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Analytic Reflections from Conflict Zones
A Cautionary Tale for a Polarizing America and World
By James R. Adams
This book details the compelling story of the author’s life-journey through conflict zones and his return home with innovative conflict assessment and transformation frameworks and models to help people better see their conflict circumstances and peacebuilding possibilities—analytic reflections aimed directly at academics, professionals, and citizens. This engaging approach contains a blend of on-the-ground stories, mix of professional and personalized writing styles, astute historical and policy contextualization, and accessible field-tested analytic tools with community, societal, and international intervention implications.
It is also a cautionary tale for increasingly conflicted societies. Political polarization, caustic commentary, and societal discord in America and elsewhere remind the author, an informed eyewitness, of dangerous conflict patterns and consequences that he has seen before in various conflict zones.
Keywords: Human Realism; Conflict; Conflict Analysis; Conflict Resolution; Peacebuilding; Negative Peace; Positive Peace; Peacekeeping; Stabilization Operations; Reconstruction; Extremism; Civil Strife; National Discourse; Civil Dialogue; Conflicted Societies; Intervention; Community Dialogues; Law Enforcement-Community Relations.
A Word from James R. Adams
War is the road rage of humanity -- After years of living and working in conflict zones and much academic/scholarly contemplation, this unembellished revelation came to mind. It eventually entered my list of working-titles for my book and has prevailed as an ongoing theme.
War is the road rage of humanity. I mean this to be taken literally. After a time, it occurred to me that even road rage (the tiny wars) and courteous driving are examples of the passions of war and peace, albeit on a non-lethal (usually) personalized scale. As such, it has become clear to me that the elements and dynamics of conflict are similar whether at the individual, societal, or global level, given that human fundamentals are involved at all levels – emotions, perceptions, needs.
Reactionary deep-origin rage is about parts of humanity enduring injury and, in turn, striding the avenging-angel road – a road to hell if taken to its logical extreme - one paved with stones of arrogance, self-righteous indignation, and injury. It is also about magnificent moments of the human spirit and strong evidence for hope.
The conflict circumstances manifesting in Ukraine now have deep origins in historical traumas, lingering assumptions of imperial procurement prerogatives, and traditional realpolitik/geopolitical calculations. In relatively recent years, this scenario has played out on a smaller-scale in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia -- Bosnia-Herzegovina in particular. The primary distinction now is that the conflict in Ukraine has serious potential to escalate across Europe and the dominant combatant, Russia, has major power status with nuclear weapons to brandish at those inclined to intervene.
The shooting has started, so it’s too late to work-out a preventative strategy. It might even be too late to achieve a negative peace status (International intervention and suppression of violence) since the intervention force would likely be seen by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a combatant. Unless the dominant combatant relents, or Ukraine submits, the conflict(s) will play themselves out sooner or later.
An additional complicating factor is that Ukraine is now a test-bed for measuring the strength of autocratic governance impulses (Russia) versus the political-will-to-resist of open democracy-oriented societies (Ukraine and western nations), generally speaking.
World War II was also a collision of resentments and ambitions driven by conflict entrepreneurs. This is a dangerous moment for humanity -- with perhaps half of humanity inclined to autocratic iron-fisted solutions for resolving conflict, and half inclined to collaborative relationship-improvement solutions to conflict.
It appears that the current Russia/Ukraine conflict is more of an autocratic impulse versus a genuinely representative governance impulse projected to a global scale. That is to say, opposing convictions are embedded within societies worldwide according to, primarily, autocratic impulses versus relationship-improvement impulses (negative peace versus positive peace oriented tendencies). Therein lies an explanation as to why many people in democracy-oriented societies support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine -- with ultranationalist versus liberal perspectives in the mix.
Conflict is pervasive. Like oxygen to the brain, it is necessary for clarifying things. Like fire, it can be used in constructive or destructive ways. Conflict is a fact of life. It is omnipresent nature – human, animal, and environmental. We need to aim for constructive conflict.
What is needed now is a broader perspective by which to assess and discuss circumstances from a more informed standpoint, a more civil standpoint, and to find a viable balance within constructive conflict. Not total apathy, and not total war, which at either extreme indicates abandoned hope.
After a certain point working in conflict zones, I began to see that I am a participant in the conflicts that I have witnessed, and part of the solution, if I choose, regardless of scale. This book is also about that revelation and the ongoing process of understanding. It is a work in progress, as it seems we all are.
It seems that it takes generations to heal. Perhaps, a psychosocial educational and healing effort could be advanced concerning territorial procurement assumptions and generational harms done. In any case, territorial procurement conflicts have much to say about who we are, previously and now, domestically and globally.
Peacebuilding efforts can only go so far without some genuine understanding of the psychosocial dynamics underneath. Such an understanding on the part of interveners, and ultimately by conflict parties themselves, is essential to getting at chronic destructive forces underneath and dealing with barriers to the humanization of others. This kind of knowledge and effort is essential to understanding constructive conflict and human relationship-based positive peace.
Humanity is in need of balance. Our impulses are in need of balance. Ultimately, this book is about humanity’s search for balance. The conflict in Ukraine, although painful, is an opportunity to further that process.
“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
About the Author
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”.
Based on direct experience and considerable original conceptual work, the author’s unique “human realism” perspective is conveyed with conviction and humor to reach a wide audience of academics, students, professionals, and the general public—A new and authentic voice for our times, and a missing piece for clarifying the dynamics of conflict transformation for everyone to see and understand.
On the 4th of April, 2022, Dr Adams gave a presentation on the book as part of "Peace Week" at the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University. You can watch the full presentation below:
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 to redeem.