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Playing to Win

Imagine a game with two players. One player is playing to win, the other is playing to a draw, without actually going in for the kill. Even if the first player is weaker than the second player, if the game goes on long enough the odds are on his side... because he is playing to win.

Einstein famously said, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

Like many pacifists, Einstein assumed that war would become more destructive. Instead the Western powers have long ago stopped fighting to win, and rather than unleashing their full strength, chose to begin fighting to a draw, or to maintain a slightly improved balance of power vis a vis the enemy.

While some believed that this style of limited warfare is the product of the Cold War's Mutually Assured Destruction, in which war had to be scaled down for fear of unleashing a nuclear armageddon... this inability to finish the fight has become most pronounced when Western powers fight conflicts with third world guerrillas or terrorists.

There are several factors that explain why we stopped playing to win, and accordingly have begun slowly losing.

1. Instant Communications - Like sausage, wars used to be 'made' mostly out of sight. Individuals might have personal experience of a battlefield, but few outside the military would have much visceral interaction with the war itself. With the American Civil War and the Crimean War that began to change. Photography and popularized first person accounts began the process of bringing war into the "living room", horrifying and repulsing millions.

By the time the technology had developed to the point where video broadcasts could be conducted from the field, or any civilian could capture some of the action on a cell phone, the barriers had been breached.

Naturally it would be the more civilized countries which placed a higher value on life and did not censor their media, that would receive the worst of this exchange. While the guerrillas and terrorists can always intimidate and silence, and in any case tend to operate in cultures with higher mortality rates that place less value on human life, Western nations cannot and do not function so.

The result is that civilized countries begin practicing excessive restraint on the battlefield, this not only gives the enemy more freedom of movement, it creates an entirely new strategic doctrine that involves using civilians as human shields, hospitals and civilian areas as bases, and even deliberately generate atrocities in order to foster propaganda victories.

In this environment, propaganda victories become real victories if they harm the morale of a Western power. The more the civilized side restrains its forces, the more power and territory, the enemy gains.

2. Liberalism - While the welfare of civilians on the enemy side was a legitimate concern, it was never supposed to be a greater concern than the lives of our own soldiers. Yet Liberalism has managed to accomplish exactly that as on the battlefield, with civilized nations putting the lives of soldiers at risk to protect enemy civilians.

This development has turned the human shield from a punchline, into a potent defensive measure, and a propaganda offensive tool.

As liberalism routinely assumes that their home society is usually at fault, and that the stronger party is also the guilty party, a liberal culture cripples the very military that seeks to defend it.

A liberal culture propounds that the only legitimate cause for war is the defense of a weaker party against a stronger party. This paradox necessitates wars that are no longer defensive wars, but nation building wars to tear down a sovereign nation, on behalf of an oppressed populace or minority within its borders.

Such wars may be legitimate or not, on an individual basis, but they bury the primary justification for war, that of self-defense or the suppression of a vital and active threat. By doing so they also shift the priority from the military to the diplomatic, and from military accomplishment to nation building through winning the hearts and minds of the enemy civilian population-- an approach destined to undermine any purely military approach. Wars are no longer fought in pursuit of victory, but in order to build a better world... and we stop playing to win.

3. The Supremacy of Diplomacy - War becomes a means of enforcing a diplomatic objective. When diplomacy fails, we go to war. When the enemy meets our demands, we end the war. Then we rinse and repeat the whole cycle all over again.

Since modern diplomacy was envisioned as a peacemaking tool, these demands must be peacemaking demands as well. This makes war inherently contradictory and disreputable, and creates situations in which we endlessly pursue peacemaking diplomacy to avoid war, only to be tricked, and then restart the peacemaking cycle again. When we finally try to break the cycle of hollow diplomatic charades with war, universal condemnation follows.

War then becomes a halfhearted effort to hurt the enemy just enough to convince them to give in to our peacemaking demands. Unfortunately when the enemy has no interest in giving in, the military campaign quickly becomes a painful bloody drawn out mess with no real objective except buzzwords such as "Stabilization" and "Reining in the Extremist Elements Who Stand in the Way of Peace."

The latest example of such a misguided military campaign could be seen in Gaza, but it can just as well be seen in Iraq, and for that matter Vietnam. If you're not playing to win, but assuming that the enemy will give up and come to the negotiating table, then you're playing to lose... particularly against an enemy who knows how the game is played, and knows that all he needs to do is stay alive long enough for you to give up and go away.

4. Forgetting How to Fight - When the USSR was dismantled, the Yeltsin government attempted to give away land to farmers, only to discover that after generations of collectivization, too few knew how to farm anymore.

So national skills can disappear under the boot of socialism. There was a time in American history when the instinctive response to an attacker was force. Today the instinctive response is to run away and wait for the police to take care of it.

After a generation we have very nearly forgotten what war is, and what it's for. Afghanistan and Iraq proved that our soldiers still know how to fight, but our politicians and military command have often forgotten. As war becomes subservient to diplomacy, as the culture of liberalism and instant communications bring war into the living room and treat all military actions as atrocities-- we lose the ability to play to win and to fight to win, instead snatching diplomatic defeat from the jaws of a military victory.

But Playing to Win is the only real game in town. As Western powers and civilized nations stop playing to win, the terrorists who do play to win, begin winning. Our advantages in resources, organization and numbers can only hold out for so long unless we too begin playing to win.


  1. "When the USSR was dismantled, the Yeltsin government attempted to give away land to farmers, only to discover that after generations of collectivization, too few knew how to farm anymore.

    And obviously too stupid to learn.

  2. Anonymous10/2/09

    This seems to be an unbelievable election. My fear has been that Bibi is a wolf in sheeps cloths. Even if he is a luke warm nationalist the elite would pressure him into all kinds of unilateral concessions. I think he even suggest that he would want a unity government. This would result in a very stable government in which the tail would wag the dog.

    Seems HaShem had a different idea.

    By placing Livni slightly ahead, with her ego, she is unlikely to willingly forgo the PM to create a unity government. She will say, let us make a government with me as the PM. Since Bibi knows that he can form a right wing stable government without her as PM, why should he give up the PM to make her happy? Now she can form a government by going with the all the left wing parties and buying off some religious parties. But, it will always be very unstable. On the other hand Bibi can wait and eventually offer a solid government as long as he stays out of bed with the left. So if Bibi wants to be PM, in spite of his deep wish to form a unity government with the left, he has little choice to bend more to the right.

    Now could HaShem have offered the nationalist a better situation. Only if the nationalist parties had a stronger presence.

  3. there was only one nationalist party really, and I don't see Bibi forming a stronger government sometime in the future

    not before Yerushalayim is divided, and much worse happens as well

    so even a weak Bibi government is better than more Kadima

  4. Diplomacy should have no place in warfare. In layman's terms, once you're in it, you're IN IT.

    Diplomacy might be necessary with allies but should never be used with enemies. I think some people confuse diplomacy with cunning, which of course has a role in warefare as a way of out-smarting the enemy.

    Regarding photography in wars, I think the US made a mistake in embedding reporters/photographers. The media has turned this into a sterile war--they broadcast enemy/civilian casualties but not the suffering of US troops. I remember vividly during the first Gulf War a young American whose helicopter was shot down.

    His captors took videos of him and it was obvious his arm was broken and he had been roughed up. My pulse rate went up just watching the videos. It made the war personal.

    This war isn't covered the way it should be. I don't know who to fault more the media or the military.

  5. Lemon: your comment about farming reminded me of something I saw on History Detectives. The mystery they were investigating was a house owned by Russian Jews who lived in NYC but moved to either Rhode Island or Connecticut at the turn of the century. The house, on a farm, had many many owners. Nobody knew why the house had so many different owners. A lot of onwer turn-over. Nobody stayed on the farms or could make a success of farming until the time a Yiddish language publication for farmers came out.

    It was super practical. One article was titled: "Getting to Know Your Cow." The practicality was amazing. Many Jews became successful farmers. Others turned their houses into bed and breakfasts.

    Whether farmers or inn owners they found success!

  6. Anonymous13/2/09

    While you have a good perspective on a lot of issues, I think you missed the mark on this topic. You seem to be suggesting that our military should simply nuke every country that we have a conflict with. After all if we shouldn't hold back, then nuclear weapons are our best weapons.

    What you're missing though is that if we nuke the entire middle east, then we'll have a hard time getting the oil we need. I'm not speaking figuratively and neither are you, so if all these countries suddenly become radioactive wastelands, it will make the acquisition of oil a lot more difficult.

    Next of course is the problem we'd have with the survivors, both inside the conflict zone and outside. The people remaining inside the nuked zone knows that they have nothing to lose in life and could possibly throw themselves at us in their last breath of life. When you corner any animal, it fights the hardest ever. Then there is the people outside the nuked zone to consider, such as the europeans and russians. Do you think they will trust us ever again? How would we be able to form alliances again when everyone knows that we'll nuke them as well the second we get a chance.

    So you're wrong. Maximizing killing is not the way to win wars.

  7. My point was not that we should be nuking everyone. At no point in time in the article did I say that we should casually or randomly use nuclear weapons.

    The fourth paragraph mentions nuclear weapons only in regard to the impact of MAD on the psychology of war.

  8. Sultan Knish,

    Wonderful post.

    My I suggest that you narrow liberalism writ large down to multiculturalism? This view holds that there really are no enemies because we celebrate all indigenous cultures. That means that Islamic nations are our friends.

    Secondly, multiculturalism holds that, since indigenous cultures are great, pure and noble, and we messed with them more than others, we are guilty for attacking them. We should, instead, be apologetic for asserting our culture's survival.

    Next, multiculturalism teaches that we actually have no side to defend. We could not have border enforcement based on the idea that we have a culture. This means that our enemy's citizens are welcome to immigrate. This reduces our will to fight. And, as a self-fulfilling prophecy come true, we end up with no side to defend.

    Lastly, naming multiculturalism as the enemy allows you to invoke the word "culturism." Culturism is the opposite of multiculturalism. It holds that we do have a core culture,it is worth defending and we have a right to do so on a culturst basis. This, of course, would be the main benefit of retooling future arguments!!!

    Thanks for the great article,

    Culturist John


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