Stress That Strengthens & Stress That Kills: QMN052
Martial Mental Models: The Quartermaster, Monday, 22 July
(Today’s report is a 12 minute read)
This week’s report contains:
The Main Event by KS Anthony (KSA)
The Guest Spot by Kevin Todd (KST)
The Book Review and Geartime by Brady Moore (BJM)
BLUF: People who don't know what's going on with the decisions, deals, and detritus that affect them are going to try to control whatever aspects of their jobs that they can, even if it means "getting a jump" on Monday by starting to check emails on Sunday night. It's often an anxious response to uncertainty, partly fueled by a need for control and partly fueled by a desire to signal productivity and initiative. Leaders need to realize is that this may not be about getting things done, but rather symptoms of toxic and volatile workplace environments.
KSA here. I’m writing this on a Sunday night, steeling myself for another workweek, or at least I’d like to think that I am. The fact is, if you have to “steel yourself” on Sunday night, you might want to reconsider what it is you’re actually doing. What I’m actually doing is simmering in anxiety over a vast multitude of variables at work that affect me but that I have no effect on.
What I’m doing, in other words, is stressing the fuck out.
I was stressed yesterday too, but under a different set of circumstances: I was doing deadlifts, lifting a barbell from the floor to my thighs. The stress was on my upper back and legs; in my hands and the soles of my feet, but I was not simmering in anxiety. Humans evolved to lift heavy objects, sprint in short bursts, and – as exercise science has taught us – become stronger through the stress of acute physical exertion.
Deadlifts will make me stronger. Stressing out, however, could kill me at a relatively young age.
In his excellent book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb – whose credibility is best demonstrated by the reactions he provokes from his critics and his antipathy towards journalists – describes both types of stressors with the same brutal elegance that pervades his writing. “Humans tend to do better with acute than with chronic stressors,” Taleb writes, “particularly when the former are followed by ample time for recovery, which allows the stressors to do their jobs as messengers.” He follows with an example of experiencing the shock of suddenly encountering – and vanquishing – a poisonous snake. “Such a stressor,” he continues, “would certainly be better than the mild but continuous stress of a boss, mortgage, tax problems, guilt over procrastinating with one’s tax return, exam pressures, chores, emails to answer, forms to complete, daily commute – things that make you feel trapped in life. In other words, the pressures brought about by civilization. In fact, neurobiologists show that the former type of stressor is necessary, the second harmful, for one’s health.”
I mention in the wake of a July 7th article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Sunday Night Is the New Monday Morning, and Workers Are Miserable,” which recently trended on LinkedIn. The article discussed the swell of people who, in attempting to mitigate the feeling of being shot out of a cannon on Monday morning, took to checking and answering work email over the weekend. According to author Kelsey Gee, “Even dwelling on work in the waning hours of the weekend can cause anxiety—a phenomenon so commonplace it has spawned the popular hashtag #SundayScaries. In a LinkedIn survey of more than 1,000 working adults last fall, 80% said they experienced a surge in stress related to their jobs on Sunday nights. Among millennials, the share was even higher, at 91%.”
My commentary on this is focused on poor communication within organizations: opacity. People who don't know what's going on with the decisions, deals, and detritus that affect them are going to try to control whatever aspects of their jobs that they can, even if it means "getting a jump" on Monday by starting to check emails on Sunday night. It's often an anxious response to uncertainty, partly fueled by a need for control and partly fueled by a desire to signal productivity and initiative: a way of waving a flag that says "I'm valuable, notice me." What leaders need to realize is that this may not be about getting things done, but rather symptoms of toxic and volatile workplace environments where people lack the kind of psychological safety necessary for real and sustained productivity.
Management styles and types are difficult - perhaps impossible – to change. In my decades of employment, I’ve never seen an obstinate business owner or manager experience an epiphany – much less read a book – that flipped their modus operandi from fragile to robust, let alone antifragile. As this is the case, a better thesis might be that is is employees that need to realize that these actions – answering emails or otherwise steeling oneself for Monday – may not be about productivity at all, but rather symptoms of something that, whether they realize it or not, is killing them. (KSA)
GUEST SPOT: MAOIST LESSONS ON FACE-TO-FACE ENGAGEMENT FROM THE LAST 18 YEARS by Kevin Todd
The US Army has been looking for ways to effectively conclude its 18-year war in Afghanistan and as the hostilities come to a close and we enter an interwar period, there will be a lot of discussion about how to best prepare for the next unknown adversary. There will be lessons learned documents and theories codified into doctrine. One of those topics of discussion - lessons to be learned from the last 18 years - will be the approach on how to influence and gain the support of a population.
The US military’s implementation of influencing operations (aka swaying a populace through media or negatively, propaganda) through Military Information Support Operations (MISO) in both Afghanistan and Iraq was aggressive. The framework for the development of themes and messages was operationally sound, but the specific messages were not as effective as they could have been, nor were the mechanisms through which they were delivered as complementary. Pamphlet-dropping and billboard-posting are simply not as effective as face-to-face engagements using Psychological Operations (PSYOP) soldiers to influence a targeted audience.
Mao Tse Tung and his role in the Chinese Revolutionary war is a powerful case study on how a grassroots organization could rise up and defeat a more powerful and established government. Tremendously outnumbered, out-resourced, and oftentimes near the brink of being destroyed, Mao and his Chinese Communist Party (CCP) always found a way to survive. Historians have done a fine job of capturing the many reasons why Mao was successful and the many reasons why the incumbent government was not. But many of these scholars and historians disagree regarding the fundamental principles that Mao employed over a 30 year period to defeat his stronger foe. Some claim that Mao’s success was due to a weak central government that was not capable of providing services and good governance outside of its major cities. Others expand upon the previous point by claiming that because the government was not effective outside the urban areas, the larger population density was disenchanted and desired change. Others claim that the sprawling landscape of China was the source of Mao’s success because the CCP could seek asylum in the hinterlands. Regardless of what some scholars assert was the source of Mao’s success, in most theories the common denominator for success was the population. The population that sought change was overwhelmingly rural and lived outside of China’s modern cities. It was this population that Mao was able to influence and use to ultimately defeat the incumbent government.
In contrast to American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mao and the CCP were very effective with their influence campaign. The overarching themes Mao developed were in line with the population and his specific messages addressed the peasant population’s needs and wants. The accuracy and effectiveness of these themes and messages were a direct correlation to his intimate knowledge and understanding of the population he was trying to influence. Mao’s peasant upbringing and exposure to the harsh realities of this lifestyle would be a source of great influencing potential - and his message dissemination techniques complemented his messages.
Delivered through the Red Army, Mao understood the power of the face-to-face engagement with the population from which he was seeking to gain support. One of the biggest differences between 21st century Afghanistan and early 20th century China that should be the adversary’s system. For the US military, the adversary’s system came in form of the insurgency in both Iraq and Afghanistan. These insurgency messaging systems have proven to be extremely adaptive and capable of learning how to effectively wage an insurgency. As for Mao’s adversary, the Chinese Nationalist party’s messaging system often times appeared to lack the ability to learn and adapt to the dynamic environment. The inability to address the change would ultimately strengthen Mao and the CCP cause and be the downfall for the Nationalists.
The US Army needs to improve in planning, developing, and dissemination in influence operations, and Mao’s approach offers three recommendations. The first recommendation in an Influence Operations After Action Review would address the relevancy and accuracy of the influencing themes and messages. PSYOP forces must test and market their messaging and approach before widespread dissemination. Marketing, from a business standpoint, allows for a company to better provide a product for its target audience. Prior to placing a product on the shelf for sale, the most successful corporations will test a market to ensure the product is applicable and will sell. The development of themes and messages is a product that the PSYOP community provides and therefore the notion of testing a product through marketing is very applicable in this case.
The second recommendation addresses the message dissemination aspect of MISO. The US Army had the means to reach the desired target audience but often didn’t achieve the desired effectiveness that it sought. Based on the success that followed Mao in the early stages of the Chinese Revolutionary War, face-to-face engagement through a legitimate indigenous medium achieves the greatest effect when dealing with a population - which today might look like a local newspaper or television or radio station. An indigenous medium is often not an option for US forces operating among the population, which leads us to the third and final recommendation. Mao capitalized on his influencing themes and messages through the use of his Red Army. Over time the Red Army gained legitimacy and also grew in size and diversity. Mao used this large vehicle to disseminate his messages face-to-face and he never lacked the ability to reach the masses. Currently the US Army employs the PSYOP Soldier to conduct influence bidding - and it takes time and a lot of resources to generate the capability that PSYOP soldiers bring to the fight. Just as Mao had a large army that delivered the messages of the CCP, the US Army also has a lot of manpower with which to deliver the American message. Training and application of message in-person dissemination that goes beyond the given talking points could be an effective approach to influencing and gaining the support of the population. (KST)
BOOK REVIEW: WHY HONOR MATTERS by Tamler Sommers
Book BLUF: Why Honor Matters examines honor cultures and asks if our current dignity culture and systems of retributive justice are better for us as humans and as a society. Looking at honor cultures around the world, Sommers takes the systems and traditions that make past herding cultures (and often organized crime) function and paints a picture of a very human and even family-focused set of values and rules that allow for smoother community relations and a sense of accountability that we haven't seen in the US for quite some time. If you think maybe older (and arguably more human) methods of conflict resolution might lead to a more just and accountable society check it out - it'll certainly make you think of our current systems differently.
Brady here. I'm always interested to read a new book that helps explain the civilian-military gap that exists in the US today. Sebastian Junger’s Tribe did that pretty well and pointed to older - even ancient - ways of dealing with residual combat stress, war losses and moral injury. When I heard an interview with this book’s author Tamler Sommers I thought I'd found another and I wasn’t disappointed.
Tamler Sommers is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston, teaching primarily ethics, political philosophy, and the philosophy of law, specializing in issues relating to free will, moral responsibility, punishment, and revenge. He comes at the topic heavily swayed in favor of honor systems but surrounded by those in academia directly opposed to those systems due to the understanding of their negative examples such as those found in honor killings. His approach is academic in research but usually conversational in tone and is quickly readable and easily referenced.
For the last several centuries western civilization has moved away from honor cultures and toward a dignity culture- this means that problems (such as crimes against persons or groups) are now sorted out by a centralized government in impartial courts of law with juries, where they were once handled on a family or community level where punishments were often influenced by the victims of crimes. Sommers claims that our dignity culture and its processes have robbed our society of individual and small-group agency and therefore made virtues like loyalty, solidarity, accountability and integrity much harder to come by. Sommers's idea is that we can and should reestablish some of these processes - such as restorative justice - in order to get back the accountability and integrity lost when we handed over resolution to an impartial and uninterested third party.
WHAT I TOOK AWAY:
Nature vs. Nurture Writ Large: Sommers lays out that a lot of the origins of honor cultures around the world come from herding cultures. Herders lived and died by the security of their livestock and had to guard against theft- an outside party such as a rival herding family could quickly and easily enrich themselves and ruin your family by swooping in and stealing your herd. Thieves looked for soft targets, so families were regarded by their ability and willingness to stand their ground if provoked. This is why image is such a big deal in honor cultures - it guards against attack. Over countless generations these norms bred themselves into cultures and now we see their effects though very few of us actively herd livestock with our families. This struck me as true- after my first trip to Afghanistan in 2004 I used to explain to Americans back in the US that Pashtuns in Afghanistan are like the rednecks of Central Asia - they love 4x4 vehicles, automatic weapons and blood feuds. Both came from hilly areas where that rival family could sneak up and take your family’s livelihood, and had to protect against that with an image and a code. Knowing the origins behind a culture or an idea helps me better approach the topic, so I appreciated the connection.
Creating Accountability & Differing Notions of Justice: One thing that Sommers points out in honor cultures that the absence of control doesn't provide an excuse for behavior- meaning that you can get blamed for things that are unintentional and for the actions of others in your group. If you accidentally hit a child with your car in an honor culture, it doesn't matter if it was dark and rainy outside or that the child jumped out quickly before you could react- what matters is the result and the aggrieved family can seek justice either way. Similarly if it was your brother who hit the child and he’s fled, the aggrieved family can exact justice upon you personally. This stands in stark contrast to our systems today, but it creates enormous incentives for accountability and caution on a personal, family and community level.
Finally- coming from a military culture where honor still plays a role in daily life, I found Sommers’s arguments persuasive - I found that individuals having a stake in the outcomes of conflicts (where possible) made for a more conscientious group of people. But I still believe Sommers won't convince many of his ideological opponents. Honor killings and other extrajudicial methods of conflict resolution have such a negative image that I don’t think they'll be overcome as an obstacle. Though Sommers gives a number of examples where restorative justice movements today have led to better outcomes and fewer deaths or injustices, it still often seems more brutal than many of us can bear now. More accountability and integrity in western life is sorely needed by just about anyone’s estimate, but I don't think we’re willing to pay the price.
Still, if you think maybe older (and arguably more human) methods of conflict resolution might lead to a more just and accountable society check it out - it'll certainly make you think of our current systems differently. (BJM)
GEARTIME: IFAK DUMP
Brady here. In the always-popular SMARCH newsletter (13 June) I told our readers we’d cover the Individual First Aid Kit in a future post - and now the time has come. Today’s IFAK is a recent evolution- not long before the post-9/11 conflicts the average soldier’s issued first aid kit that was not much larger than a deck of cards and consisted of little more than a field dressing and a cravat. The confluence of need (from more gunshot wounds and blast trauma) funding (from Overseas Contingency Operations) and innovation put inventions like hemostatic agents, one-handed tourniquets and premade pressure dressings on every soldier’s body at all times. Ever since getting out in 2011 I’ve kept at least one IFAK at home and one in the car, and it’s based on the ones I had in the Army. Here’s a quick look at what’s inside, with links below to each item. (Note - some of this is un-expired stuff I’ve carried for a long time, others expire and have to be replaced periodically, like QuikClot):
A. Trauma Shears (CountyComm)
B. Tourniquet (North American Rescue)
C. Rolled Gauze (2x)
D. Utility Pouch (Eagle Industries)
E. Ace Bandages (2x)
F. Hemostatic Gauze (QuikClot)
G. Pinchlight & Whistle
H. Compressed Gauze (2x)
L. Re-rolled Duct Tape
M. Nitrile Gloves
The interesting thing here to note is that in the context of SMARCH, nearly everything in the IFAK is for the “M” - Massive Hemmorhage. The tourniquet and all the gauze, Ace bandages, QuikClot, Israeli bandage and duct tape are to handle those serious bleeds up front. The nasopharyngeal airway covers the “A” by keeping the airway open even for an unconscious casualty and the space blanket helps prevent hypothermia.
Why so much gauze? It’s often for packing wounds with direct pressure to temporarily stop bleeding to get a casualty to better medical care.
Why duct tape instead of white medical tape? Because white medical tape’s adhesive often gives out or doesn’t stick in messy situations - and tape’s often important for keeping pressure on a wound.
What’s an Israeli Bandage? It’s a pre-made bandage with a pressure bar built in that if applied correctly can stop bleeding faster and easier than with a normal bandage. ITS Tactical has a good summary.
So what’s missing? A Chest Seal. A good chest seal will let blood and air out of a chest wound while not letting any air in - helping to prevent/alleviate the pneumothorax problem I mentioned in the SMARCH newsletter.
GETTING CAUGHT UP TO THE REST OF US: Hollywood technology to help Army innovate tank training (5 min) “Researchers here at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California through a partnership with the Army have developed a mixed reality program, the Synthetic Collective Operational Prototyping Environment, or SCOPE. The program focuses on the cognitive aspect of the training -- the critical battlefield responses a tank commander makes -- by placing the student in a simulated, immersive 3D-training environment.” (BJM)
UNCONVENTIONAL WARFARE IN LITERATURE: How Hemingway’s ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ Provides insights into modern Special Forces (6 min) “Although the words “Special Forces” are not used, Ernest Hemingway illustrates the essence of a Special Forces operator in his acclaimed novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Published on Oct. 21, 1940, the novel sheds light on some of the nuances of the SF mission. The protagonist, Robert Jordan, isn’t there to raise a small army of his own, become the face of some revolution, or save the day single-handedly. He is a dynamiter with a significant amount of combat experience sent to blow up a single bridge on a specific day; just one small piece in a much larger war effort, working quietly and without much fanfare.” (KSA)
STILL FALLING SHORT ON TRAINING: Fighting Next to U.S. Commandos, but Without the Same Training and Gear (6 min) “With no official doctrine for bomb disposal soldiers working alongside Special Operations forces, it falls on individual units to properly prepare for their deployments, meaning their training is based on the time and resources available, the documents show. Specifically, the documents show, additional training is needed for long-distance clearing operations, breaching, small unit tactics and operating heavy weapons used by the commandos. Infantry units that are teamed with Special Operations troops to supply additional firepower have faced similar problems.” (BJM)
Remarks Complete. Nothing Follows.
KS Anthony (KSA) & Brady Moore (BJM)