Meet the Flipsters

Conversations on the Bridge

A Conversation with John B. Alexander
(The complete Flip interview, with only minor edits, not found in the book)

Note: [Jared assures John that no names will be published. Anything that John says of any particular person, would not be published because it is not the nature of the book. He offers to send John a copy of the transcript prior to publication as an assurance and John says he would like that.]

A decorated veteran of multiple wars, retired Colonel John B. Alexander, Ph.D. is a pioneer and world-renowned expert on non-lethal defense. Since developing the concept at Los Alamos National Laboratory, he has led numerous studies and conferences on the topic. Colonel Alexander has served as a consultant for NATO and for many offices of the U.S. government. He is the author of Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Modern Warfare and Winning the War: Advanced Weapons, Strategies and Concepts for the Post-9/11 World, and he coauthored the book The Warrior’s Edge: Front-line Strategies for Victory on the Corporate Battlefield.

We asked John how warfare has changed in his lifetime. “During World War II, everyone in the nation knew there was a war going on. Gas was rationed; food was rationed; metal was collected. A whole host of things were done to support the military. The entire population was actively involved. War today, unless you happen to have a family member deployed, is little more than an inconvenience and an occasional news bulletin. People in the military and law enforcement are intimately involved, sure, but the rest of the nation is not. The general public is seeing price spikes at the gas pump. We’re going through long lines at the airport and metal detectors at some other places. But that’s it.”

Is this because a war on terror is fundamentally different than previous wars? John responds, “The president keeps saying, ‘We’re at war with terror.’ But terrorism is a mechanism for causing conflict or being involved in it. How do you try to focus forces against a means? I don’t think you can do that.

“The nature of warfare has changed. It has changed at a fundamental level – that of definition. He who defines the war wins. Unfortunately, from the beginning Bin Laden and his followers have been doing a better job of defining the war in terms that are acceptable to their audience. Meanwhile, we have discovered that most of our own rationale – or at least the public rhetoric – for initiating war in Iraq was, in fact, wrong.

“But even before those errors became clear, some of us were raising flags and saying, ‘War in the Middle East doesn’t make sense. You are creating generations of adversaries.”

What are the fundamental issues? “There are so many dynamics that are poorly understood by the general public. For one thing, Americans associate nationality with geographic boundaries. We need to remember that geographical boundaries in the Middle East were established at the end of the Ottoman Empire – by Europeans, for Europeans – and did not take into account things like ethnography and social issues. We drew the lines, but we didn’t bother to see where the tribes were when we drew them. Many of the resulting countries are nation states that have no rationale for existence. The whole notion of the nation state is anachronistic.

“Americans also need to understand that there are value differences. We tend to think that everyone in the world wants the same things we do. We believe that everyone is like us; they just happen to live some place else. We believe that this is an economically-based world, and if everybody just gets enough goodies, everybody will be happy. ‘He who dies with the most toys wins.’

“There is a totally different view out there, in Islam fundamentalists and others who say, ‘No. There are spiritually dimensions to the world.’ The things that they aspire to aren’t necessarily more physical goodies. If you want proof of that, look at the terrorists of 9/11 and other incidents. The people who were involved were not the ‘have-nots.’ Quite the opposite, most of them were well-educated upper middle class or upper class folks. They had been in the United States, and they rejected our values.

“At the core level, this is a values issue, and that isn’t understood at all. We really do have competing and incompatible value systems. What makes this even more challenging is that, as Americans, we no longer know who we are. What we have assumed to be the core values of our country are, in fact, shifting rapidly and dramatically.

“Where I think we’re really off base is the notion that we can go in and impose democracy. That we can set it up, and it will take hold and be so overwhelmingly popular that it will just continue to grow. That if Iraq works as a functioning democracy, everybody else in the region is going to say, ‘We want to do that too.’ I argue that democracy is a terribly complex form of government. We’ve been at it for over two hundred years and are far from getting all the kinks worked out in our own country. It’s simplistic to think that we can wave a wand over some other country and have democracy instantly work there.”

But America entered into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan anyway. Why? “Who could stop it?” counters John. “The public? Did we have the necessary information? Is the public sufficiently well-educated to support activities and understand complex outcomes? I don’t think we are. I don’t think our schools do a very good job of teaching things like history and geography. More importantly, they don’t teach people how to think critically. The media has instilled in the American public this notion that the most complex issues can be reduced to twenty-second sounds bytes and resolved in an hour. The world is just far more complex than that, and we’re not used to dealing with complexity.”

What about our elected officials? Isn’t that their job? “There are folks in office who are bright and innovative, but bureaucrats – even high-level decision makers – get into position by not making mistakes. And the most effective way to not make mistakes is to not take chances. So politicians look for the path of least resistance, instead of looking at facts critically and devising new processes.

“I think the Bush administration has tended to confuse dissent with disloyalty. They do not want to hear conflicting views. People who have voiced opposing perspectives are just summarily moved out. I am concerned about the ideology that guides decisions now. We’ve got some folks in power who think very simplistically – good guys and bad guys. I think the NeoCon thing probably is real, and I wouldn’t have thought that initially. The problem is ideology-driven thinking by appointees with political axes to grind or positions to protect.”

Is there a way for America to win this war? Or is Iraq another Vietnam? “We didn’t ‘lose’ Vietnam,” John responds. “We agreed to go away. Congress pulled the plug and just said, ‘You don’t have any more money. You can’t fight because of lack of funds.’ That’s how we got out. I strongly suspect we’re going to see something similar emerge in Iraq.”

And what is likely to come after that? Will we continue to draw lines and fight wars between nations? John predicts, “The delineations of the future will be based on belief systems, not on geography or happenstance of birth. Information technology is already changing how people group together. The ability to communicate almost anyplace in the world can bring people together for common causes that transcend geographic boundaries and nationality. People are increasingly finding that they must sort through their own conflicting beliefs and base their actions upon those choices, rather than doing ‘what has always been done’ or ‘what everyone else is doing.”

Hopefully, as the world becomes smaller and we begin to act more consciously upon our personal beliefs, rather than out of blind loyalty to country, we will relinquish our habit of dividing the world into “us” and “them.” When all the world is “us,” there is no one left to fight. And that is a flip that can come none too soon.



The Flip, by Jared Rosen and David Rippe, illuminates a clear path to a vibrant enlightened world where millions of people already live and thrive. It describes in vivid detail and real examples evidence of an upside down world in decay and a Right Side Up world of authentic beings bright with possibility.
The Flip is an owner’s manual for the twenty-first century full of insights, conversations with recognized experts, thought leaders, and visionaries, and actionable exercises and tips you can use to begin your own personal flip.

To read more about The Flip and additional interviews from other luminaries, experts and bestselling authors, please visit

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