Winning conflict

Hobbes the English philosopher said that life is a constant state of war. He had probably seen too much of it. But you could say that there is always conflict in life. Within yourself, with addiction, trauma or personality traits. Within relationships between individuals. Within your environment, whether dealing with the challenges of nature or within the man-made environment. And when organisations compete with each other. Ultimately this could be between two nations and is called War.

War is hell. It is deadly, destructive, traumatic and extremely costly. It needs to be avoided at all costs. It is usually caused by a failure of politics, but there are occasions where there are those who bent on destruction. A sociopathic disregard for human life, a belief in the superiority of one group over the other that ultimately leads to a wish to subjugate or destroy the other group.

There are three points to conflict. Avoid at all costs with great strategy. Win it all costs, in a timely, decisive and with minimal casualties to your side, with great strategy. Repair, rebuild and heal what is left, with magnanimity, forgiveness, wise judgement and unity, with great strategy. Sun Tzu wrote an ancient text called “The Art of War”, 2,500 years ago. In truth it is really about how to avoid war. He said “Winning one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the sign of supreme excellence. That is subduing your enemy without violence.” He also knew that to avoid War you have to be strong to prevent people attacking you, “If you want peace prepare for War.”

Some of the Police will tell you that most criminals are alright people, and that they have taken a wrong turn in life. The vast majority can be turned around. But there are some that are just plain evil and cannot be dealt with properly. The real end-game of a conflict is not to beat the enemy, but the philosophy that drives them. There are many philosophies in life, but none are perfect as none of us are perfect. If one philosophy tries to take control, then we become at the mercy of the faults that are not recognised.

There are two examples of history that come from the greatest conflicts of all time, so far. Napoleon led the French army, exporting the new politics of the Enlightenment. He sought to protect the French Revolution from the forces of the Ancient Regime and liberate the people of Europe struggling under their yoke. It was a worthy cause and popular one, although not in Britain. In 1806 he marched towards Vienna and in December he fought the Austrians and the Russians at Austerlitz. It was a stunning victory, delivered through superb strategy. He then marched to Prussia and repeated the victory at Jena-Auerstadt. Napoleon’s greatest legacy was that he was a brilliant law-maker. The Napoleonic code is still in place. He clearly was a brilliant strategist on the Battlefield, but his ego was his undoing. Perhaps he rose to the top too early. His Generals were sometimes excellent, but his politicians were yes men. When it came to wining the peace, he did not negotiate properly with the Austrian’s, Russians and Prussians. Instead of getting a treaty that would prevent them from attacking, he was too greedy and proud and continued to laud it over them. They needed magnanimity, a treaty that was more attractive to them would have kept them in place and away from attacking him. A beneficial treaty would have made his enemies realise the benefits of his system. Instead he did not forgive and they came back at him. He ended up marching on Moscow, which was a disaster and he lost 400,000 men. The Russians were prepared to sacrifice everything, retreating into the freezing hinterland and even abandoning Moscow, the scorched earth policy left the French army dying in the Russian winter.

Not only is it vital to forgive your enemy after the conflict, it is more important to forgive them before. To fight you need to hate, and political correctness has no place in conflict. But fight with cold hatred, pure and patient. That is what drives you to find the best strategy. If you fight with uncontrolled rage, anger and resentment, that is when disaster strikes and the innocent die. A good example of this is Michael Collins strategies for the Irish Revolution 1919-1921. Carefully considered, calculated plans, aimed surgically at specific targets. Revenge was not an option, but careful assessment of the results was necessary. The British responded with the murderous anarchy of the Black and Tans. In my view, this difference of method was what won the war for the Irish. Lloyd George could see they had lost the moral argument and sued for peace.

In the 20th Century, German supremacism was the main threat. In 1913 Churchill’s prescient knowledge foretold the future, when he saw the strutting German war machine parading in Berlin. The First World War was a bad war of attrition with virtually no advantage gained by anyone. The cost was massive, particularly in lives lost. But also the affect it had on the people that witnessed the effects. The received wisdom was that the Great Powers had all been spoiling for a fight and slid into the conflict by accident. But in 1964, a German historian Fritz Fischer, discovered the existence of the Schlieffen Plan. This plan was for the Germans to engineer a War and invade Belgium and Northern France to take over their ports, industry and colonies. The leadership of Germany knew of this, and it is difficult to believe that this was not their intention. Germany had only been formed in 1871, out of a large number of small states. Coming late to the Empire building party, they wanted markets to sell their industrial products.

One of the ironies of the War, was that the only daring plan was Gallipoli. Churchill was responsible for it. The Navy was supposed to shoot through the Dardanelles and bombard Constantinople and take the Ottoman Empire out of the War. Churchill did not get the armies required to support from the peninsular, the navy were not bold enough and the Turks were severely underestimated. The exercise was disastrous and Churchill had to fall on his sword. It was not really his fault. The War dragged on until in 1918, the Germans reinforced in the West due to the Russians pulling out in the East. The final German push in the West was held. Americans were drafted in to protect the quiet areas of the front and the Germans were pushed back. By November they had their own revolution as food became scarce. There was no will to continue the fight into Germany and the war stopped at the original border, more or less. The German troops were told to lay down their weapons and march home. The War was not won, it had just stopped. No one knew who was at fault. The French and the British imposed punishing reparations on the Germans, but without knowing they were wrong, it made things worse and they came back.

The two sides were affected in different ways. The British and the French became keen on pacifism and appeasement. The Germans became worse. Hitler and the Nazi’s, were angrier, totalitarian, genocidal and driven by a demonic hatred. Churchill having recognised the danger and believing it was his destiny to save London, England and the Empire dug in and fought. He mobilised the country and the world to take a moral stand. He stopped the German’s at the Channel and Hitler turned on the Russians who motivated by their hatred and the survival instinct fought back and defeated the fascists.

The Western Allies could only hold onto the UK, fight elsewhere and support the Russians. When the Red Army swept into Eastern Europe they created another tyranny and thus began the Cold War. The ally’s invasion in the West meant that at least that part of Europe would remain free. The Allies bombed Germany and pushed into its heartland seeking unconditional surrender. The bombing campaign was vital as by 1944 it was effective in reducing tank and plane production by 30% and the Luftwaffe had to be recalled to the Fatherland. Airpower was the key to victory in the West and very helpful in the East.

People make much of the bombing of Dresden. But at that stage it was important to keep the foot on the neck of the dying enemy. Dresden was a cultural centre, and German culture had in part encouraged supremacism. To target Dresden was to target that part of the supremacist culture and defeat the philosophy. In the main the Germans did learn. They were shown around the death camps and built a fairer, liberal and democratic society. With help from the West and the Marshall plan Europe was rebuilt.

In defeating Fascism, the British recognised the need to free their colonial subjects and within 20 years the Empire was free to be a Commonwealth. A feat never achieved before in history. Under the new young Queen a new age was dawning. The NHS was the jewel in her crown and we strove to undo the class system that was temporarily shelved during the war.

But there were still wars to fight. Growing up we lived under the threat of nuclear destruction from the cold war. Apartheid in South Africa was a cancer and the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland nagged at our conscience. These threats were displayed on television every night. During the war, radio had been a vital medium for information and quite frankly propaganda. Churchill knew the importance of morale and he knew that we could not handle the truth. Now we have television and the images of war are sent around the world in nanoseconds. The Americans experienced this phenomena with the trauma of Vietnam being beamed into their homes every night. We experienced the Cold War, Apartheid and Northern Ireland through television. The heightened awareness led to action and miraculously all those three conflicts ended mostly peacefully.

But the media must be used positively to end the conflicts, rather than be dilettantes preying on the money making images. War is Hell and quite frankly if you are not in it, you don’t really need to know too much. TV images get manipulated and do not tell about the real horror. That remains in the minds and souls of those who experienced it. After the Second World War, the servicemen of the UK returned to a victorious, but shattered country. We rebuilt for a new age, but they never talked. They all had post-traumatic stress, but there was no relief from the War that still raged within them. People not involved watch the War films and celebrate the glory. It was not like that. Those involved are not proud of what they did as they were not necessarily heroic, brave or humane.

Now there is conflict everywhere. Whether between Genders, Political Groups, Religious or non-religious groups or any other philosophy. The current conflicts rarely give way to violence, but is in the spiritual, emotional and even sexual fields of battle. Recognising these conflicts is difficult, especially when there is so much lies and manipulation. But be warned they are equally as dangerous. These wars are in the home, at work, on the internet and use anything at people’s disposal to fight with. The struggles seem to be over money, power and sex. But these things are responsibilities and should be shared by all.

To fight these means honour, loyalty and sticking to your principles. The victory conditions are having a world where different philosophies find a simple code that allows them to coexist. For those that cannot do that there needs to be a solution that allows them to exist separately.

We must pull together in unity, respect and clarity. If the world continues down the road of selfishness, money grabbing, military posturing, self-interest and especially the imposing of superiority over each other we are finished. If we look up from what is in front of our noses we may discover that the world is dying. The environmental destruction of the planet is fast approaching. If we do not work together to find solutions then there will be nothing.

Humanity has triumphed before and can do it again. Churchill said “Victory at all costs, victory despite all terror, victory however long and hard the road maybe, because without victory there is no survival.” Because there is never, ever, ever, ever any reason to give up fighting for what is right as there is nothing else. But to win not only takes hard work, it takes self-sacrifice.

What are you prepared to sacrifice to win this fight for humanity and for all of us?

Conway-Laird (2017)

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