[May 2, 2020] Guest blogger Edward M. Kennedy III is a product of WAR. In today’s article Edward crushes those who think they understand war. He delivers to us the fundamentals of war. This gray-haired, lion-maned HUNTER OF MEN is always on the lookout to educate his betters in politics, business, and especially in the military. He delivers a somber but real element needed for those hungry for leadership lessons from war.
Union General William Tecumseh Sherman once famously said that “war is hell” but he also said that war’s “glory is all moonshine.” For my friends who know me, they know that I am a creation of war. My family’s lineage harks from great battles of the past; back to the misty days of pre-modern England to at least the Hundred Years’ War 1337-1453. And I, from the frustrating yet exciting battlefields of Vietnam, where an elusive enemy sprang up to give us an honest fight in a war our political elites squandered. War is the natural state of man and as soon as we acknowledge that article of truth, the sooner we can learn from war. Lessons from war are hard, yet our Western values will inevitably get in our way of learning them.
The first lesson. Fear is a good advisor. Fear keeps us focused; it is the demonstration that we are alive; it pushes us beyond our abilities; and it makes us feel our humanity. Yet, there is no passion so contagious as that of fear. In the dirt and the blood of the battlefield, an enemy determined to kill you cannot deprive you of your humanity unless you allow it within your own weaknesses. The most difficult thing we do as men of war is to accept fear and let it motivate us to do right when others are losing their heads.
The second lesson. The fog of war is lethal. Is history doomed to repeat itself? I don’t think so. If there is one thing we can learn from war is that the outcome is unknown, how we will behave is unpredictable, and the more we know about war the less we know. Such unpredictability combined with the most basic element of man’s nature, is a lethal combination. Those who claim that there are rules governing warfare are bound to die in the fog of the unknown. Yet their philosophies built upon such uniformed thinking certainly won’t liberate us or clarify our understanding of warfare.
The third lesson. Be prepared. Yes, I was a boy scout but in the most non-traditional sense, without the uniform or accouterments that go with the rank. What scouting taught me was the most-primal lesson of all mankind; be prepared for anything and be willing to own your life. If life throws a curveball and you’re not ready, you will be hit and deservedly so. If you fail, it matters not what others have done or not done, you have failed. The only solution is to be prepared. I laugh at those who think failure is a step to learning, it is not. Failure is failure and the sign of a man who in not manly.
The fourth lesson. Learn to learn. The unofficial motto of the U.S. Marines is “improvise, adapt, overcome.” There is no substitute for using the six inches between our ears to make sense of the world and take action. Keep moving. Stay the course. Don’t give up the ship. All these words mean one simple thing. If you learn, you will adapt and succeed; there is no substitute and no excuses allowed. You can achieve this by winning; winning in everything you do. I just returned from an exotic “trip” to northern Iraq to participate in an unofficial sweep of Shia insurgents in the provinces near Sulaymaniyah. My job was to learn their methods and use those methods against them, teach the Iraqi National Guard how to fight on insurgent terms, and … what other way to say it … kick butt.
Whenever someone tells you that there are lessons from “war” and they can tell you want those lessons might be, stop and think. War doesn’t drive decisions for those who are fearful, can see in the fog, are prepared, and learn quickly. War is man’s natural state. And, while peace is a byproduct of war, we have yet learned how to come to terms with the benefits of peace or learn that war produces what all men need.