NPS Professor's Books Included on McMaster's Staff Reading List
By MC2 Michael Ehrlich
When National Security Adviser U.S. Army Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster held his first all hands meeting with White House national security staff, he offered a suggested reading list in an effort to explain his vision for foreign policy. Included on McMaster's short list were two books by NPS Department of National Security Affairs Associate Professor Zachary Shore; "Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions," and, "A Sense of the Enemy: The High Stakes History of Reading Your Rival's Mind."
As a historian of international conflict focused on foreign policy decision making, Shore says he hopes National Security Council members can use the books to, "elevate their empathy and thereby lessen the likelihood of conflict, or reduce its severity when conflict is unavoidable.
"Both books demonstrate that sound judgements stem from empathy … a deep understanding of those who are different from us," continued Shore. "'Blunder' spotlights the dangers to America and the world when decision makers misread or ignore the perspectives of others. 'A Sense of the Enemy' shows how strategic empathy can save lives and foster peace."
Shore describes Blunder as asking the question of why individuals and nations can devote tremendous energy to solving problems, yet still make matters worse than before they began. He argues that one major cause is rigid, often ideological thinking.
"I illustrate the seven most common rigid mindsets, or 'cognition traps,' into which decision makers fall. Using comparable historical examples of those who avoided cognition traps, I suggest ways of forming wiser judgments," he explained.
In his later book, "A Sense of the Enemy," Shore focused on how leaders successfully manage to read their enemies correctly.
"I argue that one key to strategic empathy – the ability to read one's rivals well – came not from the enemy's pattern of past behavior, but instead from his behavior at pattern breaks. Through historical case studies, the book describes pattern-breaking moments and how they revealed an enemy's underlying drivers and constraints," Shore said.
Shore says his experience as a professor to officers that are coming out of, or potentially going into, conflict is deeply impactful, and he is personally gratified that his books are reaching the highest levels of our government.
"A former student of mine at NPS was killed in Afghanistan, and I have had other students at NPS who have returned from wars severely wounded," he said. "Others have wounds that do not show.
"Some wars are necessary, but many are not," he continued. "I would be gratified if my work could contribute in some small way to the avoidance of unnecessary conflicts and the furthering of stability in world affairs."
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