Thursday, November 10

The Worst of All Possibilities

This essay is a guest contribution by Annlee A. Hines

I love long distance contests. They’re about endurance rather than speed, and speed is just not my forte. I recall an interview with Boris Becker, where the journalist asked him about the number of five-set matches he’s won in his career, and he said that the fifth set had nothing to do with tennis and everything to do with will.

I remember another interview, with Pam Reed, who had won the previous two years’ Badwater Ultra (setting the course record in 2002; the race is Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, 135 miles) and would finish fourth in the current year’s race, which they were chronicling.

Diane Sawyer asked that early-forties woman why ultras were so often won by people in their 50s and even 60s. Reed replied that she thought maybe it was because ultras require patience, and the young have little patience for much of anything.

I do my distance training on an elliptical, having beaten up my joints refereeing too many soccer games on very hard ground. I still love the game, and would play and officiate again if I had less good sense. But I know that there will be consequences for my body, and I’m old enough to appreciate that there’s only so much medicine can do to mend the damage. I’m an engineer by trade, so I understand a patched system is never as strong or as capable as the original. So I spectate, and I appreciate.

One of the skills of a good soccer player is heading the ball, yet it’s something most non-players, especially parents, wince at. The key is going to meet the ball, heading it, not letting it simply hit your head. It really does hurt far less that way, but it requires an effort of will to learn that through your own experience. However, once the initial fear of discomfort, even pain, is overcome, you can do remarkable things meeting the ball with your head on your terms.

Unfortunately, we have far more spectators than players in this universe. We prize rule of law, and (I believe) rightfully so. But a comment made about the overemphasis on law made me think: lawyers, by training, want to minimize, if not outright eliminate, risk for their clients.

Sometimes, like the soccer player meeting the ball rather than avoiding it, we ought to mitigate risk rather than minimize it. But only those who are, or have been, players understand that.

Those who have only been spectators see only the risk and want it eliminated. Being spectators, they don’t understand that it can never be eliminated.

How much of our conflicts about the direction America should take are like that disconnect between the players and the spectators? How much is about the desire by those who are not actually responsible -- and thus, have nothing to lose by being wrong -- to have perfection, a total elimination of risk, a situation of not one mistake being made?

Those who are, or have been, players know that what you see from the sidelines is a wholly different perspective from what you see on the field; the angles of view are simply too divergent to see the same situation in the same way.

Further, the player is right there in the middle of it; he or she must make a choice and live with the consequences. The spectator can critique the consequences of someone else’s choice and even replay the contest, thanks to modern technology, pointing out how the player should have seen this and done that.

The players may have a chance later to review but are too busy dealing with the consequences of their choices, and the choices of the other players, to kibitz during the heat of contest.

And only the player really understands that the outcome of the game is a result of the choices made by all the players in the game, our side and their side, too. That applies to war as well; as the military often says, the enemy gets a vote, too; he makes choices that impact what choices we should make (among the choices now available to us because of his choices and our past choices, and so on).

The Duke of Wellington purportedly said, “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”

And General Douglas MacArthur, who had served as the Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) before serving as the Supreme Allied Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area in World War II, said, “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory.”

MacArthur's observation was part of his basis for requiring of every cadet a rigorous physical education and participation in athletics, a requirement which still stands.

How have we forgotten this?

That brings me to Winston Churchill. For how many years was he a voice in the political wilderness, a man of will and endurance, a man whose ideas were scorned as simplistic?

His stance was not nuanced enough, I suppose -- a criticism from the spectators who hadn’t done a tenth of what he had across locations in the British Empire. Churchill was a player rather than a spectator.

In the time of their greatest hour of need the British turned again for leadership to a player rather than a spectator. Yet it was not until Britain was shoved into a desperate fight for survival did it recognize and fully admit that need. Until then, Churchill was too politically incorrect to tolerate.

I doubt I would have had his patience and his willingness to wait, to remain in the political game despite his lousy score for so long. Yet defending democracy over the long haul makes it incumbent upon us to have the will, the endurance, the patience to remain players in the game.

The stakes are fully as high now as they were in the 1930s -- and at times, we are still voices in the political wilderness because the old appeasement crowd has not been swept out entirely, especially, as Pundita reminds us, from Foggy Bottom.

We may take breaks, we may rest at half-time, yet it needs to be a half-time of our choosing and no one else’s. We must stay in the game or we shall cede the field. When we cede the field to the appeasers it’s only a question of “How long?” before they cede the entire match to the enemy. In seeking to avoid the worst they lead us to the worst of all possibilities.

The enemies we face today, whether Islamic fascists or transnational organized crime syndicates, despise the very things that define democracies, and so we are truly in a fight for our survival. Winston Churchill had some advice in 1941 about how we should wage such a fight:

“Never give in -- never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

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