Eric Weinstein and Jocko Willink discuss the reality of war

On the latest episode of The Portal, the two men talk about the consequences of a public being shielded from battle.

Eric Weinstein and Jocko Willink discuss the reality of war

Thousands of refugees who have fled the now controlled Islamic State area of Qaraqosh in Iraq temporarily live in the garden of a church in Ankawa, Erbil, Iraq, on August 11, 2014.

Photo by Gail Orenstein/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images
  • On The Portal, Eric Weinstein discusses the consequences of Americans not seeing the reality of the wars we wage.
  • His guest, former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, says that every war ensures that innocent civilians will die.
  • Both men agree that the public should be exposed to the reality of war instead of being shielded from it.

Just over halfway through their concert in Los Angeles last week, Bristol-based Massive Attack played a cover of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" The eclectic set included renditions of The Cure, Bauhaus, The Velvet Underground, even Avicii, as well as the entirety of the band's landmark record, Mezzanine. Yet the ambient, acoustic Seeger cover, featuring Liz Fraser on vocals, was unique not only for its sonic temperament, but also the visual montage displayed on the Palladium's three giant screens.

Growing out of the UK's graffiti culture in the eighties, Massive Attack has always been political. Discomfort was on overload during Seeger's somber track, with close-up videos of murdered civilians in Iraq and eerie clips of Trump and Putin merged into a single being. The tension was palpable, the crowd howling. The montage ended with a gaze at America's opioid addiction as the band segued into "Inertia Creeps," the perfect song for displaying "Oxycontin" and "Fentanyl" over and over in stark white letters over an ominous black background.

The message: Americans aren't the best at self-reflection.

Unlike most musicians, the members of Massive Attack don't address the crowd. No introductions or chatter about being happy to be performing. The music and mixed media does all the talking. As with the thick walls of sonic tension arising from the live renditions of trip-hop, the band has no qualms holding up a mirror to this society. The question is: Why are Americans so uncomfortable witnessing the price of our "freedom?"

Similar questions were put forward by Eric Weinstein to his latest podcast guest, former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink. During the two-hour conversation, the men discussed the consequences of the American public being shielded from the reality of war.

Discussing Vietnam on The Portal, Willink says that stepping back to look at the visuals of murder punches you in the stomach. It forces you to question the necessity of war, especially when it concerns the death of innocent civilians—an unavoidable fate. Willink isn't claiming there should never be war—when needed, "go to war and win"—but visually seeing carnage forces a society to better understand the costs.

Extreme Ownership | Jocko Willink | TEDxUniversityofNevada

Weinstein believes we each have personal responsibility to investigate the consequences of our actions.

"I think that it is irresponsible of us as a nation to allow this much insulation of the home front from the raw facts of what we're doing abroad. If you take my assessment that the United States is the most dangerous machine ever constructed, we do not have the right to wield that power if we're not interested in what it looks like and what it means."

A mature relationship with your country means recognizing the horrors your country perpetuates. It means knowing that any time your government deploys troops, some tragedies are going to occur within the population being attacked.

Willink replies that two forms of will are needed in war. The first is the will to kill, not only your enemy, but collateral damage as well. "If you think you can pull off a war without killing innocent people, you're wrong." This puts the onus of the "why" on every soldier's shoulders. The reason behind the war has to be justified.

The will to die is also required. If you're not prepared to face this potential outcome, "you have to stop and think about what you're doing."

Weinstein pivots to the media's role in accurately portraying information to the public—including photographs. News outlets have long shied from the actual casualties of war even though, as Willink says, there are hundreds of thousands of photographs online of what we've done in Iraq.

Weinstein recalls the infamous "Falling Man," which is making the rounds this week on the anniversary of 9/11, of one of the many people that jumped from the towers before they collapsed. He notes that it ran once in a morning edition, then was effectively banned from publication. "It didn't become the iconic photograph of 9/11."

Beyond the toppling statue of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Americans have few visual memories of what we've been doing for nearly two decades (outside of the Abu Ghraib torture photos), whereas from Vietnam we have the same set of ten photos "seared into our minds." Weinstein concludes,

"It seems to me that we're developing a fragility as a people that is incompatible with our lethality."

A soldier from the Korean White Horse Division, on an offensive north of Bong Son, kneels beside the bedraggled mother and children of a suspected Vietcong family, huddled at the edge of a field. Vietnam, 1966.

Photo by © Tim Page/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Weinstein then invokes the Mexican cartel drug wars on our southern border. In 2018, 35,000 people died in these undiscussed battles occurring just miles from our nation, yet few Americans understand the violence involved (or the ways in which America is implicated, such as our addictions fueling the illegal trade).

Willink states that it is likely that Americans are simply refusing to click on the links associated with these wars, though Weinstein holds the media accountable for refusing to publish them. If we were regularly shown what other nations are experiencing, perhaps our collective empathy could be invoked. Then we would hold politicians sending troops to war accountable. At the moment, that's not happening on any broad level.

Instead, the media focuses on America's interior bubbles, splitting every topic into left and right. Little is said of the protective glass covering the entire nation. We'd rather not look, so we're not shown. Reality isn't clickbaity enough. A vicious circle continues.

I've thought long about this topic, having practiced and taught yoga for decades. Inside of some studios you'll hear the airiest of philosophies: the universe is conspiring in your favor, love is at the root of our nature, we're peaceful at heart, and so on. Such sentiments could only be spouted in a culture of privilege. I often wonder how many yogis recognize that the only reason we're able to spout these ideas is due to having the military force on the planet.

Historically, yoga and war were intertwined; one reading of the Bhagavad Gita is enough to recognize that. Amazingly, modern yogis cite those passages as pure metaphor, displaying blatant ignorance of the historical society that created that document. We rewrite the past to suit our present desires.

And that's a shame, for all of us. Empathy is only possible through understanding. Media companies earn ad revenue from ego-driven clickbait, not the murder of innocent children trapped in the crossfire. Sadly, it appears the only way we learn is when wars occur on our soil—a reality we haven't faced for over 150 years. Ignorance remains bliss for those doing the ignoring.

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A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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