Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Don't Invade Belgium

You should avoid doing this both
literally and figuratively
In 1914, Germany found themselves in an unenviable position. Due to treaty obligations, they were about to be in a conflict with both France and Russia, a two front war. The only war plan that their general staff had developed which could possibly win that scenario counted on the fact that Russia was very slow to mobilize: move the full might of their army west to quickly smash France to surrender, then turn their full force east to defeat Russia.

Unfortunately for the Kaiser, their plans called for going around France’s fortified border and attacking through previously-neutral Belgium. Belgium was allied with England, and this move brought England into the war, creating a stalemate in the west, and ultimately putting Germany into an unwinnable two front war.

There is much that we can learn from this particular historical example. Oftentimes, especially in the us-and-them world of social media, we may be inclined to write off anyone who does not agree with us as the enemy and treat them as such. However, there are a great many people who, like Belgium, are really just neutral. Maybe they are asking questions because they honestly would like to know your opinion rather than challenging your statement.

We saw this on occasion from the Silver Phoenix Society. In the pressure of the moment, certain individuals who ran the SPS Facebook page would often make the mistake of “Invading Belgium”, venting hostility on the merely curious, believing their questions to be hostile ones, and moving them from the neutral category to the hostile.

The article this image comes from is about the us vs them
attitude. It doesn't really address the point of this article,
but I liked the image, and the article is quite thought
provoking as well. You should read it when you're done with
this one.
We see this in politics a great deal. This attitude of “you’re with us or you’re against us” is becoming increasingly common. While both sides are guilty of it, I am seeing it more from the Left than the Right.

I am certainly to the Left of center in my politics, but not dogmatically so. In every aspect of politics, I seek to understand both sides and the nuances of the issue before declaring a strong view. Many people whom I would otherwise agree with brand me an enemy because I do no immediate fall into line with their agenda.

Since elections are always decided by the independent middle, sweeping the moderates up into the group that opposes your politics simply serves to alienate them. “I’m not sure I agree with one side or the other, but the guys on that side were jerks, so I’ll vote for the other one.”

We also see it in modern military examples. Most modern U.S. military missions are “hearts and minds” campaigns, seeking to convince people that we are the good guys (like Afghanistan or the Iraq War) more than killing bad guys (like WWII, Korea or the Gulf War). Sometimes we have done this effectively, but too often we have been too broad in our classifications of “terrorists” and “enemies,” taking people who were not enemies previously and giving them reason to become our enemies.
All the countries in the Gulf War Coalition.
source: Wikipedia
In fact, if we compare the Gulf War and the Iraq War, we can see a good study in contrasts. In the Gulf War in 1991, our objective was to defeat Saddam's forces and liberate Kuwait. We knew who the bad guys were, and we knew who the good guys were, and we didn’t turn any of the good guys into bad guys. In the Iraq War in 2003, we entered a more complex situation in which there were many groups that were neither for or against the U.S. They had their own interests separate from us, but we wrote off many of them as enemies because we did not understand their goals or they did not align directly with ours. We repeated this error in Syria when we classified a number of rebel groups as terrorists when they were really just there to fight against the Assad regime. Potential friends turned into enemies through haste and lack of understanding.

I’m sure that you can think of many examples from your own life in which people who were initially neutral were turned hostile after they were attacked due to their proximity to someone else. It is never good to antagonize people, especially people who did nothing to antagonize you first. I can certainly think of one or two occasions in my own life where I have made this mistake.

Whether on the battlefield, in the office, or on the great wastes of Facebook, it is important to pause a moment before you strike back and make sure that the person who will certainly be an enemy after you lash out at them is an enemy already.

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