Thursday, August 15, 2013

Public War Decisions

Chairman Mao once said, in effect, that to know a slice of the apple pie was to know the whole pie. He said this in his essay On Contradiction as he was trying (I think) to build the Chinese villager's self confidence for making decisions after the mandarins (officials) were all gone. In our national village, where we have never felt dependent on mandarins, our national decisions are something to be pondered at the level of the individual citizen... and of these decisions our national defense ones, a small slice of the decision pie, are perhaps the hardest, most fearful decisions of all. But if we citizens don't take this responsibility, however scary, then who will? The federal bureaucrats? The generals? "War," said the poet "is too important to leave to the generals."

The generals, it is said, always train to fight the last war, not the next one. At least the armed forces are aware of this, and take steps to mitigate their retro tendency. Many civilians are not so aware.

I believe if the only war you know is Vietnam, then you don't know war. You don't know that Nam was a blip, and not the usual course of waging war. And you may not understand the usual course of ongoing democracy, either.

Unfortunately, since for many people Vietnam was their "last war," they try to repeat it. It is as if they see a big boulder marked Decision, with ropes for a tug of war wrapped around it, and it is being tugged over the war/no war line by a slim slice of the public. They think that to combat this slim majority a series of protests and strong opinions are constantly needed. For them, if the temper of the times does not allow them to protest by peace riots, marches, or occupying buildings, then they will ratchet down their protest to writing columns in the media, being quoted, and constant questioning, even unto obstruction. This is even though the war has already started, and even though there is a natural choice point, the end of our mandate, that must be renewed if the troops and the development workers are to remain. But what if the "protest-machine" they were trying to ratchet down was a civilian model for their last war, Vietnam?

It helps to have a bird's eye view of democracy. It really helps to have a perspective on capitalism, for in a business, as in a village, people try to steer by consequences, feedback and reality.  Businessmen will be open minded and brainstorming at the start of a new account, but not when halfway through a campaign. Then "you must stop brainstorming and just get on with it." The people who try to steer us by daily protest do not share my view of how the wheels go around. The  media is functional now: I don't feel so angry. When I wrote my Afghanistan Decision essay, back when after every casualty there was a media storm, to combat the decision to go intervene,  then I felt a reply was sorely needed.
Afghanistan Decision

Part II
Everyone knows that Canadian NATO troops are the keystone to sheltering civilians in Afghanistan. Our U.S. cousins are present too, of course, but their (changing) priority is Iraq. I don't know all the facts; I don't know anyone who does. To learn more I suppose I could go over to the university; I could ask the smart professor who taught me anatomy in the Physical Education building. Adjoining it is the Olympic Oval, constructed for speedskating at the 1988 winter Games. As it happens, I have interviewed the man who designed the Oval, and have published his plans, but for the following "thought experiment" please imagine another man.

Please imagine that a phys ed professor in some prairie city has been tasked to build a campus ice hockey rink. As with a software project, he would consult future users as to their desired (building) features and then get to making his plans. Perhaps a delegation of students comes by his office and asks that the building include a speed skating oval around the rink. The open-minded professor will stop, re-evaluate, and probably begin redesigning his plans. Perhaps some alumni ask that he include provision for summer indoor soccer on the rink, with removable green turf. (The Oval has this) The open-minded academic will stop, re-evaluate, and begin drafting his plans anew.

At last comes the big day. The professor will put on his best tweed suit. The first shovel full of sod is shoveled. Flashbulbs flash. Hands clap. Builders fire up their machines and get to building. Perhaps a week later people come to see the prof and ask that a new feature be added, curling sheets perhaps. Now, if he is politically astute, the man will start to polish his spectacles, saying, "Er, perhaps the sheets could be added after the building is finished, er, as an annex." Once that first sod is dug, the open-minded academic must close his mind like a steel trap.

Meanwhile, back in the classroom, his students have permission to RE-evaluate anything at any time. Nothing, not even religion, should be sacred to a student. The phys ed students of my youth went on to innovate such "un American" things as girls on a high school wrestling team, little league without score keeping, and bust-a-gut competition, right up to the international level, for ultimate, without using any referees.

Obviously I'm saying, "Let's get on with the job" until, say, 12 months before the end of the mandate. This is better than being constantly confused, weak and shaky, starting from a few years before the choice point.

Sean Crawford
As "times change, but they don't change,"
On the eternal prairies

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