Pyongyang, Charlottesville, and Asymmetric Warfare

“That Gates is a damned fool.  He spent too many years in the British army.

Going muzzle to muzzle with redcoats in an open field.  It’s madness… this battle was over before it began.” – Benjamin Martin

This quote is from a scene from The Patriot, in which the protagonist and his son watch inexperienced Colonial militia line up against veteran British regulars during the early years of the American Revolution.

In the 18th century, this was the norm of conventional land warfare.  Tight formations of infantry supported by artillery and cavalry closed to within 50 yards (the effective range of the smooth-bore muskets) of a similarly-arrayed opponent and opened fire.  Light infantry “skirmishers” and cavalry served both to protect the flanks and to rush in to exploit weak points in the enemy’s formations.


This “line infantry” tactic had its roots in the Greek phalanx, in which heavily-armored, spear-bearing hopliteformed walls of shields and spears, moving methodically forward to slam into the enemy.  In what we might consider an arms race, this tactic led the standard infantry weapon – the spear – to grow in length from about 8′ in the 8th century BC to pikes as long as 18-20′ four hundred years later in the time of Alexander the Great.

Two thousand years later, the musket was essentially used as a 150′ spear (or with the bayonet attached, one with a bit less reach).  And line infantry tactics continued to be very similar to phalangial warfare, even capitalizing on Alexander’s innovations of calvary and light “skirmisher” infantry to protect the flanks, be a quick-reaction reserve to shore up weaknesses, and to deploy rapidly as a shock force to exploit the enemy’s weaknesses.

Such tactics required standardized equipment and armament, skilled leaders from the squad to the headquarters levels, and trained and disciplined foot soldiers.  All of these were strengths the British had and the Continental Army did not.

Benjamin Martin was correct.  It was a fool’s errand to meet the redcoats on their own terms.  The battle was over before it began.

Had the Continental Army continued to fight the British on level ground, we might still be a British colony today.  Instead, they adapted.  Instead of fighting the redcoats on their terms, they capitalized on their strengths such as familiarity with the terrain, support of the local populace, the longer effective range of the Pennsylvania Rifle over the Brown Bess musket, and others.


In contemporary military jargon, this is called “asymmetric warfare” – refusing to meet the enemy on areas in which it has an advantage or even parity, and instead using one’s strength against the enemy’s weaknesses.

What does this have to do with Pyongyang and Charlottesville?


Kim Jong Un is dangerous.  We cannot ignore his threats, his actions, and especially his steady progression towards attaining a significant intercontinental nuclear strike capability.  He is a despot.  He is a narcissist.  He is unstable.  He is ruthless.  He is largely unpredictable.

Kim Jong

All these are reasons we must engage him.  But we can’t do so on his terms, in places where he has an advantage or even parity.

This is why I believe the President’s use of aggressive rhetoric through Twitter and public spokesmen has been a severe mistake.

National power is often simplified into an acronym, “DIME”: Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic.  The United States of America enjoys an overwhelmingly-lopsided advantage in all of these areas.

However, in this information-driven age in which little capital is needed to broadcast a message to a worldwide audience, the microphones of President Donald J. Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un are very similar in effective range and power.

And so, when the President of the United States engages the Dictator of North Korea in a series of threats, counters, warnings, and other messages on the world stage, we are facing the enemy on the best terms for which he could ask.  We are engaging him in parity.

Kim Jon Un is getting exactly what he wants – recognition as a world power.  A person so important that the President of the United States reacts to his taunts on the world stage.

Likewise, in this nation, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, anarchists are at a severed disadvantage in almost every resource.  Despite what you may have heard, their numbers have actually been in decline (Source: FBI data and Southern Poverty Law Center) for the past several years.  Their effectiveness has been on the decrease also – anti-black hate crimes have been cut in half in the past two decades.


But one area that they have been increasingly effective – in essence waging asymmetric warfare of their own – is on the Internet and particularly social media, where it is relatively easy to make a small and weak organization appear and sound much larger and more powerful.

Their exploitation of this asymmetry was masterful last weekend in Charlottesville.  Though the gathering was possibly the largest of such aligned racist groups in recent history, it was a few hundred in the midst of a town of nearly 50,000.  But through the resources of the Internet, they showed up organized and equipped with the intent of inciting exactly the kind of violence they achieved.

And America played right into it.  We met them on their own terms, and played to their strengths.  They wanted an armed confrontation, and we gave it to them – on worldwide media.  We gave them the appearance of being bigger, stronger, and more significant than they are, and even worse, we gave power to their voices and their sick ideology.

Instead of fighting them, we are fighting ourselves.  And this, not force-on-force, nation-on-nation conflict, is the key element in what I outlined a year ago (How to Destroy the United States), a strategy to destroy our nation from within.

How do we defeat Kim Jong Un?  Where we are stronger than him – diplomatically and economically (and here we must give credit to the administration for recent wins in the United Nations where we finally have China at least tentatively, but unprecedentedly, onboard with sanctions).  We do it with information – not worldwide media, but offensive and defensive cyberwarfare, back-channel communications, and by gathering and exploiting intelligence.   And we do this while preparing and planning for military options – speaking softly and carrying a big stick.

The asymmetric approach to hate groups like we saw in Charlottesville is similar.  Hit where they are weak.  Capitalize on their small numbers.  When they organize a rally of hundreds in one town, we refuse to meet them force-on-force and instead organize a rally of thousands in another town in the same state.  When they try to capitalize on our differences on the Internet, we shake hands and link arms with our neighbors in person.  When they shout epithets, we speak truths.

Let them wallow in the swamp.  We’ll take the high ground.

They can’t match our numbers, they can’t disprove our truths, and they can’t break our spirit.

Lufbery Circle Politics

A “Lufbery circle” was originally a defensive tactic, but today is a term in air combat for a phenomenon where the combatants are stuck in the fight across from each other. Each is unable to reach a firing solution, yet leaving the circle will immediately put them at a disadvantage.


(Image: Gervais Raul Lufbery, WWI flying ace.  He would feel quite lost in today’s politics)

The “lizard brain’s” reaction to a Lufbery is to stay where you are. Keep turning and hope something changes. It is by its nature an energy-losing maneuver, continually spiraling to the floor. It will almost always get you killed because you run out of gas, run out of altitude/into a rock, or get shot by another guy who happens to poke his nose into your merry-go-round.

The four major divisions of Congress (ideological progressive/socialist left, ideological conservative right, establishment left, and establishment right) are in a Lufbery. The smaller factions have very little influence except perhaps the GOP Libertarians who tend to hang out in the ideological conservative right.

The establishment left and right are party before principle. They will always do what is most likely to help them gain or maintain seats, power, and money.

The ideological left and right are principle over party, but there is one big difference between the two (beyond their values).

The essential nature of the ideological left includes a large state and centralized power, and that lends itself to them working together with the establishment left. However, the essential nature of the ideological right is a smaller state and decentralized power, which lends itself to conflict with the establishment right.  Thus, the right side of the aisle tends to be at a disadvantage toward pushing traditionally “conservative” agenda, even when it is in the majority.

The result is this Lufberry circle. Everybody is chasing each other’s power. There will be some gains, and some losses, but largely I would expect to see the same results – a continued spiral to the floor.

Regardless of where you are in the various political spectra, the only way out of a Lufbery is to take the risk to exit the circle, separate, do something bold and unexpected, and pitch back into the fight with aggressive ingenuity, something for which few of our elected representatives have shown a willingness or aptitude.

We need virtue-based leaders.

How to Destroy the United States

In years past, different people, groups, and nations have tried to destroy the United States of America.  They’ve used conventional forces, guerrilla tactics, and, increasingly over the past years, terrorism.


But today, if I wanted to destroy the United States, I wouldn’t use force.  Instead, I’d use the people against themselves.  I’d use not just their fears and insecurities, but also their pride and selfish desires to create division and friction between different groups within the country.  In targeting these different groups, I would use both real and manufactured criteria to define them.  I’d get them to define themselves by their financial status and occupation, by the color of their skin or country of their birth, by political party or even by on which side of the street they lived.

Now, this is nothing new.  It’s been tried to various levels of success in the past in this country and others.  We even have a new word in our Dictionary to describe one particularly successful venture from the 90s: “Balkanization.”  But today, I could be much more effective because of the additional leverage I could apply through advances in information technology, mass communication, and social media.

These are all tools that have advanced in capability and availability, rapidly and well beyond the pace of any ethical framework or practice with which to wield them.  Because of this, an entity, group, or even individual has carte blanche to say nearly anything, and to have those words or images transmitted instantly and globally.  Meanwhile, the consumer willingly makes himself available 24/7 to these unfiltered or even targeted messages through our enraptured embrace of personal electronics in lieu of personal relationships.  Moreover, that consumer is now able to interact with the messenger and, even more importantly for our desired ends, other consumers.  To make the attack even more effective, these messages can be transmitted either anonymously or with false attribution.

One way to execute this strategy would be by first creating several online anonymous profiles for legitimate news sites and social media outlets.  I’d make these identities represent both sides of a divide I sought to exploit or even create.  I might give them names like “BLM of Central Texas,” “TrueBlue Cop,” “Concerned Mom,” “Aryan666,” “In Christ Alone,” “Gangsta,” or… well, you probably get the picture.  If I had time, I might spend some time creating a backstory by commenting somewhat benignly on various issues, building a friends list, or even a “fanbase.”  Yet, to be realistic, few people check very deeply into sources these days, so I could probably spend my time and efforts more effectively simply by creating more shallow online identities.

Then, I would look for my opportunity – a current event that illuminated that targeted divide.  If no such event happened, I might even manufacture one with a contrived or adapted news story I reported and transmitted on a fictitious news site.  Again, fact-checking and contemplation are not strengths of my targeted population – the American people’s desire to get ahead of a near-instantaneous news cycle has outpaced their appetite for accuracy or even conscious thought.

A ripe opportunity would be the stories surrounding the recent officer-involved shootings, protests, and ultimately, the slaying of police officers.

Now, I’d commence my attack.  I’d make some inflammatory comments about black men killed by police – ranging from mild to wild.  I’d attack their character, and then black people in general. My hope would be that I’d get a response from other commenters, but I wouldn’t need to – I would also pit my online identities against each other.  They are cheap and expendable.

Simultaneously, I’d make statements about the cops involved, and continue to attack police officers in general.  Again, I’d hope someone would bite the troll bait, but I’d engage with empty personae as well, just to get the fires rolling.

I’d do the same on the fictitious organizational pages, lending credence to the growing appearance that these thoughts were held not by individuals but entire groups.

I’d post links to videos of “violence porn” – police brutality and shootings, looting in Ferguson, gang and drug executions.  I’d use the power of Google to find other links to stories, old or new, legitimate or false, to fan the flames.

Oh, and memes… I’d make lots of memes.  It seems easy these days to boil complex controversies into a couple lines of text written in bold letters on the photo of a Hollywood personality or generic protagonist/antagonist – and post those also.  The beauty of a meme is it is so shareable, and by simplifying the argument it sharpens the divides.

Soon, incredibly soon due to the modern phenomena of media, I wouldn’t need to do anything but sit back and look for the next divide I wanted to exploit.  If the fires of hatred, mistrust, and fear seemed to lessen, I might stoke them again, but that is unlikely.  Again, in the absence of ethical frameworks and practice, social media is like a drought-baked forest waiting for a match.

That’s what I’d do if I wanted to destroy this country.  It’s a good thing I don’t, because I’m pretty sure I could be successful.

In fact, this strategy is already in play by others, and we’re playing right into their hands.  By doing so, we’re allowing a small number of foes the luxury of a force multiplier heretofore unseen – the ability to turn masses of people against themselves rapidly and with little expenditure of material or personal capital.

Take a few minutes (and only a few minutes) and check out the comments on stories about current controversies.  You will read words you would never hear in even the most heated of in-person intoxicated arguments.  Angry, provocative, inciting, and hateful messages fomenting increasingly angry, provocative, inciting, and hateful responses.  If you don’t think a lot of this is intentional, you are fooling yourself.

The countermeasure is simple, but not easy.  In this age of instantly-available media, we need to take time to turn it off.  We need to take the time to meet people face-to-face, to shake hands, hear concerns, discuss differences, and have vigorous debate when necessary.

This is not efficient.  It is not quick.  It is not convenient.  It is not easy.

It is, however, necessary.

Is it Possible to Have Too Much Virtue?

Aristotle taught that virtue lay in the moderation within what he called “spheres of action,” or “spheres of feeling.”  Courage, he said, was practiced in the sphere of fear and confidence, avoiding excesses or deficiencies of either, which would result instead in cowardice or rash action.  Truthfulness lay in the sphere of self-expression, avoiding the vices of either boastfulness or false modesty.  In the sphere of pleasure and pain, temperance was found between licentiousness and senselessness. (See figure below).  In each case, virtue is found in the moderation of actions in a given sphere, while vices lay in either deficiency or excess of such actions.

Aristotle's Virtues

Figure 1 (Credit: Central Washington University – click to magnify)

Another philosophy, illustrated by the following meme (Figure 2). currently circulating around the Internet, hints at Aristotle’s teachings, while oversimplifying and thus corrupting them.  By eliminating the column Aristotle’s spheres, and instead relying only on a simplified spectrum of actions within those spheres, this philosophy forwards that we must practice moderation of the virtues themselves.  So, the illustration provides, a lack of integrity would lead to corruption (I agree).  However, it also infers that too much integrity leads to legalism.

Virtue spectrum

Figure 2 (copyright Jim Lanctot)

It is here I must disagree on several levels, finding such an argument to be a misleading argument based in postmodern relativism.

Starting with the first line of the chart, “integrity” is not a moderation between corruption and legalism.  Corruption certainly indicates a deficiency of integrity, but legalism by no means is a reliable indication of its excess.  In fact, one can have a complete lack of integrity and still be legalistic (and simultaneously be corrupt).  For proof, one need only watch a session of Congress in which individual representatives or Senators manipulate rules of order to benefit their own interests. And this is not new – witness the Pharisees and Saducees of Jesus’ time.

If we did want to find a sphere of action, perhaps “application of rules,” with corruption and legalism as its extremes, a more appropriate label for the median might be “discretion.”

Likewise, I argue that judgmentalism is not an excess of discernment, but an absence of mercy.  To be sure, one need not have discernment at all to be judgmental!  And does one really believe that “enabling” is an excess of love?  Hardly – enabling behavior comes from a deficiency.

If we continue down the ladder, we will find similar arguments refuting the chart’s validity.  Disregard and idolatry both deny respect for what is truly important.  Pride and degradation (or false humility) live together, rather than across a spectrum.  Sloth and overwork both involve disregard for virtuous priorities.  Temperance may indeed lie between licentiousness and strictness (Aristotle said senselessness), but is meaningless without the context of the sphere of pleasure and pain.  And similarly, foolhardiness is not excessive courage but excessive self-confidence.

Further, there can be no such thing, as forwarded by this philosophy, as an excess of virtue.  Certainly not the virtues presented.  Can you imagine a world with too much Integrity, discernment, love, respect, humility, diligence, temperance, or courage?  Oh, if only that were the case!

Similarly, there can be no such thing as a healthy moderation of vice.  If “moderation in all things” were indeed true, we would ask the FDA to prescribe minimum levels of arsenic in our drinking water rather than only maximums!  Similarly, there is no healthy minimum level of corruption, foolishness, judmentalism, sloth, idolatry, legalism, or other such vices!

We should not practice moderation of either virtue or vice, but strive for the highest levels of the former and the elimination of the latter.

Mission: Develop Future Leaders

To paraphrase a good friend and wonderful leader-mentor, “All leaders are departing leaders.”  By our very human nature, our time in any position of leadership is temporary, whether that span be in decades, years, months, days, or even minutes.  Effective leaders understand this, and begin preparing for their departure as soon as, or even before, they take the reins.

Often, when we as leaders speak of “leaving our legacy,” we think about  the accomplishments, changes, vision, or policies for which we will be remembered.

Yet policies, vision, changes, and even accomplishments can have a short life-span.  Sometimes they are gone as soon as the leader departs, yet even when they last a relatively long time, they like the leader are temporary in nature.

The one legacy, however, that has the potential to stand the test of time is development the next generation of leaders.  For this reason, the best and most memorable leaders with and for whom I’ve served have understood the importance of pouring their lives and experience into the leaders of the future.

In my faith we refer to this as “discipleship,” and in business we often call it “mentorship,” but regardless of the title, it is the development not just of followers, but of future leaders, by providing a virtuous example, investing ourselves in their lives, passing along our knowledge, skills, and values, and (most importantly), teaching them to do the same for the leaders who will follow them.

And I believe we must not simply develop “good” or “effective” leaders, but virtuous leaders.  Leaders who are able to identify and discern what is right, and then have the moral fortitude to lead themselves and others in the pursuit of that right.

This process must begin with being virtuous leaders ourselves.  This starts with a clear assessment of who we are through prayerful reflection, honest introspection, involvement with our own mentors, and feedback from our subordinates.  Then continues, using all of these assets, to improve ourselves so that we can be virtuous role models for our followers, peers, and even superiors.

Virtuous leaders then must invest in the lives of our people – teaching knowledge, confronting and correcting problems, and training always.  As the young leader’s abilities and character matures, we move to a more supportive and less directive role, but we must maintain our high level of engagement.

And, when the leader begins to stand on his or her own, we must also invest in perhaps the most important and most-often neglected skill: replication.  The new leader must, through our example and our investment, learn to do likewise, to serve as an example and investor of virtuous leadership to the next generation.

It is only through this intensive engagement that we as leaders can create a true and lasting legacy.

Please join the conversation!  Do you have a mentor who made a profound impact on your life?  Have you passed on that impact to others?  What do you think are the most important aspects of developing future leaders?