W. Thomas Smith, Jr

I know how to fight. Like most American boys – and perhaps a few girls – I learned the very basics of fighting on the playground in elementary school.

I’m not talking about specific fighting techniques, those would come much later: I’m talking about lessons learned about fighting that would shape my – and many others’ – understanding of fighting whether it be in a schoolyard, an alleyway, a boxing ring, or a battlefield.

The first, perhaps most important, two lessons I learned are that once committed to the fight, you have to see the fight through to its ultimate decision, and you have to win. The two are accomplished by: Fighting with skill and fury. Taking advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses. Never permitting the opponent to exploit your own weaknesses. And never wavering when tired, injured, or outmatched.

It sounds simple, and perhaps to some, simple-minded. But it is the only way to consistently win fights. And unfortunately, fighting is sometimes necessary.

Sure, there are some who would argue that in some instances, you should cut your losses and move on. True. There is some value in cutting losses, but usually very little in moving on. Fact is, fighters who regularly win almost never quit in the midst a fight. They don’t concede defeat while still engaged. They don’t waver or become disoriented when hit with a surprise left hook. Nor do they slow-up or let down their guard when their opponent is on the ropes. Because to do any one of those things means “game over” and rarely ever to the good of the quitter.


Let’s look at the Vietnam War as an example of “game over” and without benefit to the quitter:

On April 25, 1975 – less than a week before the South Vietnamese capital fell to the Communists – a U.S. military delegation met with North Vietnamese officials in Hanoi to discuss the issue of Americans missing-in-action. At one point during the meeting, U.S. Army Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. turned to his North Vietnamese counterpart and said, “You know, you never beat us on the battlefield.”

The Vietnamese official thought for a moment, then responded. “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”

Now, we could argue all day about whether America’s involvement in Vietnam was right or wrong. But that too is irrelevant.

What matters are that we were initially committed to the fight. We ultimately lost the war. The lives of 58,000 Americans were sacrificed without gain. And there are several reasons why (all of which violate the basic schoolyard lessons for winning fights).

• We went into the fight with no real intention of seeing the fight through to a decisive end.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor. He is the author of six books, and he has covered war and conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and Lebanon. Visit him online at http://www.uswriter.com.
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