The Wrestler and Clausewitz War Trinity
The moment I stepped onto that Wrestling mat in Kansas, during my title fight for the State Championship, lightweight division, I knew... I never even liked the sport of Wrestling. I was a natural runner and footballer, not a wrestler. The year was 1964, the beginning of the Vietnam War, known to the North Vietnamese as the Kháng chiến Ching Mỹ or the Resistance War Against America, and then also, simply, the American War.
Since I had been ‘moved’ by authorities to another high school in another small Kansas town because of my intellectual inclinations and class interests which were not compatible with my family environment, I had to turn to Wrestling. There was no cross-country team in the other high school I had been placed for the duration of my final year in high school. In my senior year, I was only interested in a romantic way in reading history, studying in a very primitive way the art of War, which also included my interest in girls and my travel fantasies of far-off countries like France or the Soviet Union.
Such was my introverted world. I only knew vaguely about a writer called “Clausewitz”, but at that time, the idealization of Napoleon and his military talents were more intriguing to me. Thus, like all 'normal' schoolboys, I knew nothing theoretical of the art of Wrestling that I practiced.
The great symbolism of Wrestling and its methodology within the framework of War, and instilled with the three tendencies Clausewitz saw in the object of War, which he magnified so profoundly in his great work On War, would have had no impression upon me then, even had I been aware of his conceptions. Of the Trinity, I only knew of the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost. I would only learn later in my older age about the Trinity of War which Clausewitz articulated, “the original violence" of its essence, the first being "hate and enmity," the second which is “the play of probabilities and chance” and the third “the subordinate character of a political tool” meaning the laws a nation imposes on the people in the implementation of War.
When I stood in front of my opponent, I had literally no particular respect for him. Like myself, he was a Mexican American student, but in his case, he was also blind and deaf. In my naiveté, I held no hatred in the Sports adversary sense toward him, nor even the slightest class enmity. I simply was wondering how he had made it to the final championship round. My first tactical error, which adversaries make in Sports or War, is underestimating your enemy’s courage, self-confidence and his deduction of your strengths and weakness.
During this championship bout, there were 2 rounds each of three minutes duration. They were to be the longest rounds of any duel in my life. For the first few minutes, when we had to have a lock-up of arms, my adversary -- since he was deaf and blind he was operating by touch, instinct, and training -- yanked me violently by the shoulder and knocked me down to the gleaming white mat. He took me down! He rode me and attempted to pin me with an inexorable toughness until almost the last minute of the match, when through sheer fear and exhortation, I was able to escape by sliding away from the grip of his grasping arms and entwined legs.
What occurred in my escape from being almost pinned to the mat, was what Clausewitz termed the quality of probability or chance, the “probability” being my own creativity and willingness to take the “chance” in the escape and not staying static. I have since learned as a military historian and battle theorist that much military and political leadership in modern armies, both in the West and East, have adopted hubristic thinking that they know everything about the nature of War and that if only they have the upper hand in modern technology, then they will be victorious on the battlefield.
To win in War, they forget there must also be a political hatred for the enemy, a violent interaction towards the enemy based on perceived superiority of a higher moral/political standard far more creative and healthy in a social sense, regarding the progress of human history.
During the 30-second break between the first and second round, my Wrestling coach took me into a corner near the bleachers, where the crowd sitting and cheering as all Sports crowds do in such a heated event, and he uttered chilling words to me about my so-far disastrous performance. “Do you want to go to Vietnam? Do you want to go there and die?” he demanded, a harsh glare to his eyes.
I shook with absolute fear and stammered, “No! No, I don’t want to go to that War!”
My coach, a brilliant wrestler during his university days, shot back, “Then, if you do not want to go to Vietnam and you want to get a Sports scholarship to a university, you know what you have to do? You understand this is a War between you and him? You have a choice, either win this championship or you will be drafted into the army, and you will go to a War on the other side of the world, and I will not be able to help you! Do you understand? Go back on that mat and fight using all the skills I have taught you!”
The grim look on my coach's face terrified me. I went back on the mat and within less than 30 seconds, I took my opponent down in an arm-drag, and I was able to ride him until the end of the period. When the bell finally rang, and the referee held up my hand in victory, the deaf and blind student begin to cry, his hot tears streaming down his face. I looked at him with empathy, but also with a hardness, leaning toward him, saying “You may have lost the championship, but if I had lost this title bout with you, this duel, I would have ended up going to War in Vietnam! Do you understand?"
The tearful young man, of my own age and similar colonialized class and ethnic background, stared at me dumbfounded, then hugged me and walked away from the mat. The political tool, through the “province of pure intelligence” which Clausewitz explicated so keenly with his creation of the Theory of War, I had to apply here in real life, in practical terms, for my very survival and nothing less.
When discussing in our time the issue of non-state Warfare, which is War conducted by nation-states utilizing proxy armies within the framework of a political screen or an ambush-style “hunting blind” as used by hunters in their quest to kill waterfowl, or advocating so-called Hybrid Warfare, then the modern military theorist, with the utmost humility, should understand the “strange trinity” Clausewitz chronicled in the second half of Book I in his classic work, On War.
Whether the United States armed forces would ever learn such a lesson is problematic, as the U.S. indulgence in endless Wars, including proxy Wars, goes unabated. Now Pentagon generals have admitted their incursion of American troops and advisors in the southwest corner of Niger. What can be questioned is have they lost themselves in the abreaction of the Theory of War in relation to the actuality of real life, which, as we see, results in further loss of life, like those American soldiers ambushed in a rural area in Niger.
As a retired U.S. Colonel stated in a NPR interview, “In almost all of the missions, the Americans are there to advise, assist and train African militaries — and not to take part in combat. Still, those supporting roles can often take U.S. forces into the field with their African partners, as was the case in Niger”.
The missions are different, the article went on to point out, but "obviously if they're out in a high-threat environment, they're going to be prepared for combat as a contingency," said Dan Hampton, retired Army Colonel at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a think-tank sponsored by the Defense Department””.
One may ask, what are the military consequences of a continuation of endless war, perpetual wars, by the United States? I am reminded in both a personal and professional way of Clausewitz's caveat, “…[W]e would do well to think of two wrestlers. Each tires by physical force to compel the other to do his will, his immediate object is to overthrow his adversary and thereby make him incapable of any further resistance”, and then I remember my student days of living in a fantasy world until suddenly I am warned by my Wrestling coach of the actual and very real world and its potential for dire repercussions.