The Kill Shot

Submitted by Joel on Fri, 05/06/2011 - 8:40am.


There is a lot of speculation in the media and elsewhere about the recent killing of Bin Laden by Navy Seals in Pakistan.   Did it really happen?  How much lattitude did the Seals have?  Is or was it morally right?   Most of the thinking on these questions is weak and reactive, and I want to explore this social phenomena in an effort to illuminate certain capacities of thinking, including ethical individualism, as this event can serve as an important lesson regarding thinking and Steiner's The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity.

For me these questions became particularly acute during a class I was giving last evening in my home. ( )  We were working on the initial meeting of the course: Surviving the Coming Tsunami of History., and during the conversation section (following my introductory remarks upon the living and inner and outer aspects of history) one of the class members began to speculate on his concepts that the Navy Seal that apprently executed Bin Laden had complete autonomy at that moment in time.  I had to forcefully disagree, but also did not have the time to do full explanation of the weakness of this thought, which in part was related to a failure (common to folks with a spiritual bias who think the moral is what they would do, and the immoral is what they would not do) to understand military culture and the moral nature of warriors in our age.

To remind the reader: Steiner points out certain soul phenomena relevant to understanding Americans in these two ideas: English speakers are instinctively in the Consciousness Soul in their Life of Rights; and, Americans come to Anthroposophy naturally.  Now it is important not to just accept these ideas because Steiner said them (the same with his writings in PoF), but to do our own thinking about what he points toward, and thus to come to knowledge about the matter under discussion ourselves.

It can help to have some direct personal knowledge and as well to take a lively interest in a subject matter over many years so that the concepts we develop about a question has some rich and deep background.   For example, I spent three years at the United States Air Force Academy, and thus was introduced deeply into military culture as that was presented to us as a science.   I have remained interested in such questions since that initial introduction.  Sometimes people can get glimpses of this, but what military officers discuss among themselves as regard their arts, and especially the moral dimensions, are rather intimate and not generally known (although one can do research and read up on this if they want).    Most people just let themselves have a reactive feeling (either antipathy or sympathy), and let that feeling drive their thinking to its erroneous conclusion.

Presenlty the media is filled with such instant opinionated speculation.

The U.S. Military has a highly developed culture, with all kinds of educational institutions - not only the service acadamies, but various "war" colleges as well.  Sometime we can learn of this culture in a more intimate fashion through the reading of novels, particulary the work of Tom Clancy, whose sympathy for professionals, in the military and in intelligence, led him to eventually gaining a lot of inside experience because this sympathy encouraged a certain intimacy.  Clancy, for example, wrote a novel in the '90's in which a 747 was flown into the Capital Building on the evening of a State of the Union address, essentially decaptating the whole US government.  Yet, many Washington insiders tried after 9/11 to pretend that it had never occured to anyone to think of an airplane as a bomb.

If we were to study more deeply the American Soul (an area of research of mine for many years), we would come to the conclusion that the American Indian's soul life is a precurser for the soul life of modern Americans.  I point this out to suggest that a good way to come to understand modern American warriror culture is to look at certain aspects of the Plains Indians, and especially what were called: "dog soldiers".  Not understanding the use of metaphor among America's aboriginal peoples, our English translations of their words often failed to grasp what was involved.  A "dog" was an important member of the camp, who could not just serve as an early warning system (given their more acute hearing and smell) but also carry things (using a small travoise) during a move of the whole camp.  Dogs were also understood to be incredibly loyal (their love is used in the sybolism of Tarot to represent the rising element of instinctive love - see card 10, the Wheel of Fortune), and capable of self-sacrifice in favor of their human masters.  For warriors of the Plains Indians to be called Dog Soldiers was to give them a powerful name describing their dedication and selfless devotion to the security of the tribe.

Familiarity (and some thoughtfulness) can lead us to recognizing that institutions such as the CIA, or even Defense Intelligence  units, have a need for the psychopath or sociaiopath, because of their absence of conscience.  This is not true, however, of such elite units as the Army Rangers or the Navy Seals.   A psychopath can operate as an individual, but not as part of a team.  The Rangers and Seals are tightly organized teams.

There is also in military culture this idea: the rules of engagement (see film of the same name).  A President (such as Obama), lacking direct military experience has to learn on the job, through his encounters with members of the military, just how that culture functions and what elements he can trust or rely upon.  There are lot of players active in Washington and many competing interests.  For a President, trying to run a war is a very difficult problem given the number of decisions he cannot make himself, and must therefore rely on others (such as his generals, who often today have their own agendas and interests).  Obama has a lot less power than we believe, when its comes to moving the vast inertia of the military-industrial complex as regards wars.

A Navy Seal team is another creature entirely.  Using the military culture's needs for rules of engagement, the President can narrowly define all the actions a Seal Team (his personal Dog Soldiers - so to speak) carries out (if he wants to).  (see the film Thirteen Days, on the Cuban Missile Crisis, for a dramatic representation of the limits of Presidential power when large scale operations are in order)  A  President is also stuck with "the buck stops here".  Decisions come to him, and what we as citizens hope for is that the guy in that chair grows into the job, and given the state of the world it appears to me that with this "Kill Shot" Obama is finally getting a bit of a handle on the tar-baby that is Washington and their counterparts we know as international power players.

Obama is a thoughtful guy, and a strategic thinker.  He seems over his head in the Great Game, but maybe with this move he has signaled to a lot of folks something.  The concentrated look on his face in the picture we have of him waiting for the plan to unfold suggested to me that he knew not only the obvious stakes but wider questions as well.  Reminded me of a look sometimes in pictures of Bobby Fischer, the infant terrible of the chess world in the '60's and '70's.  The first time he beat a US grandmaster he was 14 years old and some have called that game: the greatest chess game ever played.  Fischer was of a kind not seen or ever will be seen again, and he was an American.  A little story:

Fischer played Spassky in Iceland in 1973, for the championship of the world.   The Russian and his advisers expected to win, believing Fischer's indulgences in off the board questions (lighting, payment, etc.) represented a kind of emotional weakness which could be exploited.  Fischer played two games, one early in the 20 game match and one later, that completely unhinged Spassky and his advisers.  In both instances Fischer played an opening move that he had never played before (each one different in each of the two games).  If you are sitting across from him or in a room watching and getting ready to give advice to Spassky, this is what you experience: One) this new move signals that not only is he unpredicatible when he needs to be, but we have no reseach we can do among past games - we've never seen him play this opening before; and, Two) he is the greatest chess analyst of all time, and we can assume that he has already analysed this opening to the "nth degree, and we are never going to figure out what to do - never.  Both games were lost from the first move for these reasons.

Obama has done the same thing, although people thinking this had to do with the 2012 election will miss the point.   Obama, being a deep strategic thinker, is not thinking about 2012, but positioning himself for the next five years, domestically and internationally.   The Kill Shot is just an unexpected opening move in the Great Game.  That's the look we see on Obama's face.  Concentrated intensity of purpose.   Will.   Determination.  Trust in his own prowess (Bobby Fischer's point of view).

Sure, everything played out in the Media will get played out in the Media.  Bobby Fischer played the chess media as well as the chess board.   Fischer actually changed the whole game of chess, for he made chess masters money-makers for the first time in chess history, and he cowed the chess bureaucracy into changing all kinds of ancient rules that had needed updating for centuries.  Fischer and Obama do that wonderful American thing, which no other soul force in the world can to the same degree do: Invent.

Obama has so far played conservative - no risk taking.   Here he takes a very big risk, but don't doubt for a minute he set the rules of engagement, ordered the Kill Shot, the rescuing of the children, and the wounding in the leg of the woman.   No one knew precisely what would happen, but all possibilities (just like in chess analysis) has been thought though in the way that  the guy where the buck stops wished to express himself.

Meanwhiile a lot of the Bullies running around the School Yard that is international politics will take notice.  Sure, they will posture like the Pakistani general who said (after the fact) don't do that again.  But everyone knows now that Obama isn't going to be bound by any conventional wisdom (which would have been a capture and all kinds of other wimpy details).   Plus, Obama has the tools - the tightly organized commando units, with the best skills and the best toys.   He can reach out and touch anyone, should the need arise.   The threat is good enough, just in the same way that the doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) worked.   Planners think in terms of capacities, and Obama just demonstrated a capacity to make a bold move, in spite of how it was obviously going to play in the Media and internationally.  Allegiances will shift, domestically as well. 

For a long time I thought Obama was a big wimp, given his letting into this staff all the way back at the beginning of the compaign the Goldman Sachs guys.  At the same time, he didn't have a lot of choice.   When he does have choices he demonstrates long range thinking, and perhaps more understanding than I have been willing to give him credit for.  His biography forces him to be an instincitve ethical individualist at a very high level of consequences for his actions.

Fortune, they say, favors the bold.  Obama has had almost three years now to figure out the Republicans, and the international scene.   Now he is starting to make his moves, and while he will never do what we think he should do (him not being us), we perhaps might be less judgmental and more appreciative of a guy who just might be getting his feet on the ground of how to play the media and how to play his domestic opponents (both Democrat and Reepublican) and how to play the posturing Bullies all over the world.  It just might be that the Great Game has a real player.  It would be nice if this were so, and it would also be nice if he could figure out how to be on the side of ordinary Americans.

Now if he could just get behind this: - something real domestically might happen







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