Establishing rules of engagement


By Bill Taylor

It seems to me that my memory box somehow has a will of its own. By that I mean how sometimes I can’t remember something I want to recall while other times I find my mind is registering an incident or detail from the past that just pops up. I’m sure those really smart people who study such things can come up with an explanation involving cognitive associative relationships of the subconscious mind or whatever but I just figure my memory has a will of its own – that’s easier.

Anyway, the reason this has come up is that a single sentence from a book I read several years ago has made its appearance and I can’t shake it. I don’t recall the name of the book or anything about its subject but the author was Randy Wayne White who writes slam-bang adventure novels. The sentence which somehow has been buried in my memory until now is, “In any conflict the rules of engagement are defined by the side with the least concern for morality.” I’m pretty sure that’s an exact quote, but if it isn’t, it’s mighty close.

Ok, let’s get a couple of definitions. What are “rules of engagement”? Generally speaking they are rules or directives to military forces, including individuals, defining the circumstances, conditions, degree, manner, and limits on the use of force or provocative actions that may be applied. Rules of engagement also normally indicate what measures are considered unacceptable. “Morality”, according to Webster’s, consists of “principles of right and wrong in conduct.”

Ever since this observation by Mr White has come up I’ve been thinking about its implications for conflicts we are engaged in or witnessing these days. At first I figured this concept meant both “the side with the least concern for morality” and the opposing side would employ the same rules of engagement, but after looking more closely I realize this usually isn’t the case. Furthermore, I have realized “conflict” doesn’t necessarily involve military action. There are lots of other types of conflicts, including political ones, with “rules of engagement.”

Probably the most obvious example of Mr White’s observation is the global- wide conflict involving those who are part of a belief system that not only permits inflicting mass murder and injury on innocent people but actually encourages and justifies these acts. By any standard but their own, their “rules of engagement” incorporate an immoral, wanton disregard for the lives of those who are not of their belief system. On the other hand, these same folks demand those they attack conform to a set of “rules of engagement” which incorporate the utmost respect for human life – and includes multiple safeguards to ensure the rules are followed. And so in this arena of conflict the rules of engagement are most certainly defined by the side with the least concern for morality.

We might take a passing acknowledgment that when it comes to rules of engagement, the option of “non-engagement”, that is, doing nothing, is most often preferred by the current occupant of the White House. While the government of Ukraine has repeatedly asked this country for defensive weapons to counter those supplied by Russia to forces attacking Ukraine, his response essentially has been “we don’t want to be involved.” And when those folks in Syria, whom he supports with words, requested weapons to counter the deadly aerial bombardment of civilians, he again declined. Remember the “red line” of the Syrian government using poison gas against its own people? When it was “crossed”, remember his response? Care to guess who is establishing the “rules”? Ok, moving on.

You know, we are now witnessing a political conflict in which one candidate has established his own “rules of engagement.” Yep, he has thrown the time- honored rules of arguing political issues and positions out the window. Instead, he has launched a campaign of making personal attacks on opponents and their families, name calling of anyone who disagrees with him, belittling others’ appearance, questioning and criticizing opponents religious affiliation and dedication, claiming opponents are “stealing” votes from him and generally acting as a bully. Kinda makes a body wonder how he would act as President and what “rules of engagement” he would establish in dealing with the Congress and others.

Well, there you have it – a little insight into why Mr White’s observation regarding rules of engagement has bubbled up in my memory box. The difficulty is, now that it’s made its appearance, I’m not sure it will go away – and you folks may have the same problem. At least that’s how it seems to me.

By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected].

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