Losing wars and chocolate biscuits

Published: Thu, 02/23/23

Last Sunday I was preaching on the text from chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel which begins with the statement:
‘You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ Then Jesus continues with the famous injunction: ‘However I tell you that if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer them the left.’ and two other similar suggestions for de-escalating conflict.
Does ‘turning the other cheek’ rather than taking full retaliatory measures, make you a victim rather than someone who stands up for themselves? It may be that this advice doesn’t necessarily apply when it comes to defending the weak and vulnerable. If I had real reason to believe that someone was going to harm or abduct my daughter then I don’t care too much who else gets hurt as long as she is safe. However, my concern for my little girl could still be used to set me up to look like I was a dangerous maniac, especially if the detail that I even have a daughter was left out of later reports. Being selective with the facts is called propaganda and that is how wars are started and the consent to continue them is managed.
The problem with the ‘eye for an eye etc’ response to an attack is that initially the conflict will be prolonged and probably escalated. In the longer term a consistent and predictable response to conflict situations actually makes you very vulnerable if your enemy works out a way of using your responses against you. In both World wars of the 20th century the German military started off as, arguably, the most formidable fighting force in each conflict. The Germans also had a military doctrine of always counter attacking in response to enemy advances. By 1918, the last year of the Great War, the British military had developed a strategy of bite and hold. A limited advance into German lines would be followed up with the inevitable counter attack. The British would also have a carefully planned artillery response ready which would inflict the maximum casualties and losses on the German troops tasked with the counter offensive. It
wasn’t the only factor which won the war for the allies, but it helped.
In 1942 General Montgomery took over command of the 8th Army in North African where it was struggling to hold back the German forces commanded by Field Marshall Rommel. Montgomery was familiar with both the German doctrine of counter attacking and had direct of experience of ‘bite and hold’ from his service in the previous war. Thanks to the very long supply lines from Nazi Germany to North Africa it was difficult for Rommel to replace losses of either men or equipment. So, Montgomery implemented a strategy he called ‘crumbling’ the enemy’s forces. There would be limited attacks backed up with heavy concentrations of artillery, especially anti-tank weapons. The inevitable counter attacks would simply provide opportunities to destroy as many as possible of Rommel’s tanks and other resources. When Montgomery judged that his opponent’s forces were sufficiently degraded he launched what is now known as the Battle of El Alamein. The
success of the 8th Army is driving the German forces back to Algeria was the first Allied success of the conflict and is often considered to have turned the tide of the war.
A few weeks ago I took my daughter, Iduna, to a toddler play group hosted by Beverley Minster. A small boy was rampaging around the room causing general mayhem and he marched up to Iduna and pushed her quite hard in the chest. I saw that she didn’t fall over and found myself encouraging her to give the little rascal a push back. Instead, her face creased up and she came and cried on her Daddy’s lap. Wendy, the very nice lady vicar, noticed the distress and came over to find out what the problem was. I explained why Iduna was upset, so Wendy went and fetched a very nice chocolate biscuit and my daughter cheered up immediately. Iduna is very strong and has no fear of engaging of rough and tumble with either of her parents. I admit I have taught her a trick or two which other children are unlikely to know. You could say that the little boy had a lucky escape. On the other hand Iduna’s actual response got my little girl a cuddle,
sympathy, and a nice chocolate biscuit, and probably saved me the embarrassment of explaining to an angry mother how a certain little boy got a black eye.
Same principle of conflict, just a different scale. What the German losses in 2 wars and Iduna’s toddler encounter do have in common is that the response to aggression was automatic and not deliberately chosen. (I am assuming that my daughter didn’t make a cynical calculation that a cuddle and a chocolate biscuit was a better outcome than the satisfaction of teaching her tormentor a well deserved lesson in respect for bodily autonomy. I could be wrong of course, she is very smart and can be very manipulative.)
The foundation of Principles Based Martial Arts is AIM, action, intention, movement which simply means using a balance of action and movement to fulfill conscious intentions for which you take full responsibility. One way of interpreting the passage I started with is simply that an eye for an eye response is automatic to the point of being unconscious. No responsibility need be taken for the response, or the outcome from making the response. However, if we take responsibility for our intentions, by, for example, choosing to turn the other cheek rather than automatically hitting back, the direction of a conflict and the likely outcome can be managed in a manner of our own choosing.
It is easy enough to teach the principle of AIM through practical drills with the cudgel or walking stick. Two other elements can be explored at the same time. Redundancy, which is protecting oneself for when the plan does not unfold exactly as intended, as in ‘no plan ever survives contact with the enemy’. Also, chaos points which is the moment in time and space when an opponent is most susceptible to redirection or even control.
The greatest change you can make in any aspect of your life is simply to take responsibility for your intentions and act consciously to fulfill your intentions. Martial arts is as good a way as any to practice transforming unconscious responses into deliberate intentions.
PS Still a couple of places at the seminar this Saturday the 25th of February http://iceandfire.org.uk/salisbury250223.html

PPS Or join us for three days in July for this year’s Stavcamp http://stavcamp.org/

Graham Butcher
21 Beaver Road
Beverley East Yorkshire HU17 0QN

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