Eye of the Storm Leadership
150 Ideas, Stories, Quotes, and Excercises On The
Art and Politics of Managing Human Conflicts
by Peter Adler, Ph.D.
THE BOOK & VIDEO > 1. Guerilla Bridge Building 

I. Guerilla Bridge Building

Starting Point / Sneak Attacks

In the daily cycle of local, national, and international news, opportunities to advance the body politic through new connections and ongoing collaboration arise in unexpected ways. Some are nascent and alchemical, small moments that emerge like mushrooms after a hard rain. Others have hazier possibilities. We see the contours of something down the road but that “something� is indistinct and will require attention, planning, and foresight. A few of those possibilities will spring alert and full-blown, ready for an instantly opportunistic response. To take advantage of them, we need to become “guerilla� bridge-builders who can deploy quickly and effectively when the moment is right

Image:AK-47 type II Part DM-ST-89-01131.jpg AK-47 Assault Rife. It is a preferred weapons for guerilla groups: simple, inexpensive, and easy to manufacture.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Guerilla warfare is unconventional. Instead of relying on large, slow moving armies and doctrines of overwhelming force, guerillas depend on invisibility, highly portable weapons, quick ambushes, booby traps, and hundreds of pressuring tactics that achieve practical offensive or defensive results. “Guerilla� tactics have been adapted and applied in many non-military areas. Today, we have guerilla marketing, guerilla job finding, guerilla news networks, guerilla bloggers, and guerilla mutual fund investors. Why not a new art and science of guerilla conflict management applied to day-to-day politics? [i] There are plenty of lessons to learn from.

On February 6, 1905, Russia and Japan’s simmering competition for control of Manchuria and Korea came to a head. Heihachiro Togo launched a surprise torpedo attack on Russian ships at Port Arthur on the Liaodong Peninsula in Manchuria, a precursor of events to come at Pearl Harbor three decades later. The battle for Port Arthur was the opening salvo in the Russo-Japan war, a brief, bloody dispute that became the first modern confrontation between Asian and European superpowers and a prelude to coming world wars. In a later phase of that war, 750,000 Japanese and Russian soldiers would engage in a 3-week battle that left 100,000 dead or injured.

Conflict between Russia and Japan was not the only big event that year. A hurricane roared ashore in Tahiti and killed 10,000 people. Drought, disease, and famine haunted Central Africa. A militant Irish group called Sinn Fein launched an armed struggle against British rule that would last much of the century. A dozen blacks and whites were killed in an Atlanta race riot even as W.E.B. Dubois and other black leaders organized the Niagara Movement. Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was assassinated and three members of the Western Federation of Miners were accused of murder. In Russia, a sailor’s revolt was put down and in Lithuania Jews in dozens of small villages were wiped out in pogroms. These were tragedies, but they each created longer-term opportunities: the rebuilding of an island nation; a new and unified Ireland; an American civil rights movement; new and fairer labor laws; a modern Russia; a Diaspora and the creation of a Jewish homeland.

Maybe life is always like this. Check today’s newspaper and you will find a serial killer preying on young women in Juarez, village massacres in the Sudan, and suicide bombings in the Gaza. Tomorrow it will be sectarian killings in Iraq, tropical cyclones in the Pacific, and forest fires across the Rocky Mountain States. Collectively, the news reminds us of the pathos, tragedy, and misery that most people must confront everyday. Then, when you are most convinced that life’s cup is half-full but filled with poison, events occur that restore our belief in possibility. Today’s news brings the story of two Neolithic era skeletons found buried together in a tender embrace. Touched by what they see, the archeologists have dubbed them “Romeo and Juliet.�

Image:President Theodore Roosevelt, 1904.jpgTheodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, 1901-1909.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In their brief but furious war, Russia suffered embarrassing defeats. Faced with escalating unrest from the Bolsheviks at home, they sought a graceful exit as did a financially exhausted and militarily overextended Japan. Enter Teddy Roosevelt. Impetuous, tough, and far more accustomed to wielding authority than influencing it. Roosevelt quietly offered the services of the U.S. as a go-between. The U.S., with no immediate stake in the conflict, was a reasonable choice. Roosevelt could use his good offices to explore a settlement that might end the dispute and save face for the Japanese and Russians even while bootstrapping his country onto the world stage.

After preliminary arrangements were put in place, Roosevelt invited delegations from both countries to the U.S. and asked them join him for lunch on his yacht at Oyster Bay. Then he had them delivered to the meeting on separate American warships. During the ensuing roundtable discussions, he treated both sides with dignity, composure, and even-handedness. More than a passive host, Roosevelt stayed quietly but firmly involved in the proceedings. He lowered each side’s expectations, remained uncharacteristically patient with the usual diplomatic maneuvering, and issued personal pleas to the rulers of both countries to end the conflict. It worked and the peace was secured.

The Treaty of Portsmouth solved certain problems and created others, continuing proof that every good solution has unforeseeable implications and unintended revenge effects. Signed in September 1905, the treaty marked the emergence of Japan as a superpower but, in hindsight, it also launched a chain of events that would prove to be at issue in World War II. For his interventions, Teddy Roosevelt was awarded the first Nobel Prize ever made to a politician for peacemaking.[ii]

Not every great impasse-breaking opportunity succeeds and guerilla bridge building can fail. In the Great Depression era, Attorney General Robert Menzies, soon to become one of Australia’s longest running and most respected Prime Ministers, waded into a vitriolic labor strike at Port Kembla. Members of the Waterside Workers' Federation had refused to load scrap iron bound for Japan. The 1939 strike was paralyzing Australia’s barely recovering economy and Menzies thought he could sort it out. He arranged a meeting with union leaders in the industrial city of Wollongong south of Sydney to try to settle the controversy and was hurriedly and ingloriously escorted out of town amidst mounting violence, forever more to bear the moniker “Pig Iron Bob.�

Image:Begin, Carter and Sadat at Camp David 1978.jpgMenachem Begin, Jimmy Carter, and Anwar Sadat at Camp David, 1978.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

President Bill Clinton, trying to emulate Teddy Roosevelt’s turn of the century success and Jimmy Carter’s work with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978, sought to again use Camp David as a neutral ground to break the continuing gridlock surrounding Israel and Palestine.Clinton, along with his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, spent days locked in discussions with leaders Arafat and Barak. In the end, the talks came close but ultimately failed to accomplish the much expected breakthrough.

Whether done by presidents, school principals, or favorite uncles and aunts, diplomatic efforts in the center of the cyclone benefit from persistence, empathy, and insight into what hungers people. They also require, in the words of William Simkin, “The patience of Job, the sincerity and bulldog qualities of the English, the wit of the Irish, the physical endurance of a marathon runner, the broken field running of a halfback, the guile of Machiavelli, the personality probing characteristics of a good psychiatrist, the confidence-retaining characteristics of a mute, the wisdom of Solomon, and the hide of a rhinoceros.� [iii] Good bladder control and the ability to catch power naps with your eyes open may also help. Even with all these things, luck and timing play a large role.

1 Safety

“Every conflict breaks your heart.� Kenneth Cloke

Image:Ramses II at Kadesh.jpgThe track record: war punctuated by peace or peace punctuated by war?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
One reading of our short historical record on Planet Earth suggests a pattern of general stability interrupted by moments of warfare. The alternative view argues that this long-running story is all about warfare punctuated by brief interludes of peace. The real enemy, of course, is our failure to create what people hunger for most: security; refuge from grim forces they had no hand in creating; shelter from planned or anomic violence. You can do something about this if you get comfortable in the eye of the storm. Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica, led the Central American Peace Process and stabilized the region in 1987. Jose Ramos Horta crafted a peace plan that ended 25 years of war between East Timor and Indonesia. Joseph Montville brought people together in the Middle East and North Africa to forge Track-II agreements well ahead of formal leadership. As Archbishop in Washington, DC, Theodore E. McCarrick persuaded hardliners on the left and right to be a bit more tolerant of each other. But these are the better known people. Countless others are quietly building bridges and forging sound problem-taming strategies in their communities, churches, clubs, and corporations. It is all negotiable. Are you ready to try?


2 Solutions

“Whatever you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.� Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

--Global warming S-curve: what happens next?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
People will tolerate the complexity of big problems, but they must see political progress in the face of great shocks. Strap on your seat belts and parachutes because here are what many experts say lies ahead for our children and grandchildren. Populations will swell and, in the short term, the world will get even more crowded. Landscapes and climates will change. Wet places will become dry, dry places will become wet, cold places will warm, warm places will cool. New diseases, some of them pandemic, will emerge. Ecologies and economies will be disrupted. Ancient food webs will be disturbed. The oceans will be fished out and filled with garbage. Many people will starve. One eminent expert, James Lovelock, believes cities as diverse as Phoenix, Beijing, and London will become uninhabitable and that the Earth’s population will drop from 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million by 2100, victims of war, disease, and famine.[iv] Even if he is at the extreme of the emerging predictions, the continuing, pervasive, and nagging sense of global danger is amplifying. Our political universes, shrinking and converging, are woefully incapable of responding. Now, if “politics-as-usual� –- denial, finger pointing, inaction -- is acceptable, keep doing what you are doing. If it isn’t, become part of a new breed of politicians with practical philosophies, new negotiation capabilities, richer and more rounded world views, and better ways of getting our collective business done. The moment is not later. It is now.


3 Involvement

“Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.� Angela Monet

Image:Elizabeth I of England - coronation portrait.jpgThe Age of Hierarchy is coming to a close. People want more participation.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Hierarchy isn’t dead, but in fits and starts it is flattening. It isn’t just young people who are naturally rebellious, cranky, and counter-dependent. Titles, status, and the trappings of office are increasingly suspect, a reflection of larger things that are afoot: a deep impulse towards meaningful consultation, an insistence on more participation in the distribution of power, a desire to impact the decisions that affect us. People are hungry for contribution, association, and becoming a vital part of those larger forces that affect them. The trend won’t stop anytime soon. Distrust of blunt authority will accelerate. The rise of more laws and rights, the information revolution, mass travel, exposure to new ideas, an increasingly educated public, the growth of market economies, and a deep desire to access them will accelerate the demand for participation. You can resist these trends, but you will ultimately lose. If you play a role in the politics of governance in the private, public, or civil sectors, you might take another tack altogether. Consider championing these trends. The particulars are negotiable but you must welcome other political guerillas to be with you on the path.


4 Continuity

“Make sure that the things you do keep us alive.� Graham Nash

Image:Aleiodes indiscretus wasp parasitizing gypsy moth caterpillar.jpgA Wasp, Aleiodes indiscretus, parasitizing a Gypsy Moth Caterpillar.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
People deeply want their geographies to continue. They want to pass a clean, healthy environment down the line to their children and grandchildren. Don’t you? On the Island of Borneo in the 1960s, the government undertook a campaign to try and eradicate malaria. They sprayed copious amounts of DDT in wet areas to suppress the mosquito population, which it did. It also killed a wasp that parasitized the local caterpillar population. Unchecked, the caterpillar population exploded causing homes to collapse as they ate the thatched roofs of villagers. Geckos which fed on the caterpillars were suddenly blessed with an extravagance of food. They became fat and slow. This made the geckos easy prey for the Island’s large population of feral and domestic cats. The DDT then concentrated in the tissues of the cats so that their reproductive success was impaired. The cat population declined precipitously. This caused a booming rat population and an outbreak of bubonic plague. To try and remedy things, the government resorted to parachuting cats out of airplanes, a problematic affair for the cats. It will take many people working together to manage the kind of environmental disintegration that has brought some civilizations to a premature end. The solutions are negotiable, but the time to get started is now. [v]


5 Amity

“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.� Leon Trotsky

A dead soldier in Petersburg, Virginia 1865, photographed by Thomas C. Roche.Dead soldier at Petersburg, Virginia, April 1865.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The American Civil War pitted brothers and neighbors against each other. It was a collision of cultures, principles, economies, and social expectations. 620,000 died of wounds, injuries, and sickness. America never fully recovered and the remnants of the battles are still fought today in different form. Mathew Brady, an early photographer, took graphic pictures of the battlefield carnage: piles of dead boys in trenches; bloated horses ready to explode in the sun; broken wagons; stacks of limbs amputated by surgeons. On seeing the pictures, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes remarked: “Let him who wishes to know what war is, look at this….� All wars are a horror filled with startling excesses and unexpected damage. Some wars to fight injustice, genocide, and despotism will prove necessary, but wars undertaken without remorse, wars waged for frivolous reasons, wars made for vanity and ego, are a true evil. At any one moment there are about a hundred small scale wars and hot spots going on around the globe. These are the most ferocious storms there are. They require every ounce of political reserve and skill you have. They require guerilla bridge builders. Deep in our humanity, simultaneous with our lust for fighting, is a deep current of desire for finding peaceful relations with others. You can help people discover that tidal flow. War and peace are both negotiable.


6 Redemption

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.� Pierre Ambroise Francois Choderios de LaClos

Image:Gudrun agitating her sons.jpgGudrun agitating her sons to avenge their sister.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
In a remote section of northern Albania, a man is gunned down in front of 200 passersby. No one intervenes, no one sees anything, and no one reports the murder. In an Amazonian section of Ecuador, four families –- men, women, and children -- are speared to death by a neighboring tribe. It is a favor returned for previous murders committed the other way around, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. From a cave on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Osama bin Laden, the Jihadi, issues an edict calling on every Muslim who believes in God to kill Americans, Jews, and Crusaders. On the site of the pit that once was the World Trade Center, President George Bush vows to hunt him down and kill him. These are deep feuds, the result of seeds sown long ago, the specific memories of which are increasingly vague, memories of memories. Now, only the hard and bitter emotions remain. But we know there are ways to change the flight path of hatred. The way you break a revenge cycle is through a careful, well-timed, and well-crafted process of acknowledgement, reconciliation, and forgiveness. It is a negotiable process and you can help. People are hungry for that binding arc of focused energy that leads us at the right moment to what we actually yearn for: release from fruitless repetitions. It takes guerilla bridge builders to make this happen.


7 Meaning

“We live in a deeply paradoxical age, and it will take serious mental ability to navigate the years to come. Capable and imaginative people, both inside and outside barbarity, are beginning to realize this. And for every person who does, civilization gains a better chance of survival.� Bruce Sterling

The basic law of inflation is this: when there is more and more of everything, it all means less and less. In a world of greater and greater opportunity, of more and more material things, meaning must be discovered or created in small things. In conflict,

Image:One US dollar 1917.jpg 1917 Issue U.S. Dollar.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
where different interpretations of events collide, new meaning can be negotiated. That is how business professionals make contracts. It is how people fall in love. It is how quarrels are ended. It is how regimes of governance change in orderly ways and how political bonds are forged. People are hungry for some new and higher sense of order, for a significance that goes beyond their own self, for an import and value that is more enduring. It is all negotiable, and you can find your own meaning in it even as you help others find theirs. It isn’t that complicated. What goes around comes around.


8 Politics Re-Invented

“Mine is an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check and nihilism kept at bay.� William Kentridge

AristotleAristotle believed that an ethical life must be lived by participating in politics.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Here is what people are ravenous for and what it could be like to succeed. The fullest possible diversity of voices and viewpoints are in the game and heard. People participate in the formulation of important negotiation processes and the content of critical discussions. High quality information of many sorts is brought to bear. The great issues of the day are treated as questions for mutual and critical inquiry rather than battles to be won. People listen. They seek understanding as the bedrock for productive dialogue. The rules of engagement for the practical reconciliation of competing ideas are clear. Matters are transparent so that trade offs are understandable to everyone. And those who are making decisions participate in their implementation and stand accountable for them. We can do these things. They are not impossible. You can apply guerilla bridge building tactics to these challenges and help achieve a new kind of politics.


9 Children

“When I was a child in Philadelphia, my father told me that I didn't need to memorize the contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica; I just needed to know how to find what is in it.� Richard Saul Wurman

--"Mother and Child." Credit: NARA/Harmon Foundation.
There are a lot of children in the world. More are coming. What do we tell the next generation? We could spend our time on explanations and recriminations, but it won’t advance us or them. Let’s teach them the craft of a better politics, the skills of the best negotiators, the art of human communication, the discipline and tolerance needed to sit in council and reason together, the desire for solutions and resolutions, and the wisdom to be patient and persistent. If we had learned these things ourselves, the world we are passing on would be different. We can teach them these things. We just need to start. Today.


10 Justice

“Dwell in possibility.� Emily Dickenson

--“Subway on the Brooklyn Bridge, 1974.�
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
People do terrible things cloaked in robes of righteousness. They say: “There can be no peace without justice� and then assert that peace without justice is a tyranny. Peace and justice can only happen in the specific instance even though we hunger for some permanent form of both. And yet, we constantly reject one without the other. Guerilla bridge building is a passion, a calling, and a difficult job that must be done at greater and greater scales if we are to make a difference. You can, in fact, create new connective tissue between peace and justice. The connections will be like suspension bridges: flexible, transportable, easily put up and taken down. The bridges won’t work for everything but they will work more often than most people know or guess. That is why they will be so surprised to learn that neither peace nor justice is in the eye of the beholder. They both live in the eye-of-the storm.[vi]



  • What are the major issues facing the people in your community, company, church, or family and what kinds of conflicts are those issues spawning?
  • What role do you play in those conflicts? What role would you like to play?
  • How effective are you in managing those conflicts and what is your measure of success?
  • Name a time when you brought people together to solve a big problem, create a new initiative, or forge a vision.
  • In your world, what are people hungry for and why?
  • Describe three specific ways you would like to improve politics if you could pull them off.


[i] See “The Guerrilla Mediator: The Use of Warfare Strategies in the Management of Conflict,� in The Creative Problem Solvers’ Handbook for Negotiators and Mediators, ed. Jack Cooley, ABA Section on Dispute Resolution, 2005

[ii] See Edmund Morris’ Theodore Rex (2001).

[iii] I heard this from William Simkin, former director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in a speech given to the Society for Professionals in Dispute Resolution in 1981 in Toronto. Simkin is also the author of Mediation and the Dynamics of Collective Bargaining, BNA Books, 1971.

[iv] See “The Prophet of Climate Change: James Lovelock� by Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone, Oct 17, 2007 at http://www.rollingstone.com/

[v] I am indebted to Doug Thompson of The Keystone Center for this story. See also Collapse by Jared Diamond (2005).

[vi] This metaphor –- building suspension bridges between peace and justice -– comes from Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Professor of Law at Georgetown University.

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