The War and the wars

Part of my recent self-education has been a protracted study of World War 2. My interest is to understand better the American nation and people during that event. And to better cast the season of my birth and early life in history. I’m a baby boomer, born to parents who were part of the Greatest Generation. Tom Brokaw coined that term, crowning that group of contemporaries with a well-deserved superlative. Their living through the Great Depression then fighting the War was their achievement.

Though as I’ve listened and studied, they would scarcely call themselves special. They only did what had to be done, living as they had to and fighting as the conflict demanded. I think their winning that war against enemies that were clearly evil also defines a resiliency and persistent determination. One that Americans can and should look to as a model forever.

The inward focus of the post-Depression created a policy and practice of isolationism that allowed the foes that arose to declare America soft and cowardly. That was a grave, fatal mistake by those regimes.  But it emboldened them to attack.

So the rise of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan both sprung from unbridled and arrogant nationalism in both of those countries. It is of interest that they would have eventually even fought each other if they had been victorious enough. Both had devotion to leadership that rose to the level of worship of evil. They were both brutal and inhumane towards other nations and people.

Once America was awakened from its slumber, fighting that war was an easy call. It was a matter of survival. And that isolated country would turn into a war machine that turned out, among other things, a combat-ready B-24 bomber every 63 minutes at the Ford Motors Willow Run manufacturing plant alone. That’s faster than they could be shot down.  The unity of the nation during the war is what won the war, though at great cost of life and material.

Since that time 70+ years ago, conflict has not ceased. The involvement of America in war has been more or less constant. The reason for that involvement has often been stated as “American interests” which is a vague enough term to encompass everything from culture to finance to political clout.

Now that isn’t necessarily bad. And war is not something done lightly; people kill and die. But it is of interest to me that the hawks and doves have fought internal wars of words about our fighting here or there.

To me, there are some guidelines to be learned from the Greatest Generation:

  1. Isolation is dangerous. A posture that presents America as an uninvolved, non-combative country just waiting to be conquered by those who are more fierce or determined creates war.
  2. Ignoring evil, aggressive regimes only ensures that you will fight them when the stakes and costs are much higher. This doesn’t cast America as the world’s nation police. But it does draw a line of what can be tolerated. I would posit that the ISIS regime is not one to be tolerated for example.
  3. A clear “good cause” is necessary for a “just war”. America was fighting those who gassed Jews and massacred Chinese. The relative knowledge the nation had of the ongoing Holocaust can be debated. But that the Nazis and Japanese were capable and bent upon such brutality was easy to see. The hell of war turned those Americans fighting it into brutal warriors as well. And be it known – It is absolutely possible that America can turn into the racist, genocidal aggressor without functioning checks and balances in our governmental decision points.
  4. Unity of good will is vital. I was going to write “unity of love” but I don’t want to overstate the case. Basically, as I look at those who fought the war, I am struck about their lack of internal polarity. For sure, blacks were still treated poorly. We must both be honest about that and that we have come a long way (and have further to go). Out of fear, American Japanese citizens were shamefully put in camps. But at large America was a nation that fought as a family. I’m sure Germany and Japan to an extent had that trait too. In fact, even more so. But at its base, theirs was a unity of fear.
  5. War is horrible but sometimes a horrible necessity. There is nothing romantic about war. It is human conflict at its most destructive. And these days as always, those who suffer the most are not soldiers. The application of the term “just war” to various conflicts can be debated and disputed ad nauseum, but fighting WW2 was necessary.

I have grown to love my parents’ generation. I hope my children do the same. They were America at its finest.

There’s a lot more to be written and considered from this historical perspective. And a lot more polarity in the air these days. What kind of posture that strikes internationally will be known a aggressors look upon America in its current state and act upon their observations. For it is no paranoid assertion to declare that such aggressors do exist. And they are not afraid to attack and destroy everything we call good.


Subverting scarcity

Seth Godin astutely writes about an economy of scarcity. Within many human institutions there is a lack of resource to be productive let alone successful. At least by conventional measurement. People end up competing for what is diminishing to gain a fleeting reward. The thrust to do more with less – and to trumpet each successful instance of that – forces unattainable expectations.  There can be great productivity breakthroughs via new processes that exercise thrift.  But there can also be a huge cost in satisfaction and general sense of well-being.

I have worked in a “cash cow” sector of a large software company where the overall business plan is one of slow death.  There is shrinking commitment to projects of any size.  And gradually, layoffs and “gear-boxing” (forced transfers) eat away at personnel.

Godin’s rosy alternative to all this is the world of connections, where everyone is enabled to succeed and thrive. All that is lacking is the courage to step out and be who we really are and … lead.

And I don’t want to deny the truth of what he writes. Certainly he himself has made a living being and doing what he says. But I do want to speak and equip the mass of humanity “stuck” in the corporate setting. Trapped as “cogs the machine” as he puts it. I have certainly operated in an environment that he describes. And it has its challenges. Difficulties can be the rule rather than the exception.

So, if you’re not one of the elite full-time bloggers or consultants of Seth Godin’s “connected economy”, how do you survive and even thrive and grow?

  1. Take inventory of what you control. No one owns your emotions but you. No one controls your thought processes and logic. At the do-it level, you probably have more say in the process of how things are done than you think. And no one controls your time away from the work but you. You can and must leverage what you control to your advantage. Those things are not scarce unless you throw them away.

  2. Innovate in small places.  It’s a lie that elegance and invention requires large outlays of time and resource.  Use the “down times” to produce that which conquers crises and eases stress due to lack.  Do personal “post mortems” to review what went right and wrong during a project or too-hectic activity.  And address the stress via preparation because it’s sure to come again.
  3. Subvert scarcity. Be a generous person. People stuck in scarcity won’t know how to handle it. Some will take advantage of it, but others will respond in kind. It’s the latter with whom to form community. Then together, find ways to foster connection within the “engine”, sharing instead of hording. It requires selflessness, but if you’ve tried the alternatives, then you’ve seen and been caught in the trap.

  4. Under duress – bend.  Realize that in difficult situations it’s not a matter of how much more you can take but really a matter of how much you’re willing to give. Realigning your thinking to know that patience – as well as forgiveness and understanding – is a commodity you both have and can regain. The impersonal effrontery that characterizes so much interaction in the economy of scarcity can make anyone short-tempered. It hurts. But composure comes back. Reflection lets us find yet more within us to give. It’s a matter of will at that point. But, because we can eventually be running on empty, we must:

  5. Get away and recharge. This is not just going home at the end of the day. It’s the 2 minute vacation, the coffee break, the quiet prayer time in the solitude of an office or meeting room. I have walked in on people in conference rooms with the lights out. They had to leave because our meeting was taking over the place, but I have never questioned what they might be doing in there. It was most likely good for them.  And us.

There is a breaking point of course. There is a level of abuse, turmoil and just raw amount of work that should make anyone leave, abandoning the enterprise being led by those stuck in fear-driven, toxic malpractice. But your freedom to do so is always with you. It is among the things under your control in 1 above.

But exercising that freedom is not often the best course. I will make the bold statement that I have never exercised patience in my professional career and failed to realize reward. I’m not just talking about salary and compensation. I mean personal reward like character growth and rich deposits of wisdom and peace. Those would happen no other way.

Finally I invite you to faith in Christ. He is my supply in the scarce economy.

Ephesians 3:16-19 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

And that .. is a lot of filling.