Hope as Danger’s Comforter: A Sneak Peek at The Devil’s Hand

What follows is adapted from the preface to The Devil’s Hand. It was written on September 11, 2020.

Part one of two.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, nineteen men boarded four planes at Logan, Newark, and Dulles International Airports. All aircraft were bound for the West Coast. The flights were selected because they had the requisite fuel required for transcontinental flights.

Two hours later, the United States would be at war, a war that continues today.

This narrative is not about the events of that September morning. Rather, it is a reflection on the knowledge our adversaries acquired from our response to terrorism in the Middle East and Europe from 1979 through the first half of 2001 and what they have gleaned in the two decades following the seminal attack that changed the course of history.

This is a novel of asymmetric warfare.

I have long wondered what the enemy has learned watching us on the field of battle for what is now twenty years of sustained combat. What lessons have they learned and how have they altered their tactics and strategies to incorporate those lessons? If I were the enemy, what would I have learned?

These are questions I pondered while in uniform and continue to contemplate as an author. Our adversaries have observed us at the poker table for twenty years while having the benefit of seeing our cards. They have studied our tactics and seen our technologies evolve; they’ve observed our shifting goals and objectives. They have taken notes as we fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and other flashpoints around the globe. Our response to a pandemic and the civil unrest plaguing our cities at a time when domestic political ideologies seem irreconcilable has not gone unnoticed. They see a country divided. Have they accounted for that division in their battle plans?

It has been almost twenty years since that September morning. Our enemy has been patient. They have been watching, learning, and adapting. Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, terrorist groups and super-empowered individuals have been waiting, identifying gaps in our defenses and refining plots that exploit our weaknesses. It is my sincere hope that the operation you read about in The Devil’s Hand is not currently being planned by a foreign intelligence service. We would be wise to remember that the Athenian historian Thucydides in the Melian Dialogue of his History of the Peloponnesian War characterizes hope as danger’s comforter. In modern military and intelligence parlance, the ancient Greek general’s text translates as hope is not a course of action. While this is true, hope is often times all one has in times of despair. The lesson is one as old as time: Be prepared.

There is arguably no military text as influential as The Art of War. The Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu knew that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” In an asymmetric confrontation, this is of extreme importance for the foe that does not possess a nuclear arsenal. How then would they defeat a superpower? “All warfare is based on deception.” The teachings of the Warring States–period general are not foreign concepts to our adversaries—adversaries who play the long game. With those two idioms in mind, if your mission was to destroy a modern empire, what would you do?

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