Death by a Thousand Cuts

TSA line

As some of you know, one of my other “jobs” besides business consulting and advisory on strategy execution, leadership and corporate culture, is writing thriller novels.  And there is plenty of inspiration to be found for a fast paced thriller novel in the news feeds I read every morning on my iPad. In fact, some of the stories I read are even stranger than fiction! And everywhere you turn the theme of terrorist attacks, suicide bombings, truck’s being detonated at family weddings and next to hospitals. And it is becoming a global epidemic. And if you are a thriller novelist, reading all this horrible stuff begs multiple questions, the kind that start the germ of a story idea.

One of the big questions that always comes up is: What are the terrorists trying to achieve? Do they really think they can win a real war? Do they really think they can defeat the “evil West” and bring about the supremacy of their radical cause?

On one level, these are naive objectives.  In a traditional war, even with massive revenues from illegal oil, extortion, cyber crime, human trafficking and illegal drug smuggling for backing, they don’t have nearly the resources and weaponry of the major military superpowers like the US, Britain, Russia and China. In a conventional war, any one of these three could easily overcome these fanatical followers.

But what most people (and many politicians and military) don’t understand is, this is not a conventional war.  Radical Islam’s goal is not to defeat the West, but to cripple and bankrupt it! It’s not instant death or surrender they seek, but death by a thousand cuts. And at this point, they seem to be winning.  Here’s why.

The amount the US spends on Homeland Security for things like airport security processes, parcel screenings in most major office buildings, CCTV surveillance, is a staggering amount, from $19 billion in 2002 to $68 billion in the 2017 US budget. Add to that around $20 billion in the military budget dedicated to counteract terrorism globally, plus the operational costs of waging the war on terror, then factor in the loss of time and productivity and the bill in the US alone is easily close to  $200 billion. Value for money?

And this is from a special report to  Congress about the long-term impact of 9/11 on the US economy.

Large amounts of resources are and will be committed to making production, distribution, finance, and communication more secure in the United States. Resources that could have been used to enhance the productive capacity of the country will now be used for security. Since it will take more labor and capital to produce a largely unchanged amount of goods and services, this will result in a slower rate of growth in national productivity, a price that will be borne by every American in the form of a slower rate of growth of per capita real income.

As one economist says: “you can’t spend your way out of this problem. There’s not enough in anyone’s budget to protect everything and monitor every threat.”

Why Osama bin Laden is still winning

bin LadenOsama bin Laden may be dead, but in many ways, he is still winning. The drain on our national economy from all this “defending the homeland” spending, the loss of productivity, and the time wasted is enormous. And these little things add up to a huge drain on our national psyche, productivity and feelings of well-being.

Just a simple example.  I go flyfishing each year somewhere far away from London. Last year I went to Argentina. At the airport I could not take my fly reels or my fly rods on the airplane because of the “security risk” and had to repack everything into checked luggage. The TSA agent told me with a straight face that a flyline could be used to strangle someone! And what about not allowing people to take water bottles through security and instead making you pay exorbitant fees for bottled water inside the airport?  Then one of my bags was opened and several expensive fly reels stolen. And one shoe bomber was caught on a flight and everyone now removes their shoes at security check points, not to mention the extra staffing and equipment required. Small, petty issues? Absolutely, but add all these inconveniences and costs, plus the number and costs of security checks conducted just to enter office buildings in most major cities, and it’s definitely death by a thousand cuts.


The point of terrorism is not an outright win, but a slow and debilitating demise.

And we are beginning to fight this war on terrorism on multiple fronts. Cybersecurity, overseas interventions, tighter immigration, chemical warfare security, electronic surveillance.  I am reminded of the fates of Napoleon and Hitler when trying to fight a war on too many fronts.

Reverse Terror

So, my newest novel is being crafted from this “witches brew” of the war on terrorism.  It’s called Reverse Terror.  The thesis is simple, but controversial.

What if instead of trying to use conventional rules of engagement and to “win hearts and minds” against radical terrorist organizations, a well-funded and highly motivated group, sponsored by global businesses from many nations, took terrorism to the terrorists. Using their playbook against themselves?

Unconstitutional?  Immoral? Un-American? Vigilante Justice? Against the rules of British fair play?  Definitely!  Effective? Hmmmm!


I continue to scan the news feeds for factual events to add into this purely fictional novel and will keep my readers posted on the progress of my next book. Maybe even a few sample snipits will appear in my blog postings.  Hopefully by the end of 2016 my newest novel will be available on Amazon and in e-Book format. (In the meantime, check out my other novels:

Then again, maybe reality and fiction are not so far apart!

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid


Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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