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Book in Focus
Analytic Reflections from Conflict Zones
A Cautionary Tale for a Polarizing America and World
By James R. Adams
Why this book? Why now? I attempted to efficiently answer these questions in my preface to the book. I imagine that my efforts then, as in the book concept development stage, were confounded by the same human complexities and complications that have harassed humanity, and, I suppose, first-time authors like myself ever since scribes first attempted to wrestle vague notions of human affairs onto papyrus.
That is to say, I recognized that the challenge of the book was to convey, in a coherent fashion, both the conceptual work of the book and the on-the-ground stories of life in conflict zones (conveyed on a human level), which, given the times, I consider useful information for everyone. This led to the effort to combine several broad points of communication into one book.
The book contains a memoir (of sorts) and experienced-based observations from conflict zones, a conflict analysis and peacebuilding concepts/frameworks section, and a running commentary on current conflict patterns that I see in the USA now that remind me of similar patterns that I have seen in conflict zones elsewhere. Hence, the cautionary tale.
I personalized the book to appeal to a wide general readership. I understand that this is not normal practice, but these are not normal times. Internet-connected societies are subject to ever greater misinformation and disinformation influences that drive much of the political and societal fragmentation and extremism dynamics today (leadership included).
As such, I have shaped the book’s content to also entice general readership with poignant human interest and human condition stories. Essentially, I am trying to make better understanding conflict and peacebuilding more accessible through personal, human-level expression.
Also, a common orientation (common language) is needed for better mutual understanding of conflict and peacebuilding dynamics between leadership, professionals, and citizens. I think that such a book, combined with public awareness-raising efforts at a wide cross-section of speaking venues, can contribute to changing the hostile tone of conflicted national discourse for the better. It can reach and inform audiences otherwise not exposed to informed conflict, peacebuilding, and human condition explanations.
Partly, my motivation for writing this book goes back to reflection on a moment in time in Kosovo. I was working for the United Nations as a civil-affairs officer assigned to community-level minority issues and protection when a local citizen asked me why I worked in such places (meaning conflict zones). I replied, “It’s a job … and because I don’t want my country to have to need someone like me back home.” I meant, among other things, that I worked to address problems overseas so that they would remain overseas; so that my country would not need someone specializing in post-conflict reconstruction and civil-society building back home in the USA.
I have seen the consequences of caustic discourse, political polarization, deep societal division, and the dehumanization of others that, when taken to their logical extreme, slice through families, societies, and nations, leaving destruction and decades of tragedy. Bosnia and Kosovo come to mind, as do Rwanda and Somalia.
What I see happening now in America is the early-stage genesis of such a history in the making, if we continue on this course of increasing intolerance, violence, broken discourse, and polarization. The implications for the US—and the rest of the world—are profound. The United States, despite its historic provision of democratic moral leadership and innovation, cannot claim exception to this destructive dynamic.
I have seen the destructive consequences suffered by conflict-torn societies that have taken this path before, on which ideological, nationalistic, and ethnic-racial passions are stirred to hatred and violence, and identities and circumstances are weaponized for political ends.
Such a path, if taken unrestrained, leads down the avenging-angel road to its logical extremes—civil strife, civil war, hundreds of thousands killed and maimed, and millions made internally displaced or refugees, plus the inevitable perpetuation of cycles of violence. Rule by mob is not a circumstance in which you want to find yourself.
I caution about the consequences of extremism and fascism and bring a broader perspective on humanity’s constant flow of adjusting populations and viewpoints. Promoting civil and informed national discourse is a particular aim of the book.
Analytic Reflections from Conflict Zones links the consequences of political polarization, extremism, and trends towards fascism with similar patterns that I have witnessed in conflict and post-conflict zones. Utilizing my human realism lens, I provide cautions and a running commentary on current and historical events with connections to the broader human condition.
I also offer new tools for better understanding and improving our conflicted circumstances and broken national discourse with my illustrated structural and relationship elements assessment scale, operationalized negative and positive peace parameters, and “War to Sustainable Positive Peace Continuum” framework.
Primary market audiences include university peace and conflict studies academics and students, as well as peace and stabilization operations, peacebuilding, reconstruction and development, foreign policy, and social change professionals in governmental and non-governmental organizations (military and civilian). Crucially, the book will also appeal to citizens—for whom perception is reality, as it is for most of us.
In addition, I have written this book to get my observations, concepts, frameworks, analytic tools, and cautions back to the field (the USA now included) since I have successfully aged beyond that of interest to employers in my usual trade as a peace and stabilization civil affairs/field officer.
It’s been a journey. I hope that my sharing a little about mine, and what I have learned from others in academia, who have been thinking about these things, and the brave souls in conflict zones who kindly shared their thoughts with me, will be helpful to others, now and into the future. Perhaps, humanity will benefit, perhaps in the way that the most important bits of enlightenment sometimes find their way to minds and hearts—by one individual at a time.
“In a timely treatise for those who care about the future of America, if not our world, James Adams does a masterful job of helping us understand how the same dynamics of national self-destruction over there present an existential threat to our own experiment in self-governance over here. Also, this richly researched and thought-provoking work offers a navigational guide on how the methodologies of experienced, scholarly practitioners like Jim, based on lessons learned from conflicts all over the world, can help put us back on the road to positive peace right here at home. Read this before it’s too late!”
Colonel, US Army Civil Affairs (Ret.); Senior Civil-Military Director, Narrative Strategies LLC; Author of Travels with Harley - Journeys in Search of Personal and National Identity
“Adams combines a lifetime of experience in some of the world’s most troubled spots with academic rigor and a passion for peace to share this remarkable narrative. From Air Force jet mechanic in Vietnam to UN peacebuilder in Kosovo, and now as a concerned citizen in a divided and troubled USA, he provides informed perspective with astute analysis, and he puts the current complex challenges in context and offers pathways to resolution. I highly recommend it to my peacebuilding colleagues and to anyone who seeks solutions to the conflicts in a troubled world.”
Charles F. “Chic” Dambach
Former President and CEO, Alliance for Peacebuilding; Author of Exhaust the Limits: The Life and Times of a Global Peacebuilder.
“After arriving in Haiti in 1995 to research the UN Mission in Haiti, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges confronting the mission: predatory elites, a ruthless praetorian guard supplemented by a secretive paramilitary gang, unremitting poverty, and environmental devastation. Where to begin? How will it ever end? The author of this volume has assembled a sophisticated and comprehensive framework for answering these questions derived from his many years of experience as a field officer in Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kosovo, and Afghanistan followed by extensive field research in Bosnia. He deftly weaves together three books into one. The first is a penetrating and often witty description of the origins and evolution of each of the conflicts he has grappled with. The second is a tour de force of the concepts and theoretical constructs that have been developed to describe and explain the intricacies of international intervention into internal conflicts that threaten regional and international security. [...] The third book is the leitmotif that haunts the entire discussion: Having witnessed the consequences of purposeful polarization of societies by conflict entrepreneurs in Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo, he urgently implores: “…this is a cautionary tale for an increasingly polarized America—a hard-won model of democracy, now at risk.”
Adjunct Professor, George Mason University; Co-Editor of The Quest for Viable Peace: International Intervention and Strategies for Conflict Transformation
Dr James R. Adams, a Vietnam veteran and professional field officer, has extensive on-the-ground experience in peace and stabilization operation roles with the United Nations and other international organizations in Africa, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. In pursuit of a better understanding of conflict and peacebuilding, he acquired an MS and a PhD in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, USA, specializing in Peace and Stabilization Operations. He has presented resulting observations, and innovative frameworks and models, field-tested in Bosnia, to civilian and military audiences in Kosovo and at the US National Defense University. His publications include an Alliance for Peacebuilding article “Bosnia—Stabilization Stalled in Negative Peace”.
For further news, insights and updates, you can visit Dr. Adams' website: https://analyticreflections.org/
Analytic Reflections from Conflict Zones: A Cautionary Tale for a Polarizing America and World is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter code PROMO25 at checkout to redeem.