“Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.” Karl von Clausewitz
“Terrorists function by capturing our imagination, turning our imagination against us, and causing us to overreact,” Yuval Noah Harari
Spiritual experiences have four common components: constant awareness of one’s own inevitable death, total focus on the present moment, the valuing of other people’s lives above one’s own, and being part of a larger religious community. All four of these exist in combat. The big difference is that the mystic sees heaven and the warrior sees hell. Karl Marlantes
In his legendary 19th century strategic treatise vom Kriege (On War), Carl von Clausewitz articulates several key principles of successful military strategy. “Fog of war” is Clausewitz’s way of describing the opaqueness and resultant uncertainty inherent in any military campaign. Military planners must take into consideration that conditions on the ground will vary from war to war, even from battle to battle; and thus not assume that strategies that work in one situation will necessarily translate to another.
In Clausewitz’s book he discusses a concept in war called “friction.” He says it is the “only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper.” Friction is caused mainly by the danger of war, by war’s demanding physical efforts, and by the presence of unclear information or the “fog of war.” It is to this matter of friction that I will turn to in this week’s digest. What is it? How does it impact you and me? How do we overcome friction in order to participate in and to contribute to this war in a way that leads to victory instead of defeat?
I want to settle this once and for all. We are in a war, not a conventional one where our young men go off to fight and then send stories home, including the occasional dramatic photo. It is a battle that is being waged around the entire world. It is quietly creeping closer and closer to our front door. The problem lies in the reality that for most of us we still hold only to a conceptual understanding of how wars are fought and not a visceral one. Conceptual combat skills will not win wars which are being fought with flesh and blood. There is a great possibility that someone close to us will have to die before we understand that the war is real.
Clausewitz has written a well thought out work to help us understand the nature of war and how wars are fought. In it are important lessons concerning our roles in this globally physical, as well as ideological struggle. He begins by discussing how critical it is for all of society to agree and to commit to fight until the the battle is won. This may in fact be the greatest obstacle to overcome.
Clausewitz divides society into three parts: civil population, government and military. Today I would like to deal primarily with the military and the visceral struggle of war.
In his work, Clausewitz presents three separate categories concerning the elements of war. These will assist us in our understanding of the nature of warfare.
First, the intrinsically dangerous nature of war means that in an atmosphere of blood, bullets, and bombs, “the light of reason is refracted in a manner quite different from that which is normal in academic speculation.” Only the exceptional soldier keeps his incisive judgment intact during the heat of battle.
Second, physical effort in war also produces friction: “If no one had the right to give his views on military operations except when he is frozen, or faint from heat and thirst, or depressed from privation and fatigue, objective and accurate views would be even rarer than they are.” Clausewitz hence reminds strategists not to forget the immense effect of physical effort upon the soldiers engaging in combat.
Third, ambiguous information in war is an element which Clausewitz says distinguishes real war from theoretic war. Although strategists should gauge plans by probabilities, it is sometimes impossible to do so during war, when most intelligence is indeterminate: “… A General in time of war is constantly bombarded by reports both true and false; by errors arising from fear or negligence or hastiness; by disobedience born of right or wrong interpretations, of ill will, of a proper or mistaken sense of duty, of laziness, or of exhaustion; and by accidents that nobody could have foreseen. In short, he is exposed to countless impressions, most of them disturbing, few of them encouraging….”
In my opinion it is the third category of war, ambiguous information that shapes the battlefield to which we are exposed on a daily basis. There is a landscape of false narratives, misinformation and confusing events and situations which most of us are not able to discern. How do we survive and overcome in an environment that feels so stacked against us?
The global war against terrorism is pervasive. It is a struggle fought not only with blood, bullets and bombs, but also with ideas, the internet and lies. It is a conflict which can be realized as we lie awake in bed at night afraid to go to sleep. It is a war that will be fought out in our malls, parks, schools or any place we decide to go. It is a war that must be contested in reality, not simply perceived as another concept to which we acquiesce, such as the paranormal, phobias or premonitions.
The secondary and tertiary goals of terrorism such as fear and anxiety are real and are being inserted into the war raging around us with great effectiveness. Last year (2017) 83% of US adults said that terrorism was one of the significant factors in determining their travel plans for vacations. It is apparent that terrorists do not have to kill to fulfill their ambitions. They can control many situations of our lives simply by creating fear. Terrorists can shape the destinies of a lot of countries, cities and communities, by instilling a sense of fear revolving around that specific place. As an example, the total economic impact of 9/11 is realistically immeasurable; however the World Travel and Tourism Council has estimated the decrease of the travel and tourism demand world wide to be ten percent. This equates to the job losses of 8.8 million people globally. This includes airlines, hotels, tour operators, car rental agencies and credit card companies, creating a 1.7% decrease of total GDP for the world economy. That is a staggering effect when considering the attack only involved nineteen terrorists.
My point is that terrorism is a form of warfare that few of us understand or even care to comprehend. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war. We would just as well desire for it to go away without being noticed. It is not, however going anywhere anytime soon. We, all of us, need to not allow it to control us. We need to get ahead of it. We can do that by being aware, educated on the implications of terrorism and by being prepared to act as well. After all, this affects our families, communities and cities. We must not succumb to the spirit of confusion or to the oppressiveness of fear of terrorism.
We as Christians ought to understand the “fog of war” better than most. The spiritual warfare in which we engage is inexhaustible. It never lets up; it never faints.
Understanding the proven principles of war are essential for us as Christians. However, it seems to me that as the war on terror feels ephemeral and distant, so too does spiritual warfare for most. In the West, most spiritual warfare is still being fought at a purely conceptual level. We get the concept of warfare, but the blood, bullets and bombs part is a nuisance to us. We would rather not have to deal with it. Our enemy is perfectly happy to allow us to feel that way. As a matter of fact, the more we desire that kind of conflict-free life, the happier he is to oblige us to live our spiritual lives without any spiritual activity.
The way we understand many things in the physical realm will directly effect how we view things in the spiritual realm. If we look at physical war as a distant and far off enterprise, odds are we will view spiritual warfare in the same way, even though we are being seduced by it daily.
Our spiritual experiences and physical warfare share strong similarities. As Christians, our experiences with spiritual warfare match that of physical war in at least four ways.
- There is a constant awareness of one’s own inevitable death.
- There is a total focus on the present moment.
- There is a valuing of other people’s lives above one’s own.
- There is the fact that we are part of a larger community.
All four of these exist in spiritual warfare as well as in physical combat. I’d like to propose that how one prepares for spiritual warfare will likely be a reflection of how one prepares for or ignores physical combat. Let’s look at these spiritual components of our faith briefly to see how the Bible would instruct us in each area.
1. There is a constant awareness of one’s own inevitable death. -(Romans 5:12) “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned..”
2. There is a total focus on the present moment. -(Matthew 6:34) “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
3. There is a valuing of other people’s lives above one’s own. -(Philippians 2:3) “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;…”
4. There is the fact that we are part of a larger community. -(Romans 12:4-5) “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
These are just a few scriptural examples of what it means to be a spiritual soldier. I hope you can see that the similarities between a follower of the teachings of Christ and an enlisted soldier in war are quite remarkable.
Our action, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33) Look for Him first. Be prepared to receive and take hold of all He has prepared for you. This only comes by rising above the “fog of war.” Knowing His word (reading your Bible), staying in contact with Him (praying), allows his followers to strengthen and prepare you (his community) to share this Good News with the world, starting at your front door.
“Armies require training, preparation and intelligence but victory ultimately depends on the commander’s strength of will to carry out his plans in spite of doubt, danger and uncertainty.” Karl von Clausewitz —Our Commander is more than able. He’s got this!