Jocko Willink is a man who radiates decency. He is also part of a community of warriors drawn to test themselves in the crucible of deadly combat against an evil and implacable foe. Eric sits down with Jocko Willink to learn how this cerebral Navy SEAL and hero of the battle of Ramadi against ISIS managed to bring military discipline home to the fight for personal freedom in peacetime writing kids books that teach ‘extreme ownership’ and radical accountability to children.
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Eric Weinstein: 0:09 Hello, welcome to another episode of the Portal with Eric Weinstein, and I am pleased to be joined in studio with none other than Jocko Willink, Jocko? Sir, and I just did the Jocko. Didn’t call for an immediate response, and so none was given. Jocko, it’s great to be here with you.
Jocko Willink: 0:28 Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
EW: 0:29 Thanks for coming. One of the things I’m really excited to talk to you about is just how our military interacts with our civilian society. But before we get there, what I’d love to do is to just have you talk a little bit about your trajectory through special forces in the Seal program into this situation where you’re now a podcaster. I guess you were brought to the world of podcasting by our mutual friend, Tim Ferriss. And what was that trajectory? What are the highlights of that trajectory so that we have someplace to begin?
JW: 1:11 I was born and raised in a small New England town on a dirt road out in the middle of nowhere. I joined the military when I got done with high school. I went through SEAL training, I went in the SEAL teams, it was now 1991 when I showed up with a SEAL team SEAL Team One. I was an enlisted guy. So then I spent several years there, and then I got picked up for a commissioning program, which meant I was going to become an officer and move into a leadership position. And I did that, and then I went to the east coast, went to SEAL Team Two from there. I had to go to college. I went to college at the University of San Diego and majored in English and went back to a seal team. I did two deployments to Iraq once as a platoon commander and once as a task unit commander. I got done with that. I ran training for the West Coast SEAL Teams, and the training that I ran was the tactical training. Not the training where you see the guys on TV carrying boats on their heads and carrying logs around. That’s the basic SEAL training. And I ran the advanced kind of tactical training where seals learn to shoot, move and communicate and where they learn their tactics and where they learn combat leadership. And that’s where I spent my last three years. And then once I got done with that, I retired from the Navy. And when I got out, I started working with companies teaching leadership and that expanded. Eventually, I started working with a friend of mine I was in the SEAL Teams with Leif Babin. We got a lot of business consulting about leadership. Eventually, a lot of those businesses asked us to write down the concepts that we had or have to be able to give them something to do. Handouts of some kind. So we wrote down the concepts, and that eventually became the book Extreme Ownership. The book Extreme Ownership came out in 2015. And in 2015, I was on the Tim Ferriss podcast, through a mutual friend through two mutual friends Kirk Parsley and Peter Thiel, and was on the Tim Ferriss podcast. When I got done recording with Tim Ferriss, he pressed stop on the recorder and he looked at me and said, “You should do your own podcast.” And I noted that, and then a couple of weeks later, or a couple of months later, I was on Joe Rogan’s podcast, and in the middle of the podcast, he told me that I should have my own podcast. So I started my own podcast because when Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan tell you to start a podcast, you should start a podcast. So they told me and I started a podcast. I’ve recorded 180-something podcasts. Since then I’ve written a bunch of other books. A book called Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual, a book called The Dichotomy of Leadership. I’ve written three books in a series called The Way of the Warrior Kid series. And I’ve written one book for smaller kids called Mikey and the Dragons. And we’ve continued on with the business at Echelon Front working with companies all over the world teaching leadership. I think that’s where I’m at right now.
EW: 4:17 Well, it’s quite a story. Something that would be meaningful for me to know more about is. Yeah, I’ve always understood that our military has had to have really a separate culture, right down to let’s say, marriage ceremonies looking different in the military than they do outside. And one of my questions is, to what extent is the military still a separate culture? Do I have that wrong? And then following up on that, to what extent are the individual Special Forces units really an entirely alternate world with different practices different disciplinary regimes? Things that are unthinkable, let’s say, in the civilian world.
JW: 5:08 The military is made up of a bunch of human beings. People from America from every different walk of life in America. And they all come in, then certainly you go through Boot Camp, or whatever indoctrination program that you go through, and you learn some of the fundamental military methodologies of living, such as being disciplined, such as Chain of Command, such as rank structure, tactics, so you learn those things. But at the end of the day, those are just overlaying on a bunch of human beings that are just human beings. And so the military is just a subsection of American society. And it reflects that way inside the military, as far as the Special Operations Forces, sure they all have their own little culture, but, you know, you go to different colleges and they have different cultures. And you go to different businesses, I work with different businesses all the time, they all have their own little cultures going on inside and…
EW: 6:06 You don’t think it’s more profound…
JW: 6:08 … the military…
EW: 6:09 … of a difference?
JW: 6:12 I don’t know if it’s more profound. There are some really dynamic companies out there that have very, very deeply rooted cultures. And those are probably in some cases even more distinct than what you have inside the military. One thing that’s interesting about the military Sure, there are some military traditions that go back hundreds of years. But the military people come and go in the military all the time, you know, as an officer in the military, you might spend two, maybe three years at an individual unit, and then you’re gone and someone’s gonna take your place. So it’s not like a business or a company where sometimes you go to a company, I work with companies where there have been people there for 28 years, you know, throughout the chain of command, maybe it’s a frontline worker that’s been running some machines at a company for 27 years, or maybe it’s the CEO who’s owned the business or started the business or inherited the business or bought the business but he’s been there for a long time. So those cultures can have kind of a more unified way about them because there’s that continuity of, of human beings in it, whereas the military people move around and they get stationed they get out they retire. But so there’s there are cultures I think, in, in everywhere in the military, certainly has a culture button, depending on what you’re into. You know, if you go to a Grateful Dead show, you’ll see a strong culture there that everyone dresses the same, everyone looks the same. Everyone probably thinks very similarly. If you go to a Metallica show, same thing, you know, people are going to dress very similarly. So I guess it just I think everyone’s got a culture and it’s present in the military, for sure. But I think there are cultures everywhere.
EW: 8:03 Somebody that was in the military once said to me that you have to understand that the military values interoperability in place of continuity. That because people are constantly being moved around the culture is almost defined by a kind of mental flexibility of a certain kind, and that person went on to say that American companies used to move people around and have stopped doing that largely so that it used to be in his estimation, that our companies like Procter and Gamble or an Exxon would be much more like the military, and that they would have an expectation that you would be posted to a particular place for a couple of years there would be sort of a Welcome Wagon. There was a way of absorbing families and that had actually been given up and that the military had retained some of that, but that that was in fact also at risk. I don’t know whether that resonates at all?
JW: 9:07 Well, certainly in the military, you have to be adaptable.
EW: 9:11 Right.
JW: 9:11 And when you take different people all the time, and you cycle them into different military units, you learn to work with different people, that’s for sure. And you can’t get used to working with one type of human being, because even though that human being has been through Boot Camp, and they’ve been indoctrinated, they’ve still got all their own personal emotions and drives and personality and idiosyncrasies and things that are going to drive you crazy. And things that work well, and things that don’t work well. And you’ve got to deal with all those things.
EW: 9:36 Right.
JW: 9:37 And so it is that that does happen in the military, and it happens in the civilian sector. Now, what I find interesting about that statement is, I think nowadays people change jobs a lot more than they did when I was a kid. When I was a kid, all my friend’s parents worked at the same company for 29 years…
EW: 9:52 so they might have been moved around by it and now you might move around a lot but stay in the same city.
JW: 9:57 Yeah, but you might move around from company I need a company.
EW: 10:00 Right, exactly. So, you know, following on that. One thing that I had heard that I thought was kind of interesting in it, and almost a biological level was a description of boot camp, which was that boot camp was a recapitulation of human development for adults that needed to be retrained as if they had always been meant to be soldiers. So that the idea being that you have a civilian set of instructions in your brain, and you have to more or less blow it away, to accept all of these differences, that there really is a chain of command and it’s not flexible in the way that your regular life might be flexible or that you think that you can’t do something that is within your physical capacity to do it, but requires a lot of effort for you to get to that level. And that, in essence, would bootcamp was was it was a Second childhood that was imposed to make you safe to be a soldier to be in harm’s way. Whereas if you took your regular self onto a battlefield, your instincts would be completely counter to what would be safe for not only you, but for others who are attached to do do by that bootcamp as effectively. Another version of childhood that is overlaid over the previous one.
JW: 11:23 I don’t know if I’d call it another version of childhood. But I can tell you what the military boot camps do an incredible job of taking normal human beings from every walk of life and turning them into someone that is, in many cases. Now, the military is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But if you take a kid like me, will use me in as as an example. You take a kid like me, that was a marginal student, a marginal athlete, I was very rebellious. I was getting in trouble a lot. And you put me into boot camp and say, Okay, here’s you have a blank slate. None of your past matters. We don’t care. where you’re from, we don’t care what your parents did. We don’t care about any of that. We don’t care about your history, your past at all, what we care about what you’re going to do now. And if you do these things, you’re going to move in the direction you want to move into. And here’s what you’re gonna do. You know what you do in boot camp, you fold your underwear a certain way, you walk a certain way, you eat a certain way. And that’s what you do. And if you do what they tell you to do, you can move forward and you can advance and things work out. Well. Now, what the thing that you got to remember is boot camp is a miniscule fraction of what your career in the military is, right? So for instance, obedience to orders, right, that’s something that you get drilled to do in boot camp. In fact, the purpose of military drill, you know, you see the guys marching around with rifles on their arms, and they’re all coordinated doing synchronized movements, right? That’s called close order drill. And they used to do it because when you were in battle in ranks in the Revolutionary War period, of course, we didn’t fight this way in America, right. We won But the the British military, close order drill, hey, you’re gonna draw your weapon at the same time you’re gonna load your weapon at the same time, you’re gonna fire your weapon at the same time. And you’re gonna follow these orders when they come out directly. That’s what it was originally for. Right? But they, we still do close order drill in boot camp. And the reason that they do it is so that you learn immediate obedience, obedience to orders. That’s why you do it. Now what you find out after boot camp, and what I tell people all the time is the last thing I want as a commander is people that are just going to obey my orders without questioning them. I want to be surrounded with people that question what I’m saying that gives me pushback when something doesn’t make sense. And the last thing I want is somebody that’s just going to blindly obey my orders. So boot camp is like childhood, I guess, but it’s really only like infancy. It really just teaches you get you potty trained. And then once you get into the military, that’s where you actually learn to maneuver, how to lead how to interact with other people. You learn how to flex up and down Command, like you talked about the inflexibility of the chain of command. That’s actually once you get the further you get in the military, the more flexibility you see in the chain of command.
EW: 14:09 So in part Wouldn’t that be because the people who rise to positions of power cannot get there by doing it highly egoically, that they have to actually recognize that the guy at the bottom might have the best information. And that so that it’s really because we refuse to promote people who are crazily egoic that we have that kind of flexibility.
JW: 14:33 Well, that is an ideal outlook. And And certainly, that would be a nice thing. But no, there’s, there’s people that, you know, like I said, in an ideal situation where people are getting promoted, because they’re the ones that are open minded. There’s the ones that put their ego aside, but I have to explain this to people all the time that because I always tell people, hey, you need to keep your ego in check. And I have to explain to people Yeah, sometimes that person that is concerned about themselves and they’re taking care of themselves, while I’m telling you, Eric, hey, don’t Don’t worry about, you know, don’t worry about yourself, take care of the team take care of the mission, and and things will be okay. And you have to say, Listen, you this other guy who’s taking care of himself, he might actually get a promotion ahead of you, he might move ahead of you this time, he might even move ahead to you next time. But guess what, eventually people are gonna look at that guy. They’re gonna characterize him for what he is, which is someone that’s taking care of himself doesn’t care about anyone else. And that is going to undermine his future. So in the long run, right, you’ll, you’ll advance because you took care of the team, you take care of the mission. Maybe in the short term, you might advance because you took care of yourself, but that’s not a long term solution. So ideally, yes, people that put their ego in check. Those are the people that get promoted, unfortunately, doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, some people are ego maniacs, and they they step on people’s backs and they make it to the top that absolutely happens.
EW: 15:47 Do you find that there’s a I mean, I’m always suspicious of the idea of really sidelining the ego the ego is in some sense this receptacle For we, you know, our life needs a protagonist somehow and the ego provides that sense that it is about us because we have one set of eyes and that’s how we tour the world. Do you find that the people that you respect the most keeping their ego in check as you say it are people who are really not highly ego or they people who have their ego involved in like a Mexican standoff with other parts of their personality, so that there’s a tension and a dynamism?
JW: 16:32 Yeah, certainly, there’s something that I call the dichotomy of leadership which are these opposing forces that are pulling you in opposite directions all the time. And and yes, ego is absolutely one of those things because if I, if I truly had no ego, well, then I wouldn’t care what my performance was. I wouldn’t care about anything right. I would just be happy to be sitting watching television and eating Cheetos. That’s what a total lack of ego could do to me. The other extreme is I’m gonna step on everyone’s back in order to rise to the top and I don’t care. Whoever gets in my way, I’m going to take him down. Where do we want to be? We want to be in a balanced place where we’re confident, but we’re not cocky. You know, I went and spoke with some inner city kids here in LA. And he whenever whenever I speak to people, one of the topics that I talk to him about is a you’ve got to stay humble, because normally I’m talking to people that are CEOs of companies or, you know, people that are in positions of power. And so I have to constantly remind them to keep their ego in check. And that originally, that originated in the fact that I was training young SEAL leaders and young SEAL leaders, their their, their front runners, they’re overachievers they’re, they got a strong ego. So they have to be told, Hey, you got to keep that thing in check. You’ve got to make sure you’re listening to other people. You got to hear other people’s ideas. You got to make sure that you’re taking care of your team ahead of yourself. They need to hear that. I went and spoke with these inner city kids and it was an interesting group of inner city kids because they weren’t just they weren’t just underprivileged. They were underprivileged. But they had done some kind of tests so that they were they were they were smart kids. And I was going to talk about the normal topics that I speak on and one of them is humility. And I went in this room and I immediately realized I wasn’t gonna talk about humility at all, because every one of these kids in this room was was beat down you could see it
EW: 18:15 That wasn’t the message they need
JW: 18:16 their their heads were hung low,
EW: 18:18 right
JW: 18:18 They weren’t looked me in the eyes. So what they needed to hear is, Hey, be confident you, you have capability, you can do this. So they were there’s a group of people whose ego was, was crushed too far, and they needed to have confidence built up. So again, this is another one of those classic dichotomies that needs to be balanced. You need Yes, you need to have an ego. But at the same time, you you have to be humble enough to listen to other people and you can’t let your ego get out of control.
EW: 18:41 So I’m super glad to hear you bring up the dichotomy of leadership and I was just trying to touch it lightly. Can you talk more about what that theory is and how you’ve come to it?
JW: 18:55 It’s interesting the way I came to it, the way I came to, it was by re…, I actually had to have the ultimate form of humility with myself. Because I realized as I preached these, many of the theories that I had, as I preached them, I realized that I wasn’t always right. And I’ll give you an example is one of the things that I always talked about, especially on the battlefield was that you had to be aggressive, like you have to be aggressive. That’s what you have to be. You have to be ready to maneuver, you have to take the fight to the enemy. If you see a problem, you need to attack that problem. I talked about that all the time. And then plain as day clearly, Are there times when as a leader or as a human being, you can be too aggressive? Yes, there absolutely are. And we used to call that running to your death if you’re super hyper aggressive. Because Jocko said you got to be aggressive. And so now there’s a machine gun nest on a hill and you just go charge that thing. You’re going to die and whoever follows you is also going to die. So you you have to be you have to you have to modulate your aggression there’re sometimes we have to back off. And that was sort of the first thing that I said, Well, on the one hand I talked about, you got to be aggressive, but there’s times where you can be too aggressive. And then I said to myself, well, what about what about talking as a leader? Because Because as a leader, you have to talk, right? You have to communicate with the other people on your team,
EW: 20:19 right
JW: 20:21 Is there such a thing as a leader that can talk too much? Yes, there absolutely is. And if I as a leader, all I do is talk, talk, talk, talk talk. Well, eventually, people stop listening to me, they don’t know what’s important and what’s not. I over-communicate to them to the point where they stop listening. So you can talk too much. But the other side of the spectrum is I don’t talk enough. And now you don’t know what’s going on. The team doesn’t know which direction we’re headed. So this is where this idea came from, is that the quality that we’re looking for? Isn’t on the extremes. It’s a balance it’s a dichotomy of leadership and finding the balance in those dichotomies led led me and my buddy Leif write this follow on book to Extreme Ownership. The reason the follow on book to Extreme Ownership. The reason for that is because that’s as we work with companies. Not only did most questions revolve around this idea of the dichotomy of leadership, but most answers, most answers that I give are someone says, Oh, my team isn’t taking any initiative. Okay, well, let’s break that problem down. Why is that happening? That’s happening because you perhaps are taking so much ownership, so much Extreme Ownership, you read the book, Extreme Ownership, so you’re taking so all this ownership. Well, now, your team doesn’t have any ownership. So they’re just waiting for you to tell them what to do. So when you do that their initiative gets crushed. You go too far in the other direction, and you’ve got people doing things that they shouldn’t be doing working on. They’re stepping outside their bounds. They’re they’re not staying within the parameters you’ve given them because you’ve got them running wild. So you’ve gone too far in the other direction. Where do you want to be you want to be balanced and, and that’s where that dichotomy of leadership comes in.
EW: 22:05 So, I mean, it’s fascinating to have to tell people that the best advice is to constantly recalibrate the forces that are in opposition within your mind. Do you have any way of helping people in general with dialectics that need to govern them… I feel like you know, I thought it was beautiful what you said before about these inner city, inner city kids. So much of what I hear is people giving blanket advice, which has no sense of what listener it’s finding. So you know, like you teach people to be humble, who are already humble, you’re just cutting them off at the knees. Or if you teach people you know, you need to be assertive and you’ve got somebody who’s like, wildly over aggressive. The person just takes it as license how how do we respond sensibly push out a framework for balance, which isn’t mealy mouth, but really has full blown versions of these opposing ideas with within one mind?
JW: 23:13 Again, that’s that’s why this book The Dichotomy of Leadership was we had to write it. Because Because we put the name on the first book, Extreme Ownership, we gave it that name. And, and that’s a great concept. When you’ve got people that don’t want to take responsibility for things like listen, you’ve got to take Extreme Ownership of what’s going on. But it’s like you said, when you give it that to someone that’s already a micromanager.
EW: 23:41 Right.
JW: 23:41 Oh, they’re all of a sudden they’re running with it like, like, would you say a license? It’s like they have a license now to micromanage
EW: 23:47 double-O-micromanagement
JW: 23:48 Yeah. And they’re wondering why things are falling apart on them, and why no one has any initiative anymore, and why they’re having to make every single decision and why the frontline troops aren’t maneuvering on their own. Well, it’s because you’re micromanaging them now you’re micromanaging them to the extreme. So that is why we had to do it because these these things, as you said, you have to constantly modulate all these different balances all these different dichotomies, you have to constantly modulate them. And by the way, once you get it modulated today,
EW: 24:19 right,
JW: 24:20 tomorrow, it’ll change a little bit.
EW: 24:21 Yeah.
JW: 24:22 Because all of a sudden, you know, if you were if you had no initiative, Eric, and I said, Hey, listen, I might have been micromanaging, I need you to step up more. And you go, Okay, cool. And the next day, you show up, and you start doing some project that I hadn’t even authorized. And now I gotta come back, and I gotta, I gotta adjust, because now I got to tighten you up and say, hey, I want you to take initiative, and I appreciate it. But you still got to stay within the bounds of what we’re trying to get done. So I was right yesterday. And now all of a sudden, same mindset. I’m wrong and I have to adjust again. So you’re 100% spot on there. You have to modulate all these principles for the people that you’re dealing with and the situation that they’re in.
EW: 24:59 So So, one of the things that I’ve been really curious about, I don’t know whether this, whether you react to this in any in any way at all, is we always talk about teaching critical thinking. But we don’t talk about teaching critical feeling. And but what my critical feeling, I mean that most of our emotions are susceptible to becoming maladaptive. And because they’re not analytic thoughts, they’re, they’re sort of harder to access and harder to influence. I would imagine that when you were in some situation where you’re, you know, in harm’s way, and you’ve got a bunch of people that you’re looking out for, and you got to get something done and stakes are very high. The emotions that you might have around your house on the weekend, when you’re with your family are very different than the emotions you can afford when you’re actually engaged in some sort of action in a military context. Can you… Do you relate to this concept of critical feeling at all? Does that sound like something that you have had to think about? Am I off base,
JW: 26:08 I have had to think about emotions a ton. And what I have found with emotions is just like every other thing that we have as human beings, they can get out of balance. So if I have a leader that gets super emotional about every decision or flies off the handle, or shows a bunch of anger and loses his temper, that is not going to be good. People will not respect that. People will not trust his judgment because they’re emotional. So we can’t go and be super emotional human beings, if we’re trying to be in a leadership position. And that includes in your house, right? If you fly off the handle with your wife, or you fly off the handle with your kids, that is not going to be healthy for those kids. They’re not going to trust your judgment. They’re not going to respect you. How can they respect you can’t control your own temper. And if they do respect it, that’s actually scary because what you’re teaching them is that In order to get respect, what you have to do is have a violent, crazy temper. So you so you don’t want to be a super hyper emotional person. What’s the other end of the spectrum? The other end of the spectrum is I’ve shut my emotions off completely. I don’t, I’m totally and completely detached. I have no emotional connection with the people that I’m leading, whether they’re on my team or in my family. And guess what if I don’t have that connection, as a, as a human being, as human beings are working for me, they are not going to do what they need to do to accomplish the mission when they see me as a cold blooded robot. So with these emotions, you have to keep them under control. I’m not telling people and I don’t tell people that they should be void of emotion,
EW: 27:42 right
JW: 27:43 Because if you’re void of emotions, you’re a robot and people don’t follow robots. people follow other human beings people follow human beings that they’re connected to emotionally. However, let that go too far. And your emotions are out of control and you’re making bad decisions. You know, I always ask people when what what kind of decisions do you make when you’re super emotional? The answer is not really good ones.
EW: 28:01 Yeah.
JW: 28:02 But if you completely cut emotions out, you know, if you’ve got a team and you’re going to make a decision, that’s going to be a massive negative impact on them. And you don’t let those emotions play a little bit, and you just make the perfect business decision. Okay, great. You made a perfect business decision. You saved X amount of dollars, but but you cut that emotional connection with your people, and they saw that you didn’t really care about their emotions. Okay, you got the short term when you made a little more money this quarter, guess what’s happening next quarter, you’re losing in three people, critical people that went and found a job somewhere else. Somebody, some other leader somewhere made an emotional connection with them, and now they’re gone. And so your short term win turns into a long term loss.
EW: 28:43 How do you how do you think about the concept? We’re used to hearing You’re overthinking this. And I’ve started to try this phrase, I think you’re over-feeling this. I’ve noticed that in our public square, it’s become more important to constantly explore one’s feelings and to the point where I find it. Absolutely distracting the extent to which people are now sharing their feelings feels to my way of thinking wrong. They’re not holding anything back. There’s nothing intimate, you’re expected to go into this performative kind of heart connection to, you know, various abstractions. Do you think they’re, I know there’s a better way of saying, like, you’re over feeling this is not an easy thing for people to hear. How do you get people to rein in some of those emotions?
JW: 29:34 No, I actually don’t i don’t know if there’s a better way of saying that over-feeling is a great term. I think I might have to use that. That’s great. And that’s explaining what I just explained, right? If I, if you tell me something, and my emotion is this or my reaction is this massive, emotional reaction. What’s horrible about it from a strategic perspective is if you tell me some opinion, and I just immediately fly off the handle emotionally,
EW: 29:58 right
JW: 29:58 You don’t listen to another word that I I say and it means nothing to you other than “Oh, he’s super emotional”, you dis you discount everything that I say, because I’m emotional and and you as a human being know that someone else being super emotional isn’t thinking straight and isn’t making good decisions. And, and they’re just just being emotional. So I’m better to say, “Oh, interesting point. Let me give you what what my take on that is” and all of a sudden you’re gonna sit and, you’re gonna listen to me and you’re gonna, you’re gonna hear me out. And so yes, over-feeling is something that happens all the time. And again, that’s just going too far out of balance in the dichotomy of leadership with your emotions.
EW: 30:34 So another thing I want to explore with you is this question. Well, come at it from kind of a funny angle. Are you familiar with Esther parral at all the relationship expert?
JW: 30:46 no
EW: 30:47 she’s specializes in thinking about very difficult topics she’s touched. You know, what happens to marriage in a monogamous setting when it feels very constrained. She’s touched on infidelity. She’s now talking about workplace issues where she’s exploring, you know, sort of forbidden thoughts about what happens in the workplace. And one of the things that she said to me that was very interesting is that she was reconsidering masculinity. And she said that masculinity is clearly an incredibly powerful thing. But did she hadn’t appreciated that it is as fragile as it is powerful that the number of ways of invalidating men is quite high, and that there is some sort of dependence on kind of a bargain in which men tend to be more disposable, particularly in times of war and conflict. Let’s be honest about it,
JW: 31:47 no doubt about that.
EW: 31:48 And that there is something both extremely powerful but also fragile about the concept of masculinity itself. It’s very difficult for us, even in our society to find things that are wholly positive that we ascribe to the concept of masculinity that we would deny to the concept of femininity. Like we’ve gotten to a point where we’re just unsure it would seem as to whether or not there’s a compelling reason for half of humanity. Now, war, of course, is an easy counter to that. But the more distance we’ve gotten from World War Two, I worry that we’ve forgotten exactly why men exist in terms of their full complement of abilities and skills and functions. Do you think that there’s anything to the concept that masculinity may be intrinsically fragile? Like it’s subject to veto, if you say, you know, if you do something that’s heroic, let’s say and nobody chooses to acknowledge it or like, well, you’re showing off, you know, it’s a very hard thing to, to protect, you detect a crisis in masculinity. That’s a big topic, we get a lot of young people who come to some of the shows of the friends of both of ours. And it’s very clear that there’s the search for how do I make my way as a young man? Are you are you getting this energy?
JW: 33:26 Yeah, you know, I don’t get a lot of that energy. Alright. And the reason I don’t get a lot of that energy is because, I mean, I do what I do, my friends, they do what we do. You know, I think the the thing with with masculinity is just like everything else, if I take any masculine trait, and I take it to an extreme, it turns bad
EW: 33:49 it turns toxic.
JW: 33:50 I and you know, I should say, traditionally masculine trait, because if I take any traditional masculine trait, and I take it to the extreme, it turns bad.
EW: 33:58 Yeah.
JW: 33:58 The thing is the masculine traits that we talked about, but I have three daughters and one son, I, I raised them all the same, and I want them to have the same amount of the masculine traits. Hey, do I want you to be assertive? Yes, I want you to be assertive. That’s a traditionally masculine trait. Do I want you to be brave? Yes, I want you to be brave. Do I want you to be stupid? And and go overboard
EW: 34:22 hopefully that isn’t just a masculine trait
JW: 34:24 Yeah, yeah. We have to check with my wife on that one. But so so these
EW: 34:30 but even those aren’t really I mean, I wouldn’t say that assertiveness is a masculine trait, I would say we have our flavor of assertiveness has been traditionally different than the female flavor. But, you know, definitely. You know, I think of my wife as one of the braver people, I know there’s nothing that contradicts the feminine in that but she doesn’t do it the way let’s say my brother would, would behave in a in a brave context. And so the question in some sense has to do with it’s, you know, I give people the puzzle names some positive trait that you would associate with masculinity to distinguish it from femininity. There’s plenty of things that we say that are feminine, that are positive, but they’re very few things that we can say are masculine that are positive without an immediate claim that that is as female as it is male.
JW: 35:23 Hmm. I don’t know.
EW: 35:26 All right.
JW: 35:26 I mean, I don’t know. I’m over here doing what I do. I don’t know whether it’s considered masculine or whatever. But this is this is kind of what I do, how I live my life. The people that I know that are men, they all seem kind of similar to me.
EW: 35:47 Okay.
JW: 35:48 I mean, not all of them, obviously. Because you got I mean, I have friends that are that are not like me at all. But yeah, I don’t know.
EW: 35:57 Let’s try another one.
JW: 35:58 I don’t know if I have the best, the best answer for that.
EW: 36:01 Okay. What is it that I guess I think about the few people I’ve gone through life and death situations with, and I feel a very special, strong bond to them. That was catalyzed by the peril that we went through together. And I watched how they performed. But it wasn’t in a military situation, it was just sort of, you know, you’re like, you’re out on a remote hike and people perform, and they come through and you take that knowledge for the rest of your life that that’s somebody I can depend upon. Is there any substitute for putting your life at risk when it comes to deepening bonds between people, particularly men?
JW: 36:46 going through hard things together as what brings people together and for sure, the harder things that you go through, the tighter the bonds gonna be. So if you take the military, for example, to start with the military, Well, the first thing you do is you put them through boot camp, like We talked about, well, that’s hard and you go, and you form bonds with people that other people that went through boot camp, we all kind of have that common bond, then you go to airborne school where you’re going to jump out of airplanes. And that’s a little bit of a death defying thing. And you’re going to be the airborne crews are going to be a little bit tighter, you go to Special Operations Training and all of a sudden, you’ve done something that’s harder than that. And and now the bonds are a little bit tighter. Now you take that unit, and you put them into a combat zone, and their bonds are going to be even tighter. Now you take that combat zone and you make it super intense, those bonds are going to be even tighter. So there’s no doubt about it now in the business world, what that looks like, and especially, I mean I retired in 2010. So the companies that we worked with a lot of them that the company that we work with were many of them, survivors of the economic crash. And believe me, they talked about that like that was their battle zone. That’s where they formed these really tight bonds, and they weren’t going anywhere now they were tight. So whether you can replace it? I don’t really think so I think the harder strife you go through with someone, the tighter the bond is going to be. And maybe over time you form a strong bond. You know, if I had to rely on you for something, and you came through for me, and then you did it again and again, and then I did it for you and we we stuck together. I mean, over time, you can definitely form really, really strong bonds with people. But I think the harder something is the stronger the bonds, if it doesn’t fracture, if it doesn’t break you,
EW: 38:25 right, but and then you have that guy you’ll never speak to again, because where were you when I needed you
JW: 38:30 exactly
EW: 38:31 right, My concern though, I mean, let me just open up about the fact that my least favorite phrase in the English language at the moment is “I’ve got your back.” And the reason is because I think it migrated from the military into civilian life, where civilians have no idea what it means. They think that it’s like, it’s a good thing to say it’s like, I really care about you and I don’t want anything bad to happen, but it has nothing to do with I’ve actually got your back. Do you find That there is this kind of military envy and bleed where people talk as if they’re in these situations and it actually just doesn’t match in any way?
JW: 39:12 I don’t know if it’s envy or if it’s just slang terms that expand over time in there’s slang terms that we use all the time
EW: 39:20 farming, sports, and the military provide a lot of language.
JW: 39:23 Right, Right. So I think I don’t think that when someone says, I got your back, you know, you and I are our you know, Hey, can you I’m gonna go to McDonald’s,
EW: 39:33 right
JW: 39:33 you know, I got your back you need anything. You know, let me grab some chicken nuggets over here. I don’t think that my intent in saying that wouldn’t be like Hey, brother. I got your back with the chicken nuggets deep. You know, I think it’s just a slang thing that people are throwing around. Yeah, I percent.
EW: 39:49 I think it comes up as a situation in which like, you know, the boss is going to come and ask a bunch of questions and one guy says, Don’t worry, I got your back and he immediately folds Because he did not even think about what he was saying. And I think in part, one of the fears I have and I don’t know whether you resonate with this is that I think a lot of American men, men in the developed world don’t have any bonds that are comparable to the bonds that you’re talking about. In other words, their closest friend is untested, in any real way.
JW: 40:25 Yeah, that’s, that’s not good. That’s not good. We’ll definitely want to have some friends that you know, when you call them, they will answer and when you make a request, they will deliver. And you don’t need a big group of friends like that. But it’s nice to have a few.
EW: 40:43 And one of the things that I’m curious about is that I’m seeing kids not be allowed to work out their own problems, and that they’re taught if that anything goes wrong, immediately go find an authority figure. And as a result, I worry that these kids are never going to have those strong bonds because you have to get into trouble and out of trouble repeatedly with the same people. Do you think there’s anything to that?
JW: 41:06 Yeah, definitely. You form good bonds, doing hard things. And also, would you get in trouble. Can you let’s bring it
EW: 41:13 is there anything that you got in trouble for that you can discuss from like, before you entered the military?
JW: 41:19 Yeah, I mean, I, you know, just every other knucklehead thing that every other boy was doing when they’re 13, 14, 15 years old,
EW: 41:25 such as
JW: 41:26 whether it was, you know, blowing up fireworks, driving like maniacs, just every stupid thing fighting you know, big giant street fights, just dumb stuff. And yeah, I did it all like an idiot. like a like a 14 year old boy like a 15 year old boy.
EW: 41:43 Did you enjoy street fighting?
JW: 41:46 Yeah, yeah.
EW: 41:47 Okay. Can you so there, It’s a good example of violence with probably very little point. But the pleasure of fighting. You know, I think it was PJ O’Rourke who pointed me too, it’s one of his writings that he said we used to discuss the drunk delight of bout battle before we decided that war was generally a bad thing.
JW: 42:10 You know I think people like competition, right? And, you know, there’s no more heightened form of competition, war is number one, whereas I’m trying to kill you, then you take, take a step down from that and where are you at your we’re going to fight each other. We’re not going to kill each other, hopefully. Maybe, but, you know, so. So people like to fight. Many people like to fight. It’s the whole it’s a very good challenge. And, you know, especially when you’re when you’re young when you’re 14, 15, 16, 18, 22. We’re going to fight. There’s these people up in where are they up in Oregon. With their they’re fighting each other protesting wearing masks all these guys up in Oregon, beating people up and whatnot. And everyone’s all surprised. And I say, Yeah, they’re their guys beating people up. Yeah, that’s,
EW: 43:13 that’s normal.
JW: 43:14 That’s that’s what that’s what guys do Oh, they’re but they’re wearing masks and stuff. Yeah. Okay, that’s what they’re doing right now in the 50s they didn’t right in the, well, you know, it’s just just a different what they’re What are they trying to do? They’re trying to fight other people. They’re, they’re, they’re tribal, you know, and and DNA, their DNA their combative DNA is leaking out. They don’t know how to control it because they’re young, and they’re gonna go beat people up.
EW: 43:40 So is fighting an important part like physical fighting an important part of human development?
JW: 43:47 I think so. I’ll tell you what I think. And again, this is I don’t I don’t want to sit here and talk like I’m making some sort of assertion for mankind and I think you might have just framed the question as if human development right?
EW: 44:00 i was trying to trick you, no, no no
JW: 44:02 But which for human development, I don’t know. But let me tell you from my experience, because I don’t like to talk in broad, you know, statements for all of humanity. It’s as you would like me to do, right now. I, I, for me,
EW: 44:16 yeah.
JW: 44:18 There was there was three things that really helped me out. I gave a speech at my friend’s wedding. Yeah, he was getting married. And he was a guy that I had trained Jiu Jitsu with a lot he’s a guy went to combat with and now I was at his wedding who’s getting married, and I was giving the speech. And what I said was, there was three things in my life that sort of made me feel secure as a man,
EW: 44:44 okay?
JW: 44:45 And the first one was learning how to fight. So, like learning jujitsu and knowing that, hey, if I get into a fight with someone, I can handle myself. That was number one. Number two was going into combat because when you go into combat you, you want to know that you’re going to perform your duties, and you’re not going to cower. And you’re going to be brave, and you’re gonna do your job. So when to combat, I was good with it, I liked it, it was fine. And then the last one was, I got married and had kids, and all of a sudden now I’ve got people that depend on me. And I’ve got people that are higher priority than me ever than I will ever be. And so those three things were very important to me feeling secure. And, and, you know, I always say when I was young and stupid and didn’t know how to fight, I used to fight all the time. And then once I learned how to fight, I didn’t fight anymore, because I didn’t have anything to prove anymore. You know, I’m not trying to prove that I’m tougher than humans outside the 7/11. It’s like, hey, if you want to find out who’s tougher, come to go to the gym, and we’ll, we’ll get on the mat and see who would would win. But let’s not do it in the street. Like like dummies. So those three things I think are helpful for people to do. They were helpful for me, I know that they were helpful, you know, as a young, insecure kid, which that’s what, that’s what kids are. They’re insecure with who they are, you know that no one’s walking around at age 15 thinking, you know, “I’m the man.” And when they project that, which I certainly tried to project, what they’re really projecting is I’m pretty insecure about what’s going on right now. Okay, cool. How are you going to get over that? Man, you know, learn how to fight, learn what that feels like, take responsibility for you know, when you have a wife and kids, you have a responsibility, a big one. So those are things that I think move you in the right direction.
EW: 46:37 So if I take that sequence, right, the first one is learning theoretically to be capable in a fight, so that you don’t need to worry that if something happens, you need to back down instantly. You can assess the situation, figure out how you want to handle it on your own terms, hopefully. But then you say the second thing which is beyond being able to fight I really enjoyed or combat helped make me who I am. Can you talk about and feel free not to if it’s not right, what, what is the sort of the poetry of combat that allows you to more fully develop that allowed you to more fully develop as a human being beyond the ability, let’s say to just handle yourself in a fight where you’re actually applying this now with leverage in terms of weaponry in terms of command in terms of strategy tactics in a life and death situation?
JW: 47:38 You know, all that stuff that you just mentioned. I absolutely love and I’ve spent my entire life trying to get good at tactics with weapons maneuver on the battlefield, combat leadership, and all those things are awesome and that is certainly the the the things in combat that you get to experience But the bottom line is, is this when you go into combat, you got people that are trying to kill you. And at some point you realize, okay, I could die tonight. And if I die, bring it. And I think for me, you know, the the idea, you know, people people go through life, they, they, they, you got death out there in the future. And they either don’t want to face it, or it’s so far away that they they don’t need to face it. Or they put it in the back of their mind. When you go into war it’s coming to the front of your mind. And you get to answer that question that some people wait their whole lives to answer is “what am I going to do when it’s time to die?” And once you answer that question for yourself, then for me, I was like, okay, you know, I Here we go. And if I die, okay,
EW: 48:54 are you familiar with this movie? No Country for Old Men.
JW: 48:58 Absolutely. Well and I’ve you know, read the book Cormac McCarthy’s
EW: 49:01 right.
JW: 49:02 My favorite fiction author
EW: 49:04 oh is that right
JW: 49:05 Yes.
EW: 49:06 The famous gas station scene where Anton Chigurh is this sort of methodical Hitman with potentially supernatural origin is offended that this guy transgresses a politeness boundary and asks one too many questions. And he traps him into this coin toss. And he says, What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss? And the guy says, You know, I don’t know. He said, Well, you have to call the coin as I didn’t put anything up. And the Hitman says, Oh, you’ve been putting it up your whole life. Every day. As you leave the studio, you’re going to be taking a risk with your life as you walk across the street that somebody is on their phone, texting and not paying attention. And yet you don’t most people don’t know that they they’ve imagined the death is this incrediblely remote thing they don’t see bodies and there fewer open caskets probably. We we cremate people, we don’t visit graves, there are all sorts of things that are keeping us in an abstraction where death seems very, very remote. Are you saying that combat was liberating? specifically because you were forced to say, I am playing with the full stack? And I’ve accepted that and your comment, “bring it” mean, it’s a terrifying thing to say in a life and death situation? How do you? How do you how do you see that have you crossed over some threshold?
JW: 50:38 I think it’s a matter of acceptance of accepting the fact that this is what is going to happen. And you know, you talk about not visiting graves. I mean, my visit my friends, graves all the time.
EW: 50:49 I go to national cemeteries and I see, you know that there’ll be some some person who died in, like, let’s say the 50s or the 40s. And they’re fresh flowers on that particular grave, it’s very moving.
JW: 51:02 So I don’t know if liberating is the is the word but perhaps it is. I think, again, and you know, Sam Harris, he asked a very pointed question on his podcast, he said, you know, you talk about war being hell, which I do, and and being awful, which I do, and which it is. And then, you know, I say that combat was the best time that I’ve had in my life. And he says, How do you reconcile those two statements? And, and what I said to him, was, I asked him if he ever knew anyone that had cancer, and that had cancer and lived. And he said, Yes. And I said, and when you ask those people, they very often give the answer. I’m glad it happened to me. This is what I learned from it. They had to face death. And once they were through it, they realized, you know, they wouldn’t wish it on their best…. on their worst enemy, but they’re they’re glad that they went through it because they learned. And I think I said that, to me is what combat is like you have to face your own mortality. And you have to recognize that, you know, you could die. And then when you’re done, you get back and you realize that the sun coming up in the morning is a beautiful thing
EW: 52:20 I can imagine. What about so you were most associated in my mind with with the Iraqi theatre? And what I wanted to ask you about is what was in your estimation, what was unusual and peculiar about operating in that theater at that time? And what did you bring back from the particularity of that experience? It wouldn’t have been the same if you’d been in Afghanistan or posted somewhere else.
JW: 52:54 One thing that’s interesting is I did two deployments to Iraq and and the amount that the battlefield changes all the time, how quickly the enemy adapts, and then how coalition forces have to adapt to what the enemy adapted to. And that’s a cycle that just doesn’t stop. And so you’re constantly trying to keep your eyes open and be humble about what the enemy is doing and never underestimate what their capabilities are. As far as the operating theater, my first deployment, I was all over the country. We operated all over the place. And I was living in Baghdad, or we we had our compound was in Baghdad, and then but I operated all over the place and we travel and fly and drive everywhere in Iraq, or to a lot of different places. And then my second deployment where we were in the Battle of Ramadi, I didn’t leave Ramadi. I didn’t leave that little, you know, three or four square miles of neighborhoods. And so that was very different.
EW: 53:49 And who were the belligerents on both sides was ISIS on the other side, though. Yeah.
JW: 53:53 My first deployment what it was was a bunch of thugs, criminals from regime elements running around causing problems. And they were very disorganized. So that was in 2003 2004 by 2006. When I went back to Ramadi, when I went to Ramadi, there was now a full fledged insurgency that was organized and financed and led. And they were operating as a paramilitary organization and
EW: 54:25 the same folks who’d gotten disciplined.
JW: 54:27 The same folks, but they had gotten disciplined?
EW: 54:29 That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
JW: 54:30 Yes, the same folks disciplined but more important, they had leadership now, because al Qaeda started bringing in foreign fighters, foreign leadership to go in and run and direct operations. And that’s when you when you have a, an organization without leadership isn’t an organization at all
EW: 54:45 right
JW: 54:46 Sure they can. They can nip at you, and they can do some random attacks, and that’ll be problematic. But once you organize an element and you put leadership over them, then that’s when they can start to do real damage. And that’s exactly what happened.
EW: 54:58 And where was the experience coming? Was that Chechnya, or
JW: 55:01 all over, all over from the from all over.
EW: 55:10 One of the things we talked about in World War Two is the sense of being the good guys. And I think in the era that followed World War Two, we were less convinced that we were always intrinsically the good guys, but you had the opportunity to go up against some of the most horrible people we’ve ever seen in modern times. Is that a fair characterization of the of the enemy?
JW: 55:36 Yes.
EW: 55:37 Can you talk about and I would actually like to do it someone unflinchingly what distinguished ISIS in terms of I talk about a concept most people don’t react to called message violence where the point of the violence is to be so picturesque that it works its way into your mind that it won’t let you go because somebody did something that was unnecessarily unthinkable, just for the purpose of torturing your brain with knowing that that’s what’s on the other side. Is Is that a fair characterization?
JW: 56:15 Yeah. So the, the, the term ISIS started being used around 2007. I, my last deployment ended in 2006. But the characters are still the same. And they were they weren’t as organized as they became when they became ISIS when they started flying the ISIS flag. And then what you had was this recruitment is a worldwide recruitment of sadistic evil human beings coming to the the caliphate to torture and murder and rape systematically, girls and boys. And yeah, what we saw in Ramadi in 2006 was it’s it’s the worst nightmares that you can imagine from people being skinned alive. People being beheaded people being tortured in all manners, rape, you know rape used as a weapon of war, just everything every horrible thing that you could imagine
EW: 57:12 family members being violated in front of other family.
JW: 57:16 Absolutely
EW: 57:16 right.
JW: 57:16 And and that’s why, you know, for us when you ask, did you feel like the good guys? Oh yeah, we definitely felt like the good guys. And we especially felt like the good guys because the local populace is who was enduring this this this heinous, these heinous acts was the local populace, though the local people that lived in Ramadi, that’s who was enduring and suffering these horrible acts. So when we came in and started eliminating the insurgents, they were ecstatic and they were happy that we were there and they believe me, they wanted nothing more than for to help us get those insurgents out of the city and out of the country.
EW: 57:53 What is it that you think, you know, you mentioned the caliphate and my fear is That the caliphate was sort of a remote dream. And that what we allowed to happen was that the caliphate came to be a potential reality in a world of people who hadn’t been used to thinking about it until recently that in essence, there have been a couple of major shifts in the Islamic world. One is for example, the suicide bombing was an almost unknown before the Lebanese barracks, and then it was perfected in Sri Lanka by the Tamil rebels against
JW: 58:35 against the Sinhalese.
EW: 58:36 Yeah,
JW: 58:36 populous well,
EW: 58:37 and then it comes back to the
JW: 58:38 not everyone in Sri Lanka. I mean, the Sri Lankan the Tamil Tigers, there was tamils that were in the Sinhalese or that were in the Sri Lankan army,
EW: 58:45 right. So it wasn’t all
JW: 58:46 it wasn’t all it wasn’t pure. It wasn’t a pure ethnic war
EW: 58:49 but that tactic was was very strange in the way in which it’s been a relatively modern invention, and then it came back to the Middle East and that together with the concept of the caliphate, started to animate a kind of sleeping Islamic identity that hadn’t been wildly present. I mean, I sort of analogize it to what would happen in Judaism if somebody started rebuilding the temple, and all of this code that has not never been run, like where you can reconvene the Sanhedrins to mete out death penalties according to Jewish law. Thank God, we don’t have a Third Temple, right. But somehow we we let this idea go from fantasy to some kind of reality is that is that wrong, that somehow we allowed something to animate this portion of the world and it went very sadistic and psychopathic?
JW: 59:47 I think it is wrong that we allowed that to happen. And it was it was clear to people that had been in Iraq, that there was embers of the insurgency of this this sadistic insurgency that there were embers that were still burning when we pulled out and so once we pulled out all of a sudden you know, the fire the firemen, there was a fire at a house. They came spread some water on it, the flames were gone, and then they left. That’s what we did. Well, the fire is not out yet.
EW: 1:00:18 Right.
JW: 1:00:19 Right. And so then it didn’t take long for those embers to rekindle and start completely burning out of control. And then we we let it get to a point where I mean in the city of Ramadi, we had people that we knew who when when ISIS took over Ramadi, which Ramadi was peaceful from 2007 till 2014-2015, like completely peaceful, when ISIS came in they rounded up about 500 families that had families members who had worked with the coalition forces and they murdered them all.
EW: 1:00:56 right.
JW: 1:00:57 So just just Sick, sadistic sub-human beings that should never have been allowed to do that. Now they did it. And once they did, and they took they took Ramadi and they took muzzle. You know, when Iraqi forces went back in with the support of heavy American firepower, they clean those places out. And and it took, I mean, they wiped out about 40,000 ISIS fighters, which is pretty much all of them. pretty unique situation
EW: 1:01:33 where they skilled fighters?
JW: 1:01:35 some of them were, but what was interesting is you had them wearing uniforms, carrying flags, and in trying to act like a conventional military force in many ways, not always, but in many ways. And so, you know, you want to get into conventional war with basically with America. That’s that’s not a good tactic. But it was a good tactic for us for them to do that.
EW: 1:01:58 Right
JW: 1:01:59 because you know, fighting an insurgency is much more difficult than fighting an open conventional war.
EW: 1:02:05 Now I have a very unpopular opinion in this country, which is somewhat popular outside of it, which is that Saddam Hussein while a horrible in all the ways that we claim he was horrible was in fact holding together some powder keg and that was using was a relatively secular government and that brought some order to a potentially very chaotic communal situation. His sons of course, you know one one in particular was a stone cold psychopath and he you know, Saddam Hussein did terrible horrible things by American standards but if we evaluated him by the standards of the region, we might come up with a different answer. Is there anything to that? I mean he’s obviously a bad guy.
JW: 1:02:59 He certainly Provided stability for the region. No doubt about that.
EW: 1:03:02 Yeah. Have you ever seen the video by which you took over the bath party?
JW: 1:03:10 No.
EW: 1:03:11 So he shows up on stage smoking a cigar and he says, “we have a special guest today.” And this guy comes to the microphones start saying, “I’ve plotted against saddam and I’m here to read the names of my co-conspirators.” And you see panic takeover in the audience and names are called and people are led out of the auditorium. And people start to understand that everyone whose lead out is going to be killed. And so they start screaming like, you know, “long live saddam. We love saddam” in order to save their own lives. My understanding is is that the people who were left were given sidearms to execute the people who had been led out to consolidate power around a founding atrocity. To me, that’s an example of this message violence concept that for people who don’t speak other languages, violence, and even sadistic language is their poetry. And there’s poetry in which our fighters who are doing the right thing, and there are on the side, you know, the side of the angels are engaging in brutal poetry and the other side is engaged in some sort of very disturbing art form. Is there a way of looking at this that’s profitable that people who have not been in battle can understand about how, how these messages are used to hold together societies that are dangerous and fragile?
JW: 1:04:44 Well, as you pointed out, I mean, all human beings have a guttural reaction to violence. And violence is a language that every single human being understands. You know, you were asking me earlier what languages I speak Can I said English, And you said “you didn’t learn in Arabic?” And I said, Well, I learned enough to say “get down, show me your hands.” But But when I would speak those words in Arabic to, you know, enter a building in their home and there’s, you know, a military age male, and I’d be speaking to them in Arabic, he didn’t he didn’t even understand that I was even trying to speak Arabic, a) because my Arabic is bad and b) because it’s it’s just he’s not expecting that. And so they don’t they don’t respond very seldom what I have until we get them to calm down a little bit, then I could maybe speak a little bit of Arabic to them. But in that initial moment of terror, there’s they don’t understand. They don’t understand what you’re saying they’re not they’re not ready to hear it. But when you have somebody that is resistant, clearly resistant, there though there is some non-verbal communication that you can do. That is violence, and they will understand it and the other people that see it will understand it, so there’s no doubt that Violence is a method of communicating with people a message stronger than words in many cases and people like saddam people like ISIS, they’ll absolutely use that to the best of their ability. And then they’ll exploit when things happen, you know, one of the one of the horrible strategic losses or strategic setbacks we had in in the Iraq War was the, the abuses that went on at the Abu Ghraib prison, because now we had photographs of these Americans with doing things that look like extreme torture to the prisoners there and, and the al Qaeda elements just absolutely took those and ran with them to make to fuel that insurgency. And it did it did a great job of fueling that insurgency. So you have to be very, very careful about the way you treat your enemy. Because if you treat if you mistreat the enemy, then the enemy will use that as propaganda and they would do that on purpose. They they would love nothing more. Then Then for you to accidentally kill a kid or, you know, drop a bomb on a mosque or drop a bomb they love they absolutely would love that. And so we had to do everything in our power to prevent those things from happening. Because the strategic the negative strategic impact was phenomenal when events like that occurred.
EW: 1:07:17 Did you watch the video of the Jordanian pilot who was executed by ISIS?
JW: 1:07:22 Yes.
EW: 1:07:23 So a lot of people stateside did not watch that video. And one of the things that I found very interesting about it was that it had a point that was disguised by our unwillingness to watch the video. Now maybe it’s important that ISIS not be allowed to communicate its point. But the point was, you’re up there in the skies, meting out very particular forms of death in particular, incinerating people and burying them in rubble. And our aim in this video is to subject a captured pilot to the exact form of death that you are dispensing from the skies. And so you’re normally not here to see this, let this be your death. And, you know, it was cinematically beyond belief it was shot to be gorgeous, and to be repugnant and sickening. And that concept of a Hollywood style death filmed for real a snuff film, if you will, with a point and then offering bounties showing the homes of the Jordanian pilots, you know, by street, I think in Amman, Jordan. My sense was is that Americans didn’t pick up anything of what was going on. Because we had decided that we didn’t want our population exposed to anything coming from the other side. Even their propaganda informed us as to how they were thinking and feeling but it was as if we plugged our ears and didn’t want to understand what we were watching. Do you Do you see that?
JW: 1:09:02 I see. Yeah. And I would agree with the point that when you disconnect people from war, it’s they lose track, right? I mean, in America, you know, we, when I was in Ramadi, in 2006, I was, you know, sitting in some combat outposts in the middle of nowhere with mortar shells coming in. And meanwhile, everyone in America was, you know, going to the mall and driving around their SUV and ordering a Starbucks. I mean, that’s, that’s just the way it is. I’m not mad at that. But there’s a definite detachment there
EW: 1:09:37 I’m mad at that. No, here’s, here’s why I’m at it. First of all, I think I’m slightly older than you are. And so I have some memories of the Vietnam War as it was playing out on American television. That’s some of my earliest childhood memories. And let me say this, it was spectacularly gruesome. What We saw on the TV during that period of time, I believe that my parents turned off the TV when it showed an image of a GI’s head on a pike, and it was just like, Okay, this is too much. And on the one hand, this was real information coming from the war. And on the other hand, it was propaganda. It was meant to strike fear in our hearts. There was a self hatred that was playing out, just as there was concern about the excesses of American kids being turned loose in a jungle with too little discipline and supervision. I mean, there was so much happening in Vietnam, which was hard to pull apart. And what I found was is that after that war, we never went into a conflict the same way again, the embedded journalists didn’t seem to want to report in the same way that a non-embedded journalist did. And there’s a need that we have to be able to go to war without constantly second guessing ourselves and putting our own troops in harm’s way and not working through all of our psychological nonsense when we have people who are, you know, definitely at risk and doing our work as the military. I don’t know that we’ve ever really come to grips with the lessons of Vietnam, we we don’t have a clear sense that we should go to war as a nation where the newsreels should talk about our side versus the other side. We don’t know how to do this. Do you have a sense that, like I my sense is, is that Vietnam really broke something in terms of our ability to go to war.
JW: 1:11:55 Vietnam was well you know, I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of podcast guests that were in Vietnam and their experiences were all different. I mean, from one guy Captain Charlie Plum who was shot down and was in the Hanoi Hilton for six years. I’ve had SOG operators special operations or Studies and Observation Group guys that were fighting behind the lines in Cambodia and Laos. I’ve had helicopter pilot that was shot down in the jungle prisoner prisons for months and months being tortured and and mock executed the whole nine yards. So what was what was horrible.. There’s so many horrible things about Vietnam. And you know, I’ve did I did a podcast about the My Lai massacre, which, which really is by far the most the biggest atrocity that American troops have ever committed. And it was absolutely heinous. Now, you could go to Sand Creek and maybe some of the Native Americans there were some some significant horrible atrocities there is well, those generally weren’t as clear cut. You know, most of those had American soldiers that were saying “no stop.”
EW: 1:13:09 Right
JW: 1:13:09 My Lai for a while for at least several hours. It was no, no one would no one was stopping. So what you had, you know, what you have, I think with the press and the media in Vietnam was you had a lens into what war is. And in war, you’re killing other people.
EW: 1:13:27 Right.
JW: 1:13:28 And when you’re killing other people, it’s you know, you you just take one step back, if you don’t know what that other person did. And you take one step back and you watch someone kill someone else, that is that is not going to go over well, in most people’s stomachs. Most people are going to look at that and say, why is this happening? Why are we doing this? So that’s what happened in Vietnam. You take one step back and you see you take one step back and what you see is killing you see a human beings killing other human beings and why in God’s name, are we doing this? And so that’s what I think happened in Vietnam, how it broke us? I mean, I don’t know if broke us is the right word. But we certainly are more cautious and should be more cautious always about going to war. I mean, you know, you want to talk to the people that don’t want to go to war. It’s the people that have been to war. The people that have had their friends get killed, like they’re the ones that don’t want to go to war unless it’s absolutely necessary, unless we’ve tried every other method unless we’ve used every other technique that we could use to prevent us from going to war. Now that when you have to go to war, like go to war, and win that’s, that’s my attitude, we don’t want to go to war at all. If we have to go, go and win win as quickly as you can, with use whatever means necessary to achieve a quick, dominant victory.
EW: 1:14:49 I mean, there’s so much and that’s so so rich as an answer, I guess where I want to go back to is, I think that it’s irresponsible. For us, as a nation, to allow this much insulation of the homefront, from the raw facts of what we’re doing abroad, and that if you’re going to mean if you know if you take my assessment that the United States is the most dangerous machine ever constructed, right? We do not have the right to wield that power if we’re not interested in what it looks like, and what it means. If we’re not willing to celebrate heroes who come back from the battlefield, if we’re not willing to look at murderers and psychopaths who fought under our flag, I mean, you know, my belief is is that you to have a mature relationship with your country requires being able to look at something like My Lai and seeing it for the horror that it was, and still coming to an understanding that there’s going to be some amount of breakdown that looks something like that, maybe not that bad, Anytime we deploy troops that that’s part of what it means to deploy troops is that you can’t monitor how every particular unit functions, and particularly if they’re no eyes on them.
JW: 1:16:14 One of the things that I’ve said before is that if you go to war, you have to be willing, you have to have the the will, the will, for the following two things to happen. Number one is you have to have the will to kill. And when I say kill, I’m not just talking about killing your enemy, because although you will try and kill your enemy, you will absolutely have collateral damage in war, and innocent people are going to die. And if you think that you can pull off a war without killing innocent people, you’re wrong. So you have to be willing to do that you have to make sure that the cause, the reason, the why behind why you’re going to war, you need to make sure that you understand that you will kill innocent people and you have to be willing to do that
EW: 1:16:56 even if you net save innocent lives. There will always be Innocent casualties,
JW: 1:17:01 there will absolutely be innocent casualties. And the other will that you have to have is you have to have the will to die. And that is that no matter how surgical you are, no matter how good your weapons are, no matter how good your technology is, when you go to war, you will have young American men and women being killed in horrible ways, way too young, over and over and over again. And if you’re not ready for those two things, then you need to stop and think about what you’re actually doing
EW: 1:17:30 yeah. What do we do about changing the relationship between news media and combat troops so that we have the ability to understand what we’re doing abroad say thank you to the people who need to be thanked and welcomed home, keep an eye on what needs to not happen, such as a place like Abu Ghraib. It seems to me that we’ve got a we are developing a fragility is the people that is incompatible with our level of lethality. And we have to get information back to the homefront. Am I wrong in this?
JW: 1:18:11 I mean, we had embedded troops in Ramadi there was combat photographers, there was photographers, there was reporters, they had very open access to everything that was going on. So I think I don’t know how many clicks on the websites, the normal military news stories got compared to, you know, whatever entertainment Hollywood gets books. So
EW: 1:18:38 let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. This isn’t strictly foreign foreign involvement. But when 911 happened, the most famous photograph from 911 is this photograph called falling man of this inverted human being sort of doing a weird kind of like bicycle motion and he’s falling to his death and I think it ran once. briefly in the morning, it was spiked. And it didn’t become the iconic photograph of 911. If I think back to Vietnam, we all have the same set of 10 photographs seared into our minds. And yet, I don’t know, you know, beyond like a statue being toppled what we would associate with iraq except for the Abu Ghraib photographs. So it didn’t seem to have that kind of effect of, in my mind, commemorate commemorating what that war looked like, How long were we there? How many troops did we have? How many families you know, lost somebody? I just I feel I feel like it sort of took place out of sight.
JW: 1:19:47 Yeah. And the interesting thing is, there’s thousands and thousands and thousands of pictures. I just don’t think they were i don’t think i think more. I think the the I don’t know if we call it a problem, but I think it’s more the fact that people weren’t Clicking on those pictures and remembering them, because if you google iraq war, you’ll see hundreds of thousands of pictures from all kinds of news agencies all over the world. It’s just people. Maybe there’s they’ve seen so many pictures that they’re over it.
EW: 1:20:16 I don’t believe this actually Jocko. here’s, here’s my take on it. If you think about what the cartels have been doing on our southern border, it is spectacular. The violence is so graphic and so disturbing by design. And yet so many Americans are unaware of just how bad the drug wars have been in Mexico, because the information doesn’t percolate. And these photographs, if they were run, would capture the public’s imagination. I don’t think there’s any question.
JW: 1:20:48 Okay. I see what you’re saying. Now, I didn’t I didn’t quite understand that. It makes good sense with the cartel, because certainly they’re down there.
EW: 1:20:55 I think we’re terrified to show people the extremes of what life actually Looks like anymore.
JW: 1:21:01 Yes. And if that is a bad thing, you are correct
EW: 1:21:05 yeah, it is a bad thing
JW: 1:21:05 you are correct.
EW: 1:21:06 Okay.
JW: 1:21:06 It’s taken me a while to understand your point. I apologize.
EW: 1:21:09 No, no, no,
JW: 1:21:10 you are correct. And and you should people should see what you know, I would, when I would talk to young SEALs, even now, I have pictures of My Lai color photographs of My Lai which, you know, you don’t see very many of those. But they’re absolutely horrible to look at, even for even for a young SEAL. That’s, you know, in his mind super hungry for combat. They see these pictures that I put up on the big screen for them and it’s it’s stomach turning, then so that’s what they need to see. They need to understand that you go a little bit off the wrong direction. If somebody doesn’t step up and say no, when things start to go sideways. This is where it can end up.
EW: 1:21:51 That’s right.
JW: 1:21:52 So yes, what you are saying is correct. If you want people to understand what’s happening, one of the best ways to do it is The same technique that you were saying earlier that the enemy can use, which is a message of violence. Here’s what is happening on the southern border. These are the people that are one mile away. And this is what they’re doing to whole families in certain cases. Yes. Should that be propagated? Absolutely. So that we understand the seriousness of the situation down there. Same thing with when ISIS was acting this way. Anybody that looks I mean, you know, here’s another good case it was the Rwandan genocide. Right?
EW: 1:22:31 Yeah.
JW: 1:22:33 800,000 people in 100 days, mostly with machetes. And we, I don’t want to say we let that happen. But we could have intervened in in a very powerful way. And we chose not to, and part of the reason that we chose not to is because of the very graphic images you’re talking about from a year and a half earlier when Somalia took place. They were dragging American soldier’s bodies through the streets and, and we got, we got completely turned off by that. And so when Rwanda happen, it’s like we don’t want to we don’t know if we want do this again.
EW: 1:23:10 this is really what offends me, which is that, like, when you send somebody into a position where they could have their body dragged through the streets by enemy combatants, and they know that, and you turn away, because, like you sent them there, and then you can’t bear to look because of your delicate sensibilities, that strikes me as something very, very wrong, as opposed to, we know why we’re someplace. And thank God, we have people who are willing to do this. And you know, I mean, I appreciate the the the depth and the complexity of your perspective. You’re saying, on the one hand, people who’ve been to war, the ones who don’t want to go us to go to war, on the other hand, you’re saying that war can be more fun and more meaning than you could have in the rest of your life. And these are these are really not contradictions, but there are incredible tensions. And instead of having this be part of our makeup, where people come back from the front, and they talk, maybe in measured ways about what they saw what they participated in, and what they saw this is doing for our nation. I mean, I think that these things are very progressive in a certain sense that we’re standing up for people who might be completely defenseless what you’re talking about in Ramadi. And in fact, I’m very worried that what you said was that in Ramadi, the people who got killed were the people who’d helped our coalition. And so did we have an obligation to stay there in order to make sure that the people who helped us weren’t in harm’s way, we saw the same thing with the Marsh Arabs in the south of Iraq, where they were told to rise up by a former president
JW: 1:24:54 and we saw the same thing in Vietnam.
EW: 1:24:56 We saw the same thing in Vietnam. I mean, it It matters to me that we’re engaged enough to realize, hey, we just issued an instruction and people trusted us. And now those people are in a world of pain and hurt. And where are we? And we have to we need a tougher country.
JW: 1:25:16 There was a it was it was sickening. For me when I when I saw the flag, the Black Flag of ISIS flying over the city of Ramadi, I mean, clearly, first and foremost, because of my own friends and my men that were killed in that battle and and wounded in that battle. Then, obviously, the Marines, the soldiers, the sailors, the airman that that fought alongside of us, who made the same sacrifices were killed or gravely wounded. And then I knew, you know, as soon as we as soon as I saw that, that flag flying. I mean, before we even got reports back, we knew what was going to happen to the civilian populace. The Civilian populace had been was going to be was going to be annihilated. And that’s exactly what happened.
EW: 1:26:04 And they do it at the level of families, right? Like somebody collaborates entire family base
JW: 1:26:09 the family is done.
EW: 1:26:10 Right.
JW: 1:26:11 So did we have an obligation in my opinion, which again, this is just one man’s opinion, in my opinion? Absolutely. We absolutely had an obligation.
EW: 1:26:19 I’m so glad to hear that.
JW: 1:26:20 And the fact that that we didn’t uphold that obligation. It’s it’s not good. It’s It’s It’s a letdown. It’s, and luckily, we went back and they were able to take back the city and Americans did support that and but the Iraqis, they did the bulk, they did the fighting, which was very impressive, because when we were in Ramadi, in 2006, the Iraqis didn’t didn’t want they didn’t really have the stomach for the fight. But I have friends that were in Mosul, and the Iraqi troops were fighting hard. They were taking massive casualties. In fact, the Americans were saying look, I don’t know if we’re gonna have enough Iraqis to do this. And but the Iraqis kept Fighting so so that was a really positive thing to see that the Iraqis were now fighting for themselves. But do we have a moral obligation? I think once we commit to something like that, then we need to see it through.
EW: 1:27:14 There’s a certain amount of you break it, you bought it,
JW: 1:27:17 especially because you know Leif, who wrote the books with me, he went back to Ramadi, in 2010. And during so when when we were there together, there was, you know, there would be one, two, three, four, or five casualties a day,
EW: 1:27:34 right.
JW: 1:27:34 Several of those wounded Southern was killed every single day just in the city of Ramadi. When Leif went back in 2010, during his entire six month deployment, there was a one fatality one coalition fatality it was from a vehicle rollover wasn’t a combat incident. So it was completely settled down.
EW: 1:27:53 Yeah,
JW: 1:27:54 it was it was peaceful. And we took that as Okay, we should leave now and and that was the wrong move. That was the wrong move. And people say, how long are you gonna stay there? Well, let’s say we’re still in Germany.
EW: 1:28:08 Yeah, well,
JW: 1:28:08 we are
EW: 1:28:09 right.
JW: 1:28:09 We’re still in Japan. So,
EW: 1:28:12 I mean, this is the thing where I want us to think about total cost of ownership of a conflict. And I want whoever is going to lead us and it’s very concerned watching the Democrat, right. I come from the democratic side of the aisle. watching these Democratic presidential nominees and wishing more people came from a tougher perspective, knowing that American troop deployment is a real issue and who are we going to fall into they have the presence of mine the gravitas to tell the country “Hey, we are going to go into something and you guys need to toughen up because otherwise we’re going to be inconsistent sending messages to the people who are deployed abroad” and leading the the interior of the country, you know, which is going to the malls and just trying to figure out how to have a nice weekend. Somebody’s got to take us along. I mean, it’s just irresponsible for us as a country to be this focused on on what’s going on, you know, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, when we have people in uniform and in harm’s way am I my off?
JW: 1:29:25 No, you’re definitely not off. And if you don’t understand what’s happening overseas, then you’re more willing to send more people overseas, you’re more willing to not think about the consequences of what you’ve started, and more willing to abandon those situations before they’re finished. So I guess your your entire thread of this and I think I missed your your point in the beginning is, is Yes, absolutely. Americans should know and understand what is happening overseas so that we can make informed decisions back here
EW: 1:29:59 and be able to see stomach it
JW: 1:30:00 and and have that will that I talked about earlier the will to kill and the will to die, which is what you need.
EW: 1:30:07 Do you have some stories that illustrate not only the will to kill the will to die, but also the genius of improvisation, which is something I associate with our armed services in general, but also particularly with our special forces were really brilliant stuff was was hatched out and and tried.
JW: 1:30:34 Yeah, I mean, like I said earlier the entire the entire war for me and Iraq, which for me, I only deployed twice, which is which is not a lot. But the adaptations that were made all the time was you know, I’ve I’ve often said that war is an exercise in creativity.
EW: 1:30:50 That’s right,
JW: 1:30:50 because you’re constantly looking at, you’re looking outward at the enemy. You’re seeing what they’re doing. You’re seeing how you can adapt what you can change what you can overcome. You’re looking at your own troops, saying Okay, how can I lead them in a way that they understand what’s happening, that they understand the value of what they’re doing, that they’re making the right decisions out there on the battlefield by themselves. And they’ve got to make a decision whether they’re going to kill somebody or whether they’re going to let them live. that’s a that’s a 22 year old sniper on a rifle with someone’s life and death in their finger. And you’ve got to get them to a point. So how can I get that message? Yeah, combat is an absolute exercise in, in creativity, and, which is one of the interesting things is, you know, you talked about earlier about who gets promoted,
EW: 1:31:35 right.
JW: 1:31:36 And certainly, the person that conforms to what they’re being told to do, and they follow instructions, they’re going to get promoted to a point. Their going to do fine. Yeah. But they’re not going to be exceptional. The really exceptional guys are the ones that look at the situation, say, Okay, here’s what I know what we’ve been told to do, what matters what the the doctrine says to do. Here’s what we’re actually going to do, and here’s why we’re going to do it and and so those are the people that you want to follow on the battlefield. Those are the people that truly step up and lead and it’s the same thing in the business world as well.
EW: 1:32:07 Who do you look up to as being a great improvisational commander that you served with?
JW: 1:32:13 I don’t really want to name the names of everybody yet. You know, Colonel David Hackworth is a guy that that I espouse his methodologies and his philosophies all the time. He was a young kid, at the end of World War Two, he joined right at the end of World War Two. Then he fought in Korea, and he fought in Vietnam, he ended up writing a book called about face because at the end of Vietnam, he was the guy that that went on the Primetime and said, if we don’t change the way that we’re fighting this war, we are going to lose he was the end he was a full bird Colonel when he did that, and they drummed him out of the army in like a month. And he, you know, went to Australia and and and he wrote this book called About Face. And obviously part of the meaning of about faces he turned. But and he was very, very misunderstood. Well not misunderstood, but he was he was hated right by the big army. And then what happened was, he actually wrote an article later about the Chief of Naval Operations, a guy named Admiral Borda. And he said that he hadn’t earned some of his combat decorations, and Admiral Borda committed suicide. And so he was hated. So while David hackworth was hated by the Navy, he was hated by the army. And part of the reason why is he was hated because he called it like he saw it,
EW: 1:33:37 right
JW: 1:33:37 and he ended up writing this book and and he’s, he explains and in this book is not a leadership book at all. He doesn’t talk about leadership from from a perspective of leadership only at all ever in the book, but the entire book, it’s 800 pages long. The entire book is a leadership book because you see how he led his troops how he dealt with people up the chain of command. And, you know, he got to that point. And that’s, that’s one of the things you know, he played the game and I talked about this often with from a leadership perspective is, you know, if I work for you and you, you know, you do some things that I don’t really like, but you know what I’m gonna play the game because I want to build a good relationship with you and I want to get your support and I want to give you the support so that you give me more support so I can go on accomplish my mission, like that’s playing the game and, and he definitely played the game. You know, he was a soldier’s soldier. And he was, he was absolutely adored by his troops, and even up the chain of command the people that he worked for, they loved him. And so but he played the game until he finally got to a point in Vietnam, where he saw young men getting killed. And he said, You know what, and he tried to change it. He went over there as a battalion commander, and he changed the way they were fighting and they they turned things around for themselves and he cut their casualties and took the fight to the enemy did all those great things. But he got to a point looked at it from a strategic perspective and said, Look, we need to change what we’re doing. We need to change this and or we’re going to lose, and and they drummed them out. So That’s the guy I would say, from, you know, from a grand perspective of who I look at and really try to emulate his leadership and I stole all kinds of things from him. You know, I, I had a when I was assigned my task unit, which is a group of two seal platoons. When I was assigned my task unit and it was called task unit Bravo, which is, which is the phonetic B, right phonetic letter B. And in Hackworth’s book, he changed the name of his units to something that he wanted to reflect what the guys were. And so I changed the name of my task units, task unit Bruiser, and, and we had that attitude of we’re going to go you know, smash. But so that’s one, you know, leader that I really try to emulate. And then the other one was when I was in my in my second SEAL Platoon, and I won’t mention any names but I had a, I had an officer that I worked for, who took over actually the we had a mutiny against our against our platoon commander, and we rebelled against him and went before our commanding officer and told our commanding officer, we don’t want to work for this guy. He, He doesn’t listen to anyone.
EW: 1:36:01 Wow.
JW: 1:36:02 And our commanding officer, who was a great guy said, “this sounds like a mutiny. Get out of my office, go do what you’re supposed to do.” And then a couple days later, he fired the guy and brought in a new, a new platoon commander.
EW: 1:36:15 Yes.
JW: 1:36:16 And when he brought a new platoon commander, this guy was very, very experienced, tactically, tactical genius, very skilled, you know, good shooter, just good athlete, just just just an awesome guy. It was who was held in very high regard. And I thought, hey, this guy is gonna come in, and it’s gonna be like, we’re just gonna, we’re gonna follow this guy, and, and he’s gonna tell us how to do things. But he wasn’t like that at all. He came in and said, Hey, why don’t you guys plan on this operation? And why don’t you guys take ownership of this and why don’t you guys lead this patrol?
EW: 1:36:45 What was that like for you?
JW: 1:36:47 It was awesome.
EW: 1:36:47 Yeah,
JW: 1:36:48 it was awesome. That’s when I realized, Oh, wow. If you actually give people ownership of things, they take it and they do a better job. And that was like the, that was the very first kernel the very first seed in My brain about leadership seeing it from the perspective of Oh, if you actually listened to people, then then they’re gonna want to work for you more and this was contrasted with the the guy that got fired who didn’t listen, anyone?
EW: 1:37:13 Well, this is this is something I’m glad you bring this up. I don’t know whether this is going to dovetail properly. But I always surprise people that I talk about followership because we always talk about leadership. And I think we have a terrible relationship to it, which is that leadership. It’s like, yeah, I’m kicking back. I’m in the corner office, I got this thing. And in fact, I think that’s nothing to do with leadership. I think that leadership involves followership and that people who hate the idea of following other people can’t lead themselves. And so when you find that people have a finite, the’ll smrik, you’re interested in followership, the greatest gift I can give many people is saying I’ll take direction from you. And you know, it’s very weird people think that they want to be in the top spot as soon as they have responsability for somebody, somebody sort of following their directions. They’re not sure that they love it.
JW: 1:38:05 Yeah, well, just to dovetail into that I people are generally surprised when I build up and I’ll be talking about build up the most powerful leadership, one of the most powerful leadership tools that they have in their entire inventory of leadership tools that they can, they can utilize, they can exploit, and they can take advantage of this tool at the right time. And it’s gonna do wonders for them is to listen to people,
EW: 1:38:27 right
JW: 1:38:28 Like it, just be quiet as a leader and just listen to what people are saying. And if they have a good idea, support their idea,
EW: 1:38:35 well, you know, sort of a weird thing to bring up because it’s not as intense as what you do. But when I have when I work with an assistant, one of the first things I do is to teach that person to tell me when I’m over a line, like because if that person doesn’t have the comfort with saying, Hey, you know, you’re calling me on a Sunday, and this is not an appropriate reason to call me on a Sunday “you’re at a line,” then I don’t feel great because if I’m in a leadership role with that person, then I don’t know if they’re doing these things because they want to be doing. Another thing is always, like, “Can I get you coffee?” I want to make sure that somebody understands that if we’re forming hierarchies, it’s not for the pleasure of working out, you know, love we didn’t get as a child, it’s because we actually have to accomplish something. And trying to take the sting out of it without taking, you know, in some sense, the the necessity of forming hierarchies, because I think that most people don’t have an idea that if people below you don’t want to follow you, there are a million ways to sandbag you
JW: 1:39:42 oh yeah, they’ll they’ll, they’ll sabotage you they’ll, they’ll sabotage you. I say this all the time. You know, it’s like if, if, if I if I’m in charge of you, and I say okay, Eric, here’s what’s going on here. Here’s the mission. Here’s the vehicles I want you to take. Here’s the people I want you to take, here’s the weapons I want you to use. Here’s the method I want you to use, here’s the route I want you to take to the target. Here’s the route, I want you to take home. And here’s what time we’re going to debrief. You take that plan and take ownership of it and go execute it. And even even a really great guy in the back of their mind, they’re thinking, why would do this a little bit different. That’s not the best way to execute that. And so when you go out to execute the mission, and you hit an obstacle, right, you you, instead of trying to overcome the obstacle, you just call up and say, Hey, we couldn’taccomplish the mission. Sorry, we’re coming home, you didn’t think of this? Your plan wasn’t quite what you thought it was. So what I should do as a leader is and say, Hey, Eric, here’s the mission, we want to get accomplished. Go get with your team, figure out how you want to do it.
EW: 1:40:36 Or here’s some things that I’m thinking about. Do you see any problems?
JW: 1:40:40 Yeah, I would, I wouldn’t even I would say, Well,
EW: 1:40:43 it depends.
JW: 1:40:44 Well, here’s what it depends on. If you and I work together already. You already know what those things are. You already know me well enough to kind of I’ve already educated I’ve already trained you. So you’re, you’re you already I don’t even have to say those things like hey, I’m thinking this that you already know that so I just say hey, come up with a plan. You already know the parameters we work within. Yeah. You come up with your own plan, you actually if you’re a good leader, you go with your team. And you say, Hey guys, here’s the mission. How do you all think we should do it? And now we have a now we have a plan that your team came up with you came up with, and and now there’s no talk of how do I get you to buy into my plan,
EW: 1:41:14 right
JW: 1:41:14 You it’s your plan. You’re already bought and sold your whole team when you bring it back to me and you say, hey, Jocko, here’s the plan. Now I look at the plan and I say, hey, Okay, looks pretty good. And maybe there’s a little nudge I give you maybe there’s a little course correction, but it’s still your plan. And and now you go and execute the plan when you hit an obstacle now, out in the field, you go over it, you go around it or you go through that obstacle.
EW: 1:41:36 Yeah.
JW: 1:41:37 Because you have ownership of the plan. So no doubt about it. That’s that that that leadership thing of actually say, you know, people always talk about leading from the front and you got to lead from the front, and you certainly do, but there’s many times where I want to lead from the rear a little bit. I want to lead from the back, I want to let you lead.
EW: 1:41:56 You know, this is Isreali theory of follow me where you put the highest value person in harm’s way first, and it doesn’t make sense initially. But then you realize, okay, well, if he’s willing to go over the side first, then maybe I’m going to take direction from him because he’s putting it all on the line.
JW: 1:42:13 Yeah. And there’s there are limitations to that plan as well.
EW: 1:42:16 Sure.
JW: 1:42:17 Because if you’re the most experienced guy, and you have the most tactical knowledge, and you have a full understanding, and you’re gonna be able to make the best decisions in the shortest amount of time, that’s gonna keep everyone alive. And you decide you’re the one that’s going to go first and you get shot the first episode,
EW: 1:42:29 right? That’s
JW: 1:42:30 guess what it did wasn’t a good
EW: 1:42:31 didn’t work.
JW: 1:42:32 And and even though I’m following you, yeah, I’m following you into a bloodbath. So what I would rather have you do, and this, this happened all the time with me, if I was approaching a building, and I happen to be one of the first two guys, three guys on the entry, I would take one step to the side, and my guys knew my guys knew exactly that they didn’t
EW: 1:42:48 but it was predicated on the idea that nobody that everyone knew that you were making a decision for a strategic or tactical reason. But in order to have that known, you have do something that demonstrates that you’re not doing it for a personal reason.
JW: 1:43:03 Yes. And and there are times, there are absolutely times where no one’s going to move until they see you move.
EW: 1:43:12 Yeah.
JW: 1:43:12 And so you’ve gotta.. again, this is the dichotomy. You can’t lead from the front all the time, you can’t lead from the rear all the time. Sometimes you gotta be up front. Sometimes you got to be in the rear. Sometimes you got to be in the middle. You got to be able to modulate that appropriately for whatever situation you’re in.
EW: 1:43:25 You know, it’s very, very interesting. We get to watch some of these films from Afghanistan and Iraq. And, you know, I remember particularly poignant films, one of which was some convoy that they’re trying to make positive identification, they decide that its enemy. light it up, Fire Fire along the convoy, and then you know, there’s sort of muted celebration job well done, blah, blah, blah. And you’re like, wait, we’re getting reports that there are friendlies in the area. You listen to just like how flipped out these people are about what they’ve done in the interpretation. Another one, I remember the sniper was talking and something to the extent of you know, what do you think about this target? Yes, no, yes. no. somebody says something like, Okay, well, here comes pink mist. And, you know, this human being effectively evaporates you know, with it with a well placed sniper shot and the ambiguity of the situation and the weight that comes from taking life as well as from putting your own life on the line. You know, I think one of the things that those videos have done for me is to remind me of the professionalism that we’ve moved towards and how seriously people are taking these decisions. And I worry that in some sense, we need to update ourselves. For how much we changed after Vietnam in this context,
JW: 1:45:04 well, the the opening chapter of the first book that I wrote, Extreme Ownership is about a fratricide that took place with my guys. And I was in charge. And there was a chaotic situation. I had multiple elements on the battlefield, including myself all engaged in firefights. And there was some miscommunication, there was some non-communication, and there ended up being a small element of friendly Iraqi soldiers attacking one of the positions that my guys were in, and one of my guys shot and killed an Iraqi soldier. They were then attacked by the Iraqis and then the, the army, who then who was called in as a quick reaction force and engaged my guys in a building with 50 caliber machine gun
EW: 1:45:59 yikes
JW: 1:46:00 I had one of my guys wounded there was several other Iraqis wounded. And all this took place in five minutes. By the time I went down, I was in I was a couple blocks away and when when my guys called in the what they called the heavy QRF for the Heavy Quick Reaction Force which was a section or two Mr. Abrams tanks when they called in the Heavy QRF I told the guys I was with I said, Hey, those are my guys we’re going so we went down there and all the sudden folded in like I said in like five minutes, but it so that that’s the opening chapters how that happened. In the book, Extreme Ownership. There’s two other situations that les wrote about another situation where the very situation you’re talking about his sniper, which was which was Chris Kyle was looking at a building he sees an enemy with a snipe with a with a scoped weapon and he’s asking hair. Do we have any friendlies in that building? Leif, who’s the platoon commander calls the army and says, Hey, do you have anybody in this building? And the army says Nope. And he says will we see a guy with a scope weapon? They’re like take him out because of course we were losing guys too
EW: 1:47:14 right
JW: 1:47:15 snipers the whole time. They’re saying take him out and Leif says “Well, can you confirm?” he says “I’m confirming right now we have no one in that building.” And Leif didn’t feel comfortable with taking the shot and Chris didn’t feel comfortable taking the shot and he didn’t take the shot and in Leif said “we’re not going to shoot he says can you send someone did that building” and the army guys mad on the on the horn thinking “Are you kidding me? Now you want me to send someone into that building where there’s a bad guy?” He’s like “fine,” and there’s continuing watch that building and so we’re sending the assaulters now and the assaulters leave the building that they were looking at because it was a miscommunication on where the where the bad guys were.
EW: 1:47:57 Wow.
JW: 1:47:58 And in the chat, one of the chapters I wrote about this a similar situation, there was a, a Bradley fighting vehicle with a 25 millimeter chain gun getting ready to engage armed sniper positions on the rooftop of a building. And as I deciphered the situation, and told him not to shoot, and eventually had them confirm exactly, by literally I said, count the buildings from where you are to where you see the enemy. And they counted the buildings and they said, “standby, we have an adjustment.”
EW: 1:48:27 Oh my god,
JW: 1:48:28 and guess who it was? It was my guys. So those horrible situations they unfold and that’s the that’s the that’s the reality of combat. That’s the harsh reality of combat.
EW: 1:48:40 Well, I wish more people understood that when we talk about leadership, it’s not necessarily glamorous, it’s heart wrenching. Heart in your mouth situations where you don’t even know and with incomplete information, what to do, and there’s no one there’s no one to lean on. I would imagine
JW: 1:48:58 there’s no one to lean on. And there’s also So, no one to blame. ….. when you’re in charge, every single thing that happens on the battlefield absolutely is on you.
EW: 1:49:08 Well, and this is where I want to sort of maybe close out this, this sit down with you, although I’d love to continue another time. As you know, this, this podcast is known as the portal. And the idea for the portal is how to extricate yourself from wherever you feel trapped towards some sort of more transcendent existence, and what I understand from everything that you do and project and I just feel very grateful that he was connected to you by some of our mutual friends. This is our first meeting is this concept of liberation through extreme discipline. And that sounds sort of counterintuitive. It looks like you have this oppressive life where you get up in the morning at 4:30am. You’re taking a picture of your wristwatch and there’s sweat everywhere. The point is, you know, there’s A path and you can fall off it. But if you get back on it and you own it, there is freedom and liberation, even though it seems like an oppressive regime. Can you talk about this as a portal and as a as a way out for people who haven’t understood what they’re capable of doing by toughening their mind and sort of making use of all of these very hard won lessons that you’ve decided to share with us from places they’ll never go?
JW: 1:50:28 For me when I was a young new guy SEAL I wanted to be a good SEAL that that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a good seal, and I looked at other seals that were respected for their operational capability. And I I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that I did like a Tim Ferriss assessment of breaking down each and everything and what what is it that makes him great, but I looked at them as a young kid and said, “What They doing that’s making them better.” One of the things I noticed that they were doing is they got to work before I did. Okay, so guess what? I’m going to start getting to work earlier. I’m going to start getting up earlier in the morning, guess what else they do? They work out every day, regardless of what’s going on, they get that done. Oh, guess what else they’re doing. They’re studying. So they understand tactics. They’re on they, they train with the weapon systems as much as they can. So they impose these disciplines on themselves. And with the more discipline they imposed on themselves, the better they were. So when you had somebody that was hardcore disciplined, they ended up being a hardcore operator. I saw that and said, Okay, I need to and I didn’t even call it discipline. I just said, Oh, I got to get it get to work early. Oh, I got to study more. I got to train more. And then the more I did that, guess what, I’d go to a training event and I would have freedom there because I was in better condition or I understood the weapons better. I understood the tactics better. So or I just was more prepared because I’d gotten to work at five o’clock in the morning and prep my gear and, and prep my dive rig before anyone else did. So I was just a little bit ahead. So I could spend a little more time doing a chart study of the water I was going to be diving in. So I kind of got a better lay of the land, or the ocean in this case. So these little disciplines that I imposed on myself, made me more equipped to handle what was going to what I was going to face in these training situations. And then you know, very soon you realize that the more discipline you impose on just about every aspect of your life, the more freedom you end up with, whether it’s the the example of financial freedom if you want financial freedom, guess what, you gotta have financial discipline to get there. If you want to have more free time, guess what, you gotta have more discipline, time management. And if you’re a part of a team, then the way that you you, if you saw my SEAL platoon, you’d see that we had discipline standard operating procedures for just about everything that we did. And you might think that that constrains us on the battlefield, but it actually is gives us freedom that and and that’s the way that it is. That’s the way that that’s the way that for me, discipline in my life has given me from my perspective right now, an immense amount of freedom. Now, as far as the portal, that that allows someone to kind of transition. For me. Another thing that I talk about all the time is the ability to detach from the chaos detached from mayhem, and detach from your emotions so that you can make good logical decisions about what you’re doing in your life in the world. And this is something that I remember the day I learned it, I was on an oil rig and we were doing a training operation on an oil rig and we approached one of the the main deck of the oil rig with my platoon and everyone gets out on-line on this Platoon, we’re all lined up waiting for a command to be made, whether to go left, whether it go right whether it go forward, and no one’s making any decision. And I’m, I think this is my, my first platoon as a new guy,
EW: 1:54:18 right
JW: 1:54:18 And I’m waiting. And no one’s making any decisions because everyone’s doing what I was doing, which is staring down the barrel of their gun, looking for targets. And I stood there for a second and then three seconds in five seconds, and I said, Okay, I’m just gonna take a step back. So I, I lifted my gun into the High Court position, so I wasn’t looking down my weapon anymore. I took a step back, I looked to my left, I looked to my right, I saw that no one was looking around to make a decision. And I I said, “Hold left clear, right,” which was a common standard operating procedure. And everyone repeated the call because that’s what you do in the seal teams. When somebody makes a verbal call. Everyone repeats it. So everyone says, you know, “hold left, clear.” Right and Then everyone held left and we cleared right. And I realized at that moment, I was the least one of the least tactically experienced people. But because I had taken a step back, I was able to see things with a lot more clarity than anyone else on that line could.
EW: 1:55:15 So this is a phrase you use, “take a step back,” which essentially, as far as I can tell, means, go metacognitive witness the robot that is you,
JW: 1:55:23 yes,
EW: 1:55:24 acting robotically and find something that is not the robot to evaluate the situation,
JW: 1:55:28 you have to, I just call it detach, you have to detach from all that chaos. And what you’re really doing and this, you know, makes me think of your portal ideas. You’re detaching from you, right, you’re taking a step. You’re You’re detaching from your own brain, and you’re looking at things from a different perspective. And the better you get at it, you know, it got to a point where I don’t even have to move, and I’m detached. I’m looking around. So that to me, is one of the most powerful tools you have as a leader and really as a person is to instead of be being constantly in the, in the firefight,
EW: 1:56:03 right?
JW: 1:56:04 Take a step back, get out of the fire. Just like when you’re watching a football game on TV, you watch that football game. You wonder why these idiots on the field can’t see what you see? Well, it’s because you’re seeing it from nine different angles, or at least an elevated angle on the television, you can see everything that’s happening. So if you do that with your life, you detach, it’s going to make, it’s going to give you much more visibility on decisions you should make and directions you should go.
EW: 1:56:28 So both at the level of cognition and the level of emotion and feeling.
JW: 1:56:33 Absolutely, absolutely.
EW: 1:56:35 Well, this is some incredibly powerful advice. I’m going to try to put it into action. By the way, if you’ve never seen, Jocko discussing a moment of weakness where he tried to resist eating a piece of cake eventually succumb to eating a piece of cake and realize that he had to get back on the path. It is one of the most powerful minutes because it’s as if he’s locked in combat somewhere in Iraq and in fact, he’s simply In the same struggle that everyone else is making it human. Thank you so much for being one of the first guests on the portal. I learned a ton. And I would love to have you back at another point if you’d be willing to do it.
JW: 1:57:10 Absolutely. Thanks for having me on. Appreciate getting to meet you.