It was almost three months after the raids of 11 September 2001 against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and yet the language of public discourse was still swollen and fevered. On many fronts one could not easily block out the strident and intrusive sounds and shifting images of alarm, mounting fear, and an obscurely expanding war — for, we were incessantly told “America is Under Attack!” Amidst such sensory intensity and fragmentation one who was more recollected was simultaneously perceiving (with discouraging but disciplined attentiveness) the destructive inflations and distortions of the public language. And that was largely the case also within the strategic U.S. Special Operations Command — even at the Joint Special Operations University at Hurlbert Field, Florida where I was still then on the Faculty (until January of 2003).
Even after the 7 October 2001 “reprisal strikes” and the initial commando operations into Afghanistan, it was difficult to sustain a calm and reflective discussion about those stunning events, so as to discuss the deeper causes, and not just the perceived conditions, of what had just happened. In those febrile days, now almost fifteen years ago, we were continually hearing of “the Global War on Terrorism,” which was monosyllabically abbreviated as “the GWOT.” Even when I initially asked such simple fundamental questions as: “but how does one have a war against a method [e.g., “terrorism,” “psychological warfare,” “computer-network attack,” or “political warfare” — “POLWAR”]?”; “and how will you know that you have won, or even that you are actually losing?”; and “what are our specific War Aims and Peace Aims now, and who is the Enemy?” — most of my military colleagues often enough (and with few exceptions) looked at me askance. When I then asked, “What, therefore, is now our Theater of War and what is the likely high strategy of the Enemy against us at this point and overall — to include their aim to get us dispersed and centrifugally over-extended and drained — and how do we know?” — my colleagues (and even some of the very senior Generals) said: “We’ll just have to wait to see what [Sec Def] Rumsfeld wants us to do.”