Never Fight the Last Battle
Why Separatist Activism Is a Recipe For Disaster in the Trump Era
While some may roll their eyes at the idea of warfare being waged on the American people by the American government, it is not an idea without justification. For decades America has waged a war literally dubbed the “War on Drugs” which we now know had a backdoor agenda to allow the Nixon administration to legally target Black people and hippies (but mostly Black people).
Real lives have been lost due to this war — which is a type of unconventional warfare mixed with political warfare on the part of the U.S. government. Much like unconventional warfare, the agenda of the Drug War has often been loosely-defined or outright hidden (hence the statement in the first paragraph above).
However there is a different type of warfare at work on the minds of the American people and that is information warfare. We’ve seen the power of information warfare (IW) in the General Election with the proliferation of fake news that served the purpose of waging war on the minds of the American voters by spreading misinformation.
The Information war is all around us. It comes in the form of propaganda that is unverifiable and often times completely bizarre. IW is also closely linked to psychological warfare (aka psyops). There is left-wing propaganda even though there really doesn’t need to be as long as one argues from truth. Much of the most vitriolic propaganda comes from the right-wing in America. The silly notion that “Black Lives Matter is the New KKK” or “Obama is a Kenyan muslim, not an American.” The information war continues to be waged on a daily basis and the progressive Left in America must be warriors in this war of information fighting back against the falsehoods and the lies.
Much of the Islamophobic rhetoric that has become pervasive in America is a form of psyops and IW. As all of the fear-mongering about Islamic terrorism went on unchallenged, how many of the Islamaphobes told you that right-wing extremists have actually committed more acts of terrorism than Muslims? It’s not like this information is secret or hidden. Major platforms and news organizations have written on it and it’s been repeated all over the place. They don’t mention it because psychological warfare — information warfare — is being waged on your mind. The knowledge of right-wing terrorism doesn’t fit into the mold they wish to shape, so it gets ignored.
“When you and your opponent are engaged in combat which is dragging on with no end in sight, it is crucial that you should come up with a completely different technique. By refreshing your mind and techniques as you continue to fight your opponent, you fill find an appropriate rhythm-timing with which to defeat him. Whenever you and your opponent become stagnant, you must immediately employ a different method of dealing with him in order to overcome him.” — The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi, 1584–1645
It is very important that one acknowledges that warfare is being waged on us so that you’ll understand what I’m about to say next. For if one acknowledges the warfare, one cannot at the same time think it’s a good idea that Black people not speak up when atrocities happen to other communities. In a war where all non-white, non-Christian men and women are liable to be targeted by the Trump regime, we are all literally weaker when we self-segment our communities and say we’re only going to speak up when things happen to us. A unified force always trumps (no pun intended) a segmented force full of in-fighting and finger-pointing.
Black people who spread this message in the information war are spreading a problematic idea. It directly violates one of Robert Greene’s strategies in his book ‘The 33 Strategies of War.’ Greene shows that one of the worst things you can do during war (and he doesn’t specify which type of warfare, so I’m assuming it can apply to IW and Psyops too) is relitigate the past and not focus on what’s happening in the present. During an information war when psychological operations are being waged on you, Robert Greene suggests we wage guerrilla war on our own minds to keep our ideas and beliefs fluid and ever-changing.
Do Not Fight the Last War — Strategy #2 of the 33 Strategies of War
I’m going to share with you the story of the legendary Japanese swordsman and Ronin (a samurai with no master) Miyamoto Musashi. He is remembered for being undefeated in his 60 total duels and the author of ‘The Book of the Five Rings.’ It is a book on Japanese swordsmanship, tactics and combat philosophy.
One of the early duels in Musashi’s career involved fighting another young swordsman by the name of Matashichiro who came from a family that had seen defeat at the hands of the young Musashi. Musashi had defeated Matashichiro’s father and uncle earlier in the year…mere days apart from one another, so Matashichiro wanted revenge. Instead of showing up late the way he had done before, Musashi actually showed up hours early to the duel and saw that Matashichiro brought a group of warriors with him who planned to hide and ambush Musashi and cheat a victory. So Musashi instead sprung the trap early before Matashichiro and his men were ready and quickly decapitated his foe. The sight of their dead leader threw Matashichiro’s men into disarray and he quickly killed all of the warriors who had accompanied Matashichiro.
Some years later, Musashi challenged an undefeated warrior in another Japanese town named Baiken. Baiken used unique weapons that Musashi had never seen used on the battlefield before — a sickle and a long chain with a steel ball at the tip of it that could be swung to crack an opponents skull.
Musashi fought differently this time utilizing two swords — one long and one short. Baiken had never seen someone fight with two swords before and was immediately thrown off by Musashi’s unconventionality. After Musashi charged Baiken, he attacked from various angles using both weapons so that even if one weapon was taken out of combat by Baiken’s ball and chain, he’d have another ready to counter-attack. Baiken was killed in combat and defeated.
The point in all of this is to show that while Musashi’s opponents relied on the shiny weapons and tactics that had served them well in past duels, Musashi himself changed tactics depending on his opponent. Musashi didn’t fight the last war, he adapted with each and every duel.
Black people, especially those of us on the Left who consider ourselves Progressives, must STOP fighting the last war!
We are fighting the last “war”, and therefore putting ourselves into a position of weakness, on at least a couple fronts.
On one level we fight the last “war” when we protest and don’t follow it up with other actions. Protesting is fine, but it is simply one tool. I think this is something people have picked up from the Civil Rights Movement. Even though the movement was about more than just protesting, that’s the biggest thing society has taken away from that and for good reason. The sight of Black Americans being attacked with dogs and water hoses on national television for the first time in U.S. history had an embarrassing impact and helped change policy. Understand that the U.S. no longer cares about being embarrassed and blatantly hypocritical — so we’re fighting the last war when we protest and only protest thinking that’s how it worked in the 1960’s, so it’ll work again.
We also fight the last war when we use past slights and injustices (whether perceived or real) as a reason why we shouldn’t speak up about injustices against other communities happening today. Is there anti-blackness in the Islamic world? Yes definitely. There was an Arab slave trade just as there was a trans-Atlantic slave trade. Sadly anti-blackness is everywhere though. Hell, there is anti-blackness in Black America! There is anti-blackness in Africa! A major sign of anti-blackness in the black world comes in the form of colorism and skin bleaching. So surely we should not be silent when things happen to our community due to anti-blackness right?
Another flaw with this argument is the fact that any ban on Muslims will also impact black Muslims. They will not be exempt and who’s to say this ban will not be extended to target Muslims en masse one day and not even simply immigrants…but all Muslims. So not speaking up now is opening up the door for Trump to push further in the future. So once again this is fighting the last battle and instead of adapting to the present reality of a common enemy in the Trump regime and understanding the strength in numbers — we don’t learn the lesson of putting aside past slights for a common cause.
It doesn’t mean we don’t challenge anti-blackness in other communities. What I’m saying can be extrapolated to include all sorts of other movements on the Left as well where there have been issues with speaking up for Black people when we’ve been supportive of their movements. So, I’m not trying to single out any one group here. It doesn’t mean we lose the moral high ground and chose silence over action. Silence in the face of injustice is tantamount to approval.
Let’s Talk About Solutions…
How To Implement This Strategy and Wage Guerrilla War on Your Mind
Robert Greene has a few key points to make. Words of wisdom that should be heeded in these days…
“The greatest generals, the most creative strategists, stand out not because they have more knowledge but because they are able, when necessary, to drop their preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present moment.” — The 33 Strategies of War, page 21
“The better we can adapt our thoughts to changing circumstances, the more realistic our responses to them will be. The more we lose ourselves in predigested theories and past experiences, the more inappropriate and delusional our response.” — The 33 Strategies of War, Page 22
“Think of the mind as a river: the faster it flows, the better it keeps up with the present and responds to change…and the greater its energy. Obsessional thoughts, past experiences (whether traumas or successes), and preconceived notions are like boulders or mud in this river. The river stagnates and stops moving. You must wage constant war on this tendency in the mind.” — The 33 Strategies of War, Page 22
- Re-examine All Your Cherished Beliefs and Principles. Having your beliefs are fine, and this isn’t suggesting that your beliefs are necessarily wrong all the time…sometimes your beliefs are correct. However are they up-to-date? Should a struggle be fought the same way that it was in 1962, in 2017? Like Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back, unlearn what you have learned (yea I just used a Yoda quote). This applies to everything.
- Erase the Memory of the Last “War” or “Battle.” The last struggle, in this case the last protest or activist moment, can be a trap even if victories were won. If victorious (say in the Civil Rights movement), you run the risk of repeating old tactics. If it was a loss or didn’t have the outcome you desired you run the risk of over-focusing on who was and wasn’t there and pointing fingers and dividing yourselves. Just forget the last battle, war, protest, activist event…whatever you want to call it.
- Keep the Mind Moving. Superior strategists see things as they are. A superior strategist would see the value in building alliances with various communities that are not your own…but share a common enemy. Nothing in life stays the same, the laws of thermodynamics prove that and keeping up with changing circumstances requires a great deal of mental fluidity.
- Absorb the Spirit of the Times. Protests can be intoxicating, especially when there are many thousands of people involved. You become absorbed by the spirit of rebellion, take that in and use it to build for the day that comes after the protest is over. Honor the past, but don’t stay sentimentally attached to some fashion or concept of days gone by if it begins to hold you back when war is being waged on you.
Think of your mind as an army and reject notions of separating from other communities to prove some point that no one will even notice. The Black community is a collective — a group. We must adapt to the complexity of the information war against us. The guerrilla collective never repeats the same tactic, it responds to the moment and builds bridges and alliances for the present time. The guerrilla collective is pure mobility and brand new.
This should serve as a model for a new way of thinking about our interactions with outside communities going forward.
If you enjoyed reading this and would like to read more of what I’ve written, check out my blog at Black and Intellectual.