25 May 2011


At the end of World War I, or “The Great War” as survivors called it, the combined military high commands were more than casually aware of the huge loss of life, of the huge inefficiency in how the war had been prosecuted.  Efficiency at KILLING people had dramatically increased due to technology, but winning battles and winning the war had been an unmitigated disaster for both the Allies and the Axis.  Both were losers, and the war was ultimately won by an injection, three years after it began (and two years after it had stalemated) of a million plus American infantry.

An Army Captain, B.H. Liddell-Hart, had survived a German gassing after just 7 weeks in the British light infantry on the Western Front, and during recovery had ample opportunity to think about these things.  Following the war he undertook an extensive analysis of ALL wars fought in recorded human history, focusing on those that had good records.  He was looking for some general rules - he wanted to know why Belisarius and Napoleon, for instance, were almost always victorious - even when leading smaller forces against larger.

Liddell-Hart arrived at several fundamental rules for how to win a war.  These included:

“In strategy the longest way round is often the shortest way there; a direct approach to the object exhausts the attacker and hardens the resistance by compression, whereas an indirect approach loosens the defender's hold by upsetting his balance.”  Also:

“The profoundest truth of war is that the issue of battle is usually decided in the minds of the opposing commanders, not in the bodies of their men.”

Simply put: a defensive position gives you a huge advantage over an attacker; a direct attack is highly inefficient.  Unbalancing your enemy gives you an additional powerful advantage.

Liddell-Hart was certainly aware that the battle of Gettysburg was not won by the Union Army, but rather lost by Lee because he ignored his most senior commander, Longstreet, who literally begged him to draw the Union forces into Confederate defensive positions.  Instead, full of pride in the spunkiness of his southern “boys”, Lee ordered Pickett to march across a full mile of open ground against entrenched forces, backed by artillery throwing canister after canister of grape-shot.  Pickett’s Division was obliterated, which set the momentum for Lee’s eventual defeat.  That defeat came after a group of Maine volunteers displayed unusual courage and insisted on maintaining their position - the end of the Union line - against an overwhelming force at Little Round Top.

I raise these details to draw attention to how we can deal with the inevitable conflicts we will encounter in our lives.  No matter how meek or conflict-avoidant we may be, we will always, always, have to deal with attacks on ourselves or our loved ones.  These attacks can be physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, or a combination.  Moroni raised a battle-flag that essentially gives us exactly where to draw the line: “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children.” I consider that an important template.

Aikido and Jujitsu teach not how to start a fight, but how to end a fight.  They both teach the advantage of a defensive approach in dealing with conflict - avoidance where possible, but never attack.  “Kuzushi” is a Japanese term for unbalancing an opponent - this was understood by Sun Tsu and Japanese generals for millennia before Liddell-Hart came on the scene.  I teach my own students to avoid conflict - even surrender a wallet if threatened - before “releasing the safety” on the weapon that is their training.  An important point - besides knowing what to fight for - is to have courage, and be willing to accept pain to put a stop to a bully.

There are several take-aways here: 
- Being a defender is always better than being an aggressor.
- Always maintain a clear understanding of what it important - really important.  Your life, your family, people you feel responsible for, your faith, your freedom definitely count.  Liberating another country from a feudal belief system or a murderous dictator, stopping a communist take-over, do NOT count.
- If you cannot avoid conflict, then unbalance your enemy: verbally, physically, psychologically, and fight defensively - with courage and faith.

As the Arab Spring has amply proven (and continues to prove): if a people are willing to live under a dictator for the stability it provides, that’s their choice.  If they decide that the cost/benefit is not worth it, they will rebel.  But fundamentally, it must be their choice.

We over-ride someone else's agency at our own peril.


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