Dr. David Kilcullen is the author of five prize-winning books on terrorism, insurgency, urbanization and future warfare, including The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West, as well as numerous scholarly papers on urbanization, conflict and the evolution of warfare. He won the Walkley Award (Australia’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize) for long-form journalism in 2015, for his reporting on the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He is contributing editor for military affairs of The Australian, Australia’s national daily newspaper, Professor of International and Political Studies at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, Professor of Practice at Arizona State University, and CEO and President of the global research firm Cordillera Applications Group. Dave is a theorist and practitioner of guerrilla and unconventional warfare, with extensive war zone experience over a 25-year career with the Australian and U.S. governments as an Army officer, intelligence analyst, policy adviser and diplomat. He served in Iraq as senior counterinsurgency advisor to U.S. General David Petraeus, then as senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He worked for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Afghanistan, and continues to work with advanced research agencies focused on future conflict.
How has the current state of things impacted your writing life?
Hunkered down in my study, writing and thinking, and checking in on friends and family.
What are the ways you’ve been connecting to your community?
Virtual happy hours, zoom and Skype calls, lots of text chats and phone calls, and building a network of neighbors on our street to help each other with practical support as this goes on.
How do you stay focused?
Limiting my time scrolling through news media, and structuring my day in blocks of time including exercise, home projects, work, teaching and writing.
What daily writing or creative practices help ground you?
I like to capture ideas as I go in a Moleskine pocket notebook, and I am increasingly drawn to my physical books rather than to e-books, audiobooks and kindle. I try to spend some time every day sitting outside my study door in the sun reading a physical book. I also try to read some fiction every day.
Do you have words of comfort or advice to share with readers?
This too will pass — we all need to gather our loved ones closer (albeit virtually) and keep trying to think ahead of the crisis rather than reacting in the moment.
What writer do you wish you could share with the world?
I’m re-reading Liaquat Ahamed’s wonderful book, Lords of Finance, right now. He tells the story of central bankers in the early 20th century, the creation of the US Federal Reserve, and the decisions international central banks made that led to the Great Depression. He’s a great writer, and his subtitle (“The Bankers Who Broke the World”) is very appropriate. It’s more than ten years old now but still hugely relevant.
What are you reading right now for solace or escape?
Right now I am partly through the first volume of Winston Churchill’s memoirs, My Early Life, including his experiences as a young officer in British India and the Boer War. It is about as total an escape from today’s concerns as you can get, yet still strangely relevant.
If you could live inside a fictional world, which one would you choose?