Chasing the Red Baron
“I submit that warfare tactics are warfare tactics. They have their place, no question. But I submit that a person who uses warfare tactics in some other realm should not do so lightly. If they do apply it elsewhere, they should do so very carefully, and not necessarily with the final goal of “winning”, but of understanding. To me, that’s where some real advancements can be achieved, in understanding the “opponent”, who may not be an opponent at all, but turn out to be an ally.”
“My love for strategy began as a child”
That first night, I surmised that you have a love for military history and WWII. You told me of your grandfather being the lead pilot for his squadron in Midway, but you didn’t tell me much else. Nevertheless, the glow in your eyes and smile when you pointed to the framed photo of his plane, your enthusiasm and your manner was familiar. My brother has always been nuts about history, but military and aviation history especially (plus automotive and maritime), so it’s easy to recognize. The shag carpet in the bedroom of most of my single-digit-ages was blue, and his was green, so my brother (with or without his friend down the street), would occasionally want to switch from the land war they were fully involved with in his room and shift the focus to aircraft carriers, battleships, and Victory At Sea in my room. Models upon models of everything and technical drawings in progress on graph paper and stationery were always around. Battles with the tiny, fussy decals were constant. The last time I went into a hobby shop, I was blown away at the sight of little glass bottles of Testors model paint lined up in a display; I hadn’t glimpsed them since roughly 1989, and I was slightly surprised at the depth of my reaction at seeing that exact same logo on those little labels again. That first evening, in a small way, being so familiar with one of your interests made me feel a little more like I was among friends, and a couple degrees less hypervigilant. (I doubt my ingrained hypervigilance will ever fully dissipate, but it’s gradually improving.)
After I found out that you and the truth don’t always get along, I started trying out publicly available information to see if anything you’d claimed was true, or if everything you told me was a construction. ‘Somewhere in the middle’ was my final conclusion, of course, but I confirmed the veracity of some things by searching the public library’s databases. Possibly most importantly, I was relieved and happy to confirm that you had told the truth about your grandfather. I found great information in the military history and U.S. history databases in the collection, plus there’s a book about the 11th bombing group that’s been digitized. I was interested to see that he must have been on the old Yorktown- the ‘new’ Yorktown has been a museum at Patriots Point back home for decades, something that delighted my brother when we moved back home from our 6-year stint in the middle of nowhere (the land of blue and green shag carpet).
What a profoundly amazing and special thing to have in your family, what a gift, truly. I know it must have always meant so much to you when you were growing up; such an example of heroism, bravery, and skill (as well as love, the more you think about it) to look up to and be a part of. I’m still so glad it’s all true.
It makes me think of a certain devastating scene in Lynch’s The Straight Story, when Farnsworth’s character and another war veteran share between them some spoken and unspoken things about the war that never go away, which is something no one but combat veterans can share. That film is so fucking good I can hardly watch it anymore because it’s so intense. Leading actor Richard Farnsworth (Comes a Horseman, The Natural) who started out as a stuntman in silents, took his own life using a gun on his ranch in New Mexico not long after that performance and its accolades. Cancer was eating him alive, and he was alone, having been a widower since 1985. I like to think that it wasn’t a matter of lack of courage that pulled the trigger, but a deep need to die on his own terms.
It should be mentioned that all my life I have been so non-competitive. Whenever a game or activity would turn into a competition, I quickly lost interest. I didn’t care much for most sports, except swimming, which of course I loved, but I treated that like play, not sport. I did like tennis, but I would be much happier trying to see how long Player 2 and I could just keep the back-and-forth going, instead of trying to beat each other. I’ve just always been like that.
Before I put down some thoughts on The Art of War…..In 2006, I was starting out with my work in libraries after several years of arranging flowers for the most overly entitled and grossly materialistic and shallow housewives in the surrounding area, and I was thrilled to have a job where ‘love of money’ was less voracious on both sides of the exchange. I didn’t want to help that particular little club of good ol’ boys make their money anymore, and I didn’t want to help these particular customers show off their wealth or help them dress up their McMansion or some other investment property anymore.
I wanted my job, my daily work, to mean something- something besides Profit Almighty at the expense of all else, which I saw all the time. I wanted my work to go towards something better than that, and after a lot of trying I managed to get a spot in a library an hour away from home. I commuted an hour each way to another county for almost 9 years, and it was worth it, on the whole. Today I still don’t get paid anything, but the benefits are not bad, and God — in the world we’re having to live in, it makes me feel better every single day that I’m doing something to help people (and not charging them for it). I hope my library system never reinstates overdue fines, which we suspended when Covid hit. That money is never equivalent to more than a small fraction of our yearly budget, and people of all ages needed less restrictions to our resources in a pandemic. I know this feels off-topic, but hang on.
I consider The Art of War to be a brilliant and useful document in different ways, and it can be applied in other realms besides matters of tactical warfare, absolutely. I just abhor a particular mindset of Winning At All Times that is so prevalent in our society- a mindset that likes to hijack things like that book’s content to use in a wrongheaded way. Always Win is a misguided objective that’s been seemingly more prevalent since the 1980’s and that decade’s magical validation of Greed, Gordon Gekko style- a repulsive character from the film Wall Street who conspicuously quotes The Art of War several times. The Art of War gained a lot of widespread popularity from stuff like Michael Douglas/Charlie Sheen vehicles- things that stay in the culture and keep influencing more and more people, for better or for worse. The corporate world loves that book, and corporations are all human beings, or at least exist as “people”, a twisted concept, in my opinion. I don’t think the rights of corporations are human rights the way women’s rights are human rights. That’s pretty much what a lot of lobbyists and scores of obscenely wealthy executives, many of which routinely consult The Art of War, would want people to think.
Luckily, I don’t work in a setting where management is expected to consider The Art of War as a guiding text and an example to follow. Apparently in many places in the world of business, The Art of War is commonly considered encouraged reading- not with an expectation that its wisdom be applied appropriately, but with an expectation to use it for achieving Winning, and nothing else.
That first year of working in libraries, I placed so many holds on that title for so many people, I got curious. Different sorts of people request it, many of them at a some type of social disadvantage. It’s still likely to be checked out in any given library, physically or digitally, if you drop in and look. And I could point out to you all the copies of The Art of War in our circulation database that are in “Lost” status, which means it was checked out years ago and never got returned. Some were honestly lost, but there’s plenty of different works that are regularly stolen from public libraries and The Art of War is certainly one of them. Another is called The 48 Laws of Power and is directly influenced by Sun Tzu.
Hey, I’m happy anybody wants to read a Goddamn book. Fuckin’ hooray, knock yourself out! But in my personal experience with that title, checking it out to people and noting its popularity in other arenas besides the military, a significant amount of people use it as an Asshole’s Guide To Life, or aspire to become bigger assholes that “win” more often. I’m not thinking that’s what Sun Tzu was intending when he authored The Art of War. And after all, isn’t the concept of winning subjective as hell? Winning means different things to different people, does it not? People successfully playing a Long Game who are not even close to being assholes may have surprising opinions to share with us about Winning.
I am deeply interested in what Sun Tzu might have contributed to the conversation between the two war veterans in The Straight Story. The two of them were so afflicted with what they’ve had to carry inside- these memories, these burdens of people who have survived the wide awake nightmare of modern combat- of any warfare- they could barely look one another in the eye as they spoke alone to each other, the pain was so great. What would Sun Tzu have uttered at that shabby bar, in the company of others who understood? I will not know.
I submit that warfare tactics are warfare tactics. They have their place, no question. I submit that a person who uses warfare tactics in some other realm should not do so lightly. If they do apply it elsewhere, they should do so very carefully, and not necessarily with the final goal of “winning”, but of understanding. To me, that’s where some real advancements can be achieved, in understanding the “opponent”, who may not be an opponent at all, but turn out to be an ally. And then everyone wins: win-win. That kind of winning, I can get behind. If it turns out Sun Tzu said something similar, I’d be thrilled.
I’d be even more thrilled if he said plenty more shit about not getting into a war in the first place and steering the action to a more productive outcome. No loss of life, building instead of destroying, and maybe the enemy doesn’t have to be an enemy at all if you don’t treat them like one.
That’s an angle we don’t see enough of. More peaceful, less destructive…But less profitable, perhaps, in the Short Game. War tactics are sometimes inappropriate and not applicable or advisable, especially if you want to prevent a war.
You spoke of your love of strategy, which requires skill, but what of your strategy for love? It feels so pointless and such a waste to not be together when we like and love each other- what is wrong with the usual process of getting to know someone- like enjoying ourselves and seeing where things go? Are you satisfied with the efficacy of your approach in your relationships? I feel that putting so much of your focus on strategy and getting ‘control’ of our relationship was damaging and helped banish trust instead of foster it. When I told you the truth and you wouldn’t accept it, you went further away from me, further away into a bog of suspicion and warfare tactics, yet you also seemed to care for me, sometimes. It’s been so confusing; however, I have kept trying, and keep trying with you- partly because I keep trying to understand you, and understand why you make the curious, destructive, hurtful decisions you make sometimes. Especially the mysterious decisions that affected me so much, that affected my life so much. I kept trying because it’s frustrating to be objectified (without my consent) and not be allowed to be heard, especially when I (clearly) have a lot to say. I kept trying because the universe felt wrong without you, and I thought you felt the same, somewhere in there. And of course I keep trying now because I love you and I just want you to wake up.
Wake up, darling,
from a war that was a dream.
I’m right here.
Let’s go work on some cool Aurora Monsters and Ratfink models we could be putting together, Lol. I’d have so much fun doing that with you. And other things. So many other things.
I just can’t face never seeing you or hearing you or touching you again because I love you so much.
I also don’t want to be a casualty, not when my life is finally turning around; I can’t let this tear me apart.
Are you alone, now?
I’m so sorry about your kitten running away, that’s awful. Hugs for you.
Perhaps I could bring you something soft, to pet and feel better.