Protectors, Warriors, Guardians: Part Two of the Preface to The Devil’s Hand

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

Part two of two. (Read Part One HERE)

The Devil’s Hand is about what the enemy has learned watching us on the field of battle for close to twenty years.  It is also a book on the ethics, morality and legality of targeted assassinations, what the Israelis call Chissulim, or eliminations, as an instrument of state power. Is there a difference between a using a Reaper UAV to take out an enemy combatant with an AGM-114 Hellfire or GBU-38 JDAM from 50,000 feet and sending a 180-grain .300 Winchester Magnum through that same terrorist’s brain stem from a thousand yards out? How does the enemy view those different methods of killing? Has the increasing reliance on UAVs to deliver death remotely had the intended effect? Has it saved American lives, or has it recruited more of what Dr. David Kilcullen calls “accidental guerrillas” to the cause?

On September 11, 2001, there were certain groups of men who stood shoulder to shoulder watching the twin towers fall on television, men with certain skills, men whose only mission in life was to be prepared for war. It is not openly discussed, but within this fraternity there were those who had but one thought: God, I wish I was on one of those planes. They are called to the fight: protectors, warriors, guardians. They are out there tonight. They are hunting. If the war returns to the home front, you want one of these sentinels standing by your side, armed and ready.

Prior to 9/11 these men would have chosen airline seats by the windows. Based on the data from previous hijackings, they knew this allowed them to be harder to physically strike in an initial violent takeover of the plane’s cabin when terrorists needed to make examples of certain passengers to keep the others in line. Window seats bought these men time to observe and plan a course of action. 9/11 shifted the hijacking paradigm. Following that Tuesday morning, those same guardians began selecting seats in the aisle so they could react to a threat instantly. They appear no different than anyone else, unless you know what to look for; unless you are one of them.

Researching this novel was an intensely emotional experience: listening to the calls from those on the hijacked aircraft to their loved ones on the ground, reading about those who perished, trapped in collapsing buildings, some electing to jump to their deaths rather than be burned alive.

I encourage everyone to visit the 9/11 memorial in lower Manhattan. Take your time. Heed its lessons.

As we move past the twentieth anniversary of the attacks and into our third decade of continuous warfare, do we have a clear vision of how this conflict ends? Or has our short-war strategy applied to a long-term conflict condemned our children and grandchildren to fight the sons and grandsons of the men who planned the deadliest terrorist attack in history? Do we still not understand the nature of the conflict in which we are engaged?

I fear we may all know the answer.

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