterward we seek to understand how and why? And then somehow fit that model into our taxonomy?  I am not completely comfortable with that approach either. The mysteries, the intangibles, the paradoxes just have to be part of our understanding. How do we explain how over a hundred years ago, Ernest Shackleton was able to bring all his men home from Antarctica, against all odds? The Fifth Factor accepts that we may never fully understand, but we should try – and be at least a little skeptical of whatever answers we come up with.

What does it take to be a leader? My philosophy mentor Tom Grassey likes to say that all you need to be a leader is a follower. Now THAT is a good, simple, and logical answer! But his point is that the real question is: What does it takes to be a good, or even great leader? That is a much more complicated and interesting question, and the answer is: It depends. After we make our lists of qualities, characteristics and factors of good leadership, the Fifth Factor asks – “What else?” “What is missing?”

And that is where the most interesting conversations about good and effective leadership begin.

I know this essay doesn’t provide any real answers. But I prefer to play with the questions.  With leadership and other human endeavors, there are so many questions, and they are so fascinating. The Fifth Factor is my foray into exploring some of the subtleties and intangibles of how people lead others and work together to succeed, survive, and thrive. So many intriguing examples and paradoxes come to mind….

Fear…and the Warrior

Posted February 6, 2014 by schoultz
Categories: adaptability, Character Development, Hero's Journey, Heroism, honor, mind, SEALs, Uncategorized, Warfare

This essay appears in the current issue (Issue 23)  of Naval Special Warfare’s ETHOS magazine. It was inspired by a story a journalist friend of mine shared with me about a panel he moderated with a group of military veterans.  When he brought up the subject of fear in combat, there was a reluctance to talk about it, and he was chastised by one of their wives, who believed that even asking the question dishonored these heroes.
As you’ll read in the essay below, I see it differently.   I use the masculine pronoun only because it avoids the awkward ‘he/she’ and ‘his/her.’  I know many courageous female warriors – in and out of uniform.

We often talk about a warrior’s courage; we admire him for it and we celebrate it. But how does one talk about courage—how does one examine its potential and its limits—without also talking about fear? For what is courage, but doing what needs to be done, in spite of one’s fears? This essay considers the complex relationship between the elite and experienced warrior, and his fear.

Young, bold, and audacious warriors often try to deny their fear as a form of weakness. They often idealize themselves and other bold warriors as knowing no fear. They see fear only as incapacitating, a weakness to be overcome in order to be great. I fell into that trap when I was younger, but I see things differently now.

I’ve come to realize that elite warriors have an intimate relationship with fear. They don’t deny their fear; rather they seek it out as a catalyst to make themselves stronger, wiser, more resilient. They push themselves beyond the edge of their comfort zones in search of that next challenge, the next higher mountain, the next opportunity to see what they’re made of.  Each new challenge invariably involves confronting new anxieties and fears, which they must listen to, get to know and become intimate with, in order to survive, succeed, and perform at their best. Elite warriors are always developing and shaping their relationship with fear.

Elite warriors are wary of the audacious, the bold, the reckless who claim to know no fear, and brazenly attack every obstacle. These bold, usually young warriors need experienced warriors to guide them and help them to survive until they too can become ‘experienced’ and perhaps eventually ‘elite.’ Elite warriors are ready to act when bold and dangerous action is required, but they also know that discretion is often the better part of valor.

SEALs and SWCCs are among those elite warriors whose missions require that they confront, learn to live with, and manage fear, anxiety, and apprehension. To train for and succeed in the most challenging and unforgiving environments, they must make fear work FOR them, rather than hinder their performance.

Fear can be the warrior’s friend. Properly managed and applied, it can inspire focused attention to detailed and thorough preparation before a stressful event. Whether it be public speaking, a night parachute jump, or going into combat, all elite warriors have stories of success and even survival in unforgiving environments, after paying attention to that knot in the stomach that inspired them to take extra precautions, and prepare, prepare, prepare to perform at their best. Experienced warriors see “red flags” when there is no fear or anxiety before what should clearly be a stressful event.

Warriors, and especially elite warriors, have a relationship with fear that those who seek only safety, security, and comfort will never know. The more ‘elite’ the warrior, the more intimate and familiar he is with fear. Experience, self-knowledge and common sense help the elite warrior talk to and listen to his fear, and thereby to perform at his best. And this fear is not merely personal – the warrior is most often part of a team. Within a team, within a military unit, the elite warrior’s greatest fear is letting down his teammates and his team.

Within elite warrior cultures, fear of shame or dishonor has always been stronger than fear of injury or death.

A warrior’s fear often masquerades as performance anxiety. Will I meet the expectations and standards of my team and team mates? Will I be able to do my share or more, if/when the “kaka” hits the fan? Have I done all that I can do to be as ready as I can be, or have I missed something? Might a mistake, a bad decision, or a momentary lapse in focus get one of my buddies killed or injured, or result in mission failure? Will I dishonor myself, and be ashamed in front of my teammates? These are the fears that confront a warrior in his quiet moments, especially at the early stages of his development, while he is still accumulating experience, gaining self-confidence, and getting comfortable with his fear.

This intimate relationship to fear is not unique to elite military units; one finds it in any culture of men and women who individually or in teams work in challenging and unforgiving environments, to include rock climbers, mountaineers, big wave surfers, extreme skiers, competitive athletes, and even the best entrepreneurs and business leaders. Jim Collins, devotes a whole section of his most recent book, Great by Choice, to what he calls “productive paranoia,” explaining how the most successful business leaders are always on edge in anticipation of chaos or bad luck. “Productive paranoia” keeps them focused on keeping themselves and their businesses as alert and ready as they can be.

Elite warriors are not afraid to acknowledge their fear. Their relationship with their fear is like a good marriage – the warrior and his fear are indeed intimate and familiar with each other, and it is a very private relationship. Together they are more than the sum of their parts, and they each make the other better: the elite warrior’s experience, judgment, and wisdom temper and manage his primal fears, while the warrior’s fears focus his mind and energies, and tell him when to be careful, and when to pay very close attention. The warrior’s fear of failure, shame and dishonor, his fear of letting down his teammates helps inform good decisions that appropriately manage risk and achieve outcomes that serve the long term best interest of himself, his team and his nation.

Lone Survivor – the movie

Posted January 22, 2014 by schoultz
Categories: Hero's Journey, Heroism, Naval Special Warfare, SEALs, Special Operations Forces, Warfare

Lone SurvivorI recently watched the movie Lone Survivor – a movie adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s book of the same name.  I give the movie an overall B+.  There were several things I really liked about it, one glaring thing I didn’t like, and a few omissions which I found regrettable.

Spoiler alert:  If you have either read the book or seen the movie, this perspective may interest you. If not, you may want to wait before reading on.

First, a few disclaimers:  I do not personally know Marcus Luttrell.  I have not been to Afghanistan, nor have I ever been in a desperate firefight – nor for that matter, any kind of firefight that approached the intensity of what Murphy, Dietz, Axelson and Luttrell experienced on that mountainside in Afghanistan.   My tactical experience as a SEAL is dated, but I did spend 30 years in the SEAL community, retiring in 2005, and it is from that perspective that I offer my impression of the movie.

What I LIKED about the movie:

-          I thought it was a fair representation of ‘team-guy’ SEAL culture.  It showed the playfulness and irreverence, the cockiness and humility, and the ability of highly trained young men to gel into a team, to get serious and focus.  And I’m sorry, Mrs Smedlap, these All-American warriors do talk that way – most men in combat communicate with each other using extensive and graphic, if not always inspired, profanity.

-          I was concerned that the movie might make the SEALs, especially the four men who are the center piece of the movie, seem somehow larger than life, and make them into Hollywood cut-outs of super commandos, but I didn’t see that.  Murphy, Axelson, Dietz, and Luttrell, and the other SEALs portrayed in the movie were human and real;  it appears that the collaboration between Peter Berg and Marcus Luttrell succeeded in respecting the culture and the guys themselves, without caricaturing them.

-          The very beginning of the movie showed what appeared to be actual scenes from BUD/S training, which set up the movie by giving the audience a sense for what it takes to become part of this tribe.  This was well done and (thankfully) not overdone – the movie didn’t dwell on it.

-          The depictions of life on and off-duty  at Bagram and ‘J-Bad’ in Afghanistan were consistent with my experience in deployed Joint Operations Centers, and consistent with what I’ve heard from the guys I know who have spent much time ‘forward’  in the recent wars.

-          The firefight scene seemed realistic to me.  It was not easy to watch good men give their last measure to save themselves and their buddies, and die doing it.  But that is what this movie is about, and the generalities of the firefight appeared realistic and generally well done.  It appears that Peter Berg paid close attention to the counsel of Marcus Luttrell and his other (former) SEAL advisors in making this part of the movie.

-          It was a nice touch to see Marcus Luttrell himself as an extra, playing one of the SEALs in the movie.

-          The movie honored and paid tribute to the Afghanis who stood up to the Taliban in protecting Luttrell.

-          The very conclusion of the movie (just before the credits) honored those who were killed on the operation.  We saw pictures of those who died on the operation in happier times, with their wives, children, pets and friends, making them human and real – not just names and numbers.  I and others in the theater choked up.   I was pleased to see that this tribute included the Army Special Operations Helo pilots and crew as well as the SEALs who died trying to rescue these four.  The audience in my theater applauded after this part.  I was moved.

What I DIDN’T LIKE about the movie:

-          I felt that the firefight scene went on too long.    I know that one of Marcus Luttrell’s main objectives in supporting this movie was to accurately portray and pay homage to how his brothers honorably fought and died, but I believe a couple of minutes could have been shaved off the firefight scene and devoted to another key part of the story that I felt did not get the attention it deserved – the part that came next.

-          I thought that Luttrell’s experience as the ‘lone survivor,’ struggling to survive and evade capture after his team mates were killed, was the most compelling part of the book, and the movie gave this short shrift.    It is an amazing story of the strength of the human spirit and one man’s struggle to survive against the odds.  All alone, very badly hurt, and nearly delirious from pain, hunger, fatigue, and thirst, Luttrell was able to hide and keep moving for 2-3 days, evading the Taliban who were desperately looking for him.  This is barely touched upon in the movie.

-          The scene where Luttrell was discovered and taken into custody by the Afghan villager Mohammad Gulab, and the period during which he was protected in the Afghan village under the code of Pashtunwali, were portrayed very differently in the movie than in the book.  The movie didn’t do justice to a really fascinating part of this story -the book was much better.

-          My main objection to the movie was how it portrayed Luttrell’s final rescue from the Afghan village. It was really cheesy.  It was as if Peter Berg suddenly abandoned his respect for the integrity of the story, and defaulted to his Hollywood roots to give us a clichéd Hollywood conclusion.   Just as the situation becomes truly desperate, the US (Air) Cavalry pops over the ridge, swoops down into the village and saves the day, shooting the Taliban as they run terrified into the hills.  It was like a scene from a 1950’s western:   The cavalry arrives just in the nick of time to pull our desperate hero from the jaws of death, and give the Indians their comeuppance.   I was waiting for the bugles and the playing of Gary Owen!  The version of the rescue that Luttrell told in the book was much more interesting, if less dramatic.

With the exception of the rescue scene at the end, I thought Peter Berg did well keeping the movie and the book essentially in harmony.   I forgive (most of) the differences as part of the ‘poetic license’ producers and directors need to create the impact and effect they want in the retelling of the story in an abbreviated format.  It did claim to be ‘based on a true story,’ not to be a documentary.  The final rescue scene however, was way over the top, and it hurt the movie.

In spite of its flaws, I’m glad the movie was made and I recommend it.   It is (mostly) very well done and gives broad exposure to the story of this SEAL squad, and the final hours of three SEALs fighting desperately and bravely, and the 16 other brave men who died trying to rescue them.  And by extension Lone Survivor pays tribute to the thousands of American sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines who have died or been seriously wounded fighting in this war, on behalf of the people of the United States and Afghanistan. Hopefully this movie raises the level of awareness, understanding and appreciation for their sacrifices.

For those who are interested in  what Marcus Luttrell has done since the
tragedy of Operation Red Wings in 2005, I’ll direct you again to Dan Klaidman’s
excellent recent article on him, written as part of the Hero Project in The Daily Beast  here 

A Personal Ethos?

Posted December 27, 2013 by schoultz
Categories: adaptability, Character Development, Ethics, heart, Hero's Journey, honor, Resilience, simplicity, unseen order of things, Values

What is a personal ethos?  It’s not a term or expression most of us are familiar with.  What is it and should it play any role in our lives?  Do we need a personal ethos?

Good question.

angel and devilAll of us actually do have a personal ethos – we just may not be able to clearly articulate it.  But we do have a pattern of values, motivations, and aspirations that can be distilled from decisions, both large and small, that we have made in our lives.  We are what we decide, how we behave, and what we do – much more so than what we say, what we intend, or what we think we want.  This pattern makes up the ‘personal ethos’ by which we live, consciously or unconsciously.

It can be empowering to know, accept, and understand the values and aspirations that are behind our decisions and actions, and even more empowering to choose and embrace them, rather than be pushed around by them….A personal ethos that we create and try to live by, can give us a sense of direction and even purpose for our lives – especially if it is crafted to fit our particular needs, personality, and circumstances.

I believe that a personal ethos should speak primarily to our “heart” and emotions, and less to our “head” and reason. It should inspire us to choose and live a “path with heart,” and should serve as a hand-rail to guide us when we may be tempted to wander off that desired path. This hand-rail should steady us when we lose our balance or stumble, help us get up the mountain when the going is rough and steep, and help us keep our footing and perhaps even slow down, when we’re going downhill with the wind at our back. It should guide us toward the man or woman we want to be – the best we can be – given that we are human, with all the strengths and frailties that implies.

A personal ethos is indeed personal; what works for you may not work for me.  It should fit our own inclinations, and remind us to consider those aspects of living well which may not be intrinsic to the groove we’ve created for our lives. A personal ethos should include those things each of us believes deserve our regular attention, and may ignore those things that may already be embedded in our lives.

In thinking about a personal ethos, you might consider my “top ten” considerations, listed below in no particular order.  Your top ten will certainly be different, and I expect some interesting feedback.

1.- Failure, or not getting what I want. Does my personal ethos support me, buoy me up, serve as a source of strength and resilience when I don’t get something I want that is important to me?  Though I often don’t get what I want, my personal ethos reminds me that I always get what I need.
2.- Hardship/suffering/tragedy. Does my personal ethos serve as a source of strength and resilience in times of suffering and tragedy? Does it help me find meaning in suffering and sadness? I find it instructive and inspiring to read the accounts of people who have struggled and suffered in prison – Stockdale, Mandela, Bonhoeffer, and especially Viktor Frankl in Auschwitz (Man’s Search for Meaning.)
3.- Community.  Does my personal ethos help me recognize that we are all part of a much larger story, and that who we are, how we live, and what we value are the results of the blood, sweat, and tears, the joy and the suffering of generations of others? Does it remind me that we can only flourish in a community, and that “flourishing” includes responsibilities?
4.- Love. A big word worth thinking about. The Dalai Lama builds his ethic and faith around compassion. Does my personal ethos demand that I acknowledge, accept and appreciate my common humanity with those who are so easy to dislike, distrust, demean, even hate? (And there are so many!) Sometimes, a good place to start is simply to hate less, and then build to “love more.”
5.- Joy/Fun/Humor.  Most people take a lot of $h!# way too seriously – especially themselves.  That’s just my opinion. Meher Baba’s counsel: “Don’t Worry! Be Happy!” applies to about 80% of what bothers most of us. One of my father’s favorite sayings is “If you ain’t having fun doing it, you ain’t doing it right.” Sometimes we all need to remind ourselves to laugh – especially at ourselves and our predicaments. God simply HAS TO have a sense of humor – why else would the Buddha be laughing?
6.- Challenge.  Does my personal ethos push me out of my comfort zone? Does it challenge me to get better and be better? I know I get better by forcing myself out of my comfort zone. Even just a little. Choosing to get uncomfortable, to get up off the couch and change my routine, just doesn’t seem to come naturally (to me.)
7.- Faith.  Does my personal ethos acknowledge and seek connection to an Unseen Order of Things? Many will automatically include Faith as a centerpiece in their lives. When pressed, atheists and skeptics also have a spirituality that gives meaning to their lives in the face of the Unanswerable Mysteries. To paraphrase the famous words of Dick Butkus, former NFL line-backer: “There’s a whole lot of $h!# going on that we just ain’t gonna understand.”
8.- Nature.  Does my personal ethos push me to connect with the natural world, of which we are a part, on so many levels? This is so easy to forget in our front-country busy-ness. Connection to the bigger story of community is even bigger when we connect to the oceans, the mountains, and forests and deserts, and the drama of living for a brief moment of eternity as mammals on this planet. Take a look at goggle earth and see if you can find yourself….
9.- Rest and Silence.  Does my personal ethos remind me to slow down and rest, not only my body but my mind? Does it encourage me to let the churning waters of my conscious life settle, to allow whatever wisdom may be inside me, to come to the surface and be recognized? Does it remind me to slow down, listen to myself and to others, and to pay attention to what is going on around me? (I find this one particularly difficult.)
10.- Mortality and Death.  Does my personal ethos encourage a conversation with that ultimate reality we all face? Living well includes dying well, and I want to be ready and at peace when my time comes, whether suddenly, or expectedly. St Augustine told us to be ready to die at any moment. The Dalai Lama meditates on his own death daily. Samurai warriors were taught to become comfortable with their own death, so as not to live in fear of it. There are important lessons here.

If you were to create a personal ethos, what would your top ten considerations be?  The ultimate criterion for judging a personal ethos is whether it works ….for you – whether it helps YOU to become better, stronger, wiser, more resilient – to live well. Living well is not only the best revenge, it is literally the goal of a lifetime, and there is no work more worthy of our effort.  Thinking about what that means, and building a hand-rail to steady us as we move along our path, can help.

What is your personal ethos? Can you articulate it? Is it helping you to live well?
For those interested in this topic, my essays What is it REALLY all about? and Simplicity might be of interest.   A personal ethos is indeed a  simple, personal statement of what it’s really all about…for you.

Exploring the Ethics of Weaponized Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Posted November 25, 2013 by schoultz
Categories: Ethics, Ethics and UAVs, Ethics in Warfare, UAVs, Warfare, Weaponized UAVs

The below essay  appears in the current (fall 2013) issue of  the Navy Helicopter Association’s quarterly magazine, Rotor Review.  I was asked to prepare and submit this essay  by its editor, one of my all-star former students at USD – Allison Fletcher, herself a helo-pilot.  Though the topic won’t interest many of you, it may interest some of you.  If you’re interested in helicopters at all, you can view the entire magazine HERE and Allison has assembled a number of outstanding articles in this issue – apart (of course!) from my essay. Here is  my contribution:


Exploring the Ethics of Weaponized Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

We have recently seen discussions in the press regarding the morality of firing Hellfire missiles and other lethal munitions from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).  Those “pulling the trigger” to launch the missiles are at no risk, and those targeted have no defenses against them, especially when we can place UAVs undetected and overhead in much of the world. 
Additionally, we read about UAV operators suffering stress and guilt
after spending days, weeks, or months launching lethal strikes from their safe compounds in the United States, dealing death and destruction to their targets, and going home at 5PM to have dinner with their families. Many UAV operators feel that this is somehow unethical, launching lethal strikes from a position of relative safety, to kill, maim and destroy on remote battlefields.  The enemy not only has no idea what or who hit
him but has no means to respond in kind. It doesn’t seem fair.

And it isn’t fair, within the context of justice as we normally experience it in civilized life.  In our normal lives, ethical people don’t blindside their opponents.  Even in some military contexts, enemies confront each other in combat, and the best trained, best prepared win.  But of course, warfare isn’t that simple.  It isn’t even that simple in our normal lives.

But let’s stick with warfare.  The idea that battle should be fair – mano a mano – became obsolete with the competition for technological advantage in using standoff weapons.  In early days, it was considered unmanly to resort to archers in battle, when chivalry called for gentlemen to fight each other on relatively equal terms.  Eventually the chivalry of knights made room for the archer, and then the long- and crossbows gave way to the musket, and the musket to the automatic rifle.  The reach of artillery extended from yards to miles, then a century ago, aircraft were introduced as weapons in war, and World War II saw the introduction of the long-range missile.  In each case, the archer, rifleman, artilleryman, bomber pilot and missile launcher are dealing death to their targets from positions where the specific individuals targeted usually cannot respond or retaliate.

The reality is that war is not individuals confronting each other in a test of strength and skill.  Though it is individuals who die in war, war is between militaries, countries or cultures, and technological advantage is increasingly a key measure of strength and proficiency.  The weaponized UAV is simply another development in standoff weapons capabilities, and the UAV operator is like a sniper – s/he finds, stalks and kills specific targets from a position where targeted individuals cannot see their assassin.  Unlike the bomber, the artilleryman or missile launcher, UAV operators and snipers actually see the results of their handiwork.  The radio controlled IED, similar to the claymore mine used by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, has also been an effort by our enemies to seek a technological advantage with a standoff weapon.

Military Ethics are driven by two fundamental principles – discrimination and proportionality.  Discrimination demands that we only intentionally target combatants, and proportionality demands that unintended or collateral damage, especially to civilian infrastructure and non-combatants, be proportional to the military value of the target.  The issues and nuances associated with applying these two principles in combat are complex and keep legions of military ethicists and attorneys busy.   Simply stated, the ethical issues in applying lethal force from UAVs are no different than for applying lethal force from other standoff weapons – whether that be a cruise missile launched from a ship, submarine, or aircraft, or a JDAM launched from an F/A 18.

Autonomous lethal UAVs pose a much more interesting ethical challenge.  UAVs have been developed that can be programmed to deliver precision guided lethal munitions as soon as its sensors determine that criteria have been met, within a shoot/don’t shoot decision matrix.   Such UAVs are included within the rubric of what are now referred to as Lethal Autonomous Robots (LAR).   Many of us may be morally repelled by the idea of a computerized machine making the “decision” to kill, but the debate about the ethics of LARs is not as simple as it might seem.  Whether we like it or not, pre-programmable smart bombs and cruise missiles, while improving the precision of air strikes, reducing collateral damage (remember carpet and fire-bombing?), and reducing risk to our own forces, have moved us in the direction of such weapons.

The most compelling argument against LARs is that when we take the human out of the loop, there is not the extra attention that comes with direct accountability to minimize mistakes that lead to unnecessary, unintended, or non-proportional non-combatant deaths.  With LARs, there is less opportunity for human intuition to sense that, though criteria may all line up to justify the decision to shoot or kill, something just doesn’t look or feel right. In such situations, the experienced (and morally sensitive and accountable) human may hesitate and take that extra second or two or three to confirm targeting criteria and ensure that “the bread van we’re targeting is not actually an ambulance,” or that the Toyota Land cruiser, that looks just like the one that intelligence said would be carrying terrorists at this place and time, is not a hapless group of refugees tragically unaware that they are moving through a designated kill zone. Take the human out of the loop and the LAR will dispassionately do its duty as programmed, fire as directed, feel no remorse or guilt, and stand by for its next assignment.

We (should) feel that the decision to kill human beings and impose the tragic impact such killing has on families and communities demands not only legal but also moral accountability from another human being.

And yet….

Programming mistakes and computer glitches similarly cause other “smart” weapons systems to go astray and kill the wrong people.  We make no arguments that, because of these occasional shortcomings, we should dispense with computerized cruise missiles or other programmable “smart” standoff weapons. The alternative to such precision-guided weapons is increased collateral damage, or putting our own warriors closer to the violence and thereby at greater risk.

Probably the prime argument made by those who support LARs is that taking human emotion and frailty out of the equation will result in fewer mistakes and actually reduce unintended killing in war.  They argue that cases of tragic collateral damage will be reduced when the fear, fatigue, rage and anger, emotional frailty, and misjudgments of human beings are taken out of the shoot/don’t shoot decision process.  Indeed, those who argue in favor of LARs pose the interesting question from a consequentialist perspective: Would you oppose LARs if there were overwhelming evidence that human error and misjudgments were the cause of a great percentage of weaponeering mistakes, and that a purely rational, dispassionate decision process would indeed reduce these unintended killings dramatically?  It is an interesting and not entirely theoretical question.  It pits the principle of wanting human engagement and accountability in delivering lethal force against the desired consequence of reducing unintended death and injury due to human frailty.

Part of what makes this issue interesting is that the military profession seeks, through training and continued professionalization, to insulate the warrior and the warrior’s emotional life from the act of killing.  We don’t want military people to want or like to kill, and we want them to return to their communities not only physically, but psychologically whole.  Our ideal warriors kill out of a sense of duty – dispassionate duty – to their country and their profession, not because they hate the enemy or love to kill.  (Many civilians, and I dare say many in the military, don’t get this, and our civilian and even military leaders will often fan the flames of hate to motivate their citizen-soldiers to kill and die for their country.)  Our ideal warrior is compassionate with buddies, shipmates, family, and communities, but, when confronting the enemy in planning or in battle, is expected to become like a chess master – coldly rational, efficient, dispassionate, and professional  – the Stoic warrior who sets his/her emotions aside to do what needs to be done, whatever that is, in accordance with Rules of Engagement that s/he may not understand or accept, but others have promulgated. If successful, then our warriors are expected to become human, emotional, and compassionate again, and to relax and enjoy the companionship of friends, family, and community.

Are we not asking too much of our warriors, that they follow the cold logic of ROE, kill, maim and destroy out of duty, not passion, and then flip a switch and become human again?   The impact of our recent wars on the young men and women in our military has forced this question upon us.   We have seen too many otherwise good warriors commit atrocities or other violations of the Laws of Armed Conflict (there have been many, though not many have been made public), and we hear the often tragic stories of warriors, their families and communities struggling with PTSD, building to an epidemic in active duty and veteran suicides.

If our ideal warriors are fearless, dispassionate and very efficient followers of orders, expected to risk their own death and injury in order to deliver it to others, and the costs of trying to make our young men and women into this professional ideal are so high, WHY NOT get a computerized robot, a Lethal Autonomous Robot, to do the killing?  LARs could significantly reduce death and injury to our own warriors, as well as reduce the simmering tragedy of PTSD and other life and family destroying psychological injuries to our warriors during and after service, while increasing it for our enemies.  Isn’t war, as Patton reportedly once said, simply trying to make the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country?

While I wonder whether Lethal Autonomous Robots might simply be just one more step in the millennia-long effort to gain technological advantage in war, I struggle on principle with the idea of autonomous robots doing our killing.  I have written several case studies in which military leaders, based on gut instinct and moral intuition, have injected themselves into the cold logic of scheduled fires and PGM targeting, cancelled planned strikes, and thereby averted tragedy.  Their leadership, intuition, and commitment to minimize harm to noncombatants have saved countless lives of the innocent.  But I do accept that there are compelling arguments in favor of LARs.  Computers don’t feel fear, sadness, anger, envy, regret, hope, joy, love, or moral accountability – all things that make us human and that have made war not only such a tragedy, but also such an incredible laboratory for human excellence.  And yet, it is our humanity that frequently gets in the way of rational and ethical decision making on the battlefield, and has caused so much tragedy and evil, as well as courage and selfless sacrifice, in war.   The computer chip in the Lethal Autonomous Robot, once programmed, changes the nature of “risk” in warfare and demands that we reconsider our concepts of “courage” – both physical and moral – in war, and indeed our concept of what it is to be a “warrior.”

Stay tuned – this discussion is ongoing, and will continue as long as technological advantage is a primary means for the U.S. to achieve military and political victory over our adversaries, while reducing risk to our own warriors.


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