National Strategic Narrative

I recently came across a “National Strategic Narrative” written by two senior Joint Chiefs of Staff, released by the Pentagon on April 8.

Although it sadly neglects the topic of safeguarding our precious bodily fluids in a global age, it is an extraordinarily lucid, compelling read in many ways. It’s framed, first and foremost, as a re-thinking of Cold War-era “containment” ideology — a political and pragmatic framework, the authors argue, whose goals still shape national policy and identity although they have become impossible and indeed counter-productive.

From the paper:

America emerged from the Twentieth Century as the most powerful nation on earth. But we failed to recognize that dominance, like fossil fuel, is not a sustainable source of energy. The new century brought with it a reminder that the world, in fact, is a complex, open system – constantly changing. And change brings with it uncertainty. What we really failed to recognize, is that in uncertainty and change, there is opportunity and hope.

… like I said, it’s good stuff. It also strikes me as a lovely acknowledgement (by the Pentagon) of the profound role narratives play in our identity, both at the individual and collective level. As Prof. Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton notes in the introduction:

“We need a story with a beginning, middle, and projected happy ending that will transcend our political divisions, orient us as a nation, and give us both a common direction and the confidence and commitment to get to our destination.”

It’s easy to read this as Machiavellian, and it is, to a degree, but there’s also some essential fact being spoken to. A sense of nationhood, to whatever extent such a thing exists, is a sheaf of shared stories which try to encompass the scattershot facts of “our” past and bind them into a meaningful whole.

It seems to me that the same observation, with slight alterations, could be made about our private selves and how we (most often) understand the world.

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