We are the best and brightest of our generation, the pride of our hometowns and communities, the over-achievers, and the over-believers.  We have been educated in the finest institutions our nation has to offer from West Point and Annapolis, to Yale, Harvard, and Princeton.  We know all the latest buzzwords of our community from capacity building, governance, rule of law, sustainable development, and regional integration to demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration, monopolization of violence, and security infrastructure development.  We are the fatal optimists, the good soldiers, the dedicated statesmen, and the quiet developers.  We truly believe we have the talent and capacity to change our world, if only we are given the right metrics, the right strategies, and the right resources to do our job…

And yet, despite the resources that we throw at our problem and despite the lack of fruits we appear to be gathering from them, we continually believe that it is just a matter of more time, more resources, more patience, of better strategies, new metrics, greater integration, and more commitment…We blame things like corruption, lack of transparency, insurgency, foreign interference, unsustainable practices, lack of support, and poor strategies for our setbacks.  Failure to us is a dirty word…For all the investments we have made in our education, all the experts we have spoken with and come to know, and all the resources we have at our disposal…how could we possibly fail???  We have learned to become experts on every nation rather than any nation and sometimes, I fear we are beginning to become victims of our own intelligence…

In my other passion, BASE jumping, our failures are discussed openly for the knowledge and lessons they can provide for others.  We are all fully dedicated to our activities and fully understand the risks involved as ever jump we make is ultimately a type of test jump and bares ultimate risks requiring ultimate commitment.  Our greatest failures are recorded quasi-openly on our fatality list which is circulated throughout our sport as a series of great lessons to be learned and a solemn reminder of the true risks of our endeavors.  Despite the fact that almost all of us have at least a few good friends on our list, we discuss their failures with cold, almost scientific, departure from emotion in search of realizing the lessons we can take from our setbacks and preventing ourselves from becoming the next additions to “the list”.

Yet, as interventionists and developers, we seem to be unable to shake our emotional attachments to our mistakes, our resources squandered, and the lives lost along the way.  Rather than taking a few steps back, departing from our emotional toils, and reevaluating our situation, we appear to be too deeply pot committed to the costs already endured.  And as a result, we trudge on relentlessly down the same path that has taken many of our friends.  We refuse to accept failure as an option.  We refuse to acknowledge many of our mistakes.  And we risk condemning our children to the same fate, the same broken world.  While surely none of us would like to fail in our greatest endeavors, without taking a step back and establishing the necessary cold emotional distance from our work we will never see how to improve our performance, how to more efficiently use our resources, and how to create the real change we hope to see for our children.  For ultimately, failure is one of the most direct paths direct paths to wisdom…

As for me, in this life I have become almost all too comfortable with my own failures and mistakes.  Maybe it’s a product of my environment or some sense of weird maturity I have developed from almost killing myself a few times and knowing a few too many friends who have succeeded in such an endeavor.  Or maybe I’ve just reached a point in this life where I refuse to care anymore about saving face, about illusions of my infallibility, or about dealing with people who look at failures as signs of personal weakness rather than opportunities for further growth and development.  Or maybe I’ve just come to realize that the stakes we face are simply too great to warrant such a vain resistance to admit our basic human imperfections.  Regardless, while I would never burden anyone with my personal laundry list of setbacks and stupid mistakes, in this life I have definitely reached the point where I have nothing left to hide, no insecurities worth jeopardizing the world I hope to build…

As we come close to entering the eleventh year of this conflict, I only hope that we can find the freedom and maturity to admit our personal and collective failures of intervention and development.  While nobody wants to believe that their friends and loved ones died in the pursuit of failure, the cold reality is that any premature death is ultimately a failure of some sort and the best we can do for the ghosts of our old mates is to learn from the mistakes of our past and continue to evolve as we build a future for their children.  Failure is a natural part of the human condition and it is about time we start to admit it more openly and directly.  In order to one day succeed, we must give our future interventions and future projects the freedom to fail…our children will one day thank us for our honesty…

God Speed and Long Flights to all my dead mates…evolution is a brutal game, thanks for playing with me…



8 SEP 2011, 2250 AST, Orgun-E, Paktika, Afghanistan


About briangdonnelly

I'm pretty much a random traveler and free thinker. Right now I live and work with the Army in North Carolina. I grew up in Missouri but am from the northeast US and have traveled a lot with the Army and life in general so I can't say I really have a "home" except where I chose to catch a few hours or rack each day. Overall, life is pretty awesome and I'm looking forward to changing the world. Hit me up if you care... Peace, Brian
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