Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Capture the Flag

Since when is a group of eight frightened of two? It almost makes me angry….it did make me angry! Before we even began to play the game, the enemy outnumbered us in number and height (ie: Nick and Elle). In spite of the sad disproportions, my men boldly rushed the enemy again and again, spying out their stronghold, and being captured and cast into prison for their noble bravery. Once I rescued them, but after that, it all fell apart. Our well laid plans, alas! were not carried out quite on the timetable necessary for their success; I am to blame for parts of that tragedy (“It is all my fault”) but certain young men just did not seem to understand what we were attempting and how. In the end, six of our eight team members were held captive, leaving only two of us to both guard the home front and rescue our compatriots. Determined to abandon neither, I laid a plan for which execution I depended on my “trusty” brother in arms. Unfortunately, he seemed to be more interested in corn-nuts. The plan might still have worked had it not been for the COWARDICE of the opposing team. :P

Instead of charging our territory, in which case I certainly could not have opposed all nine of them, they simply lined up along “no-man’s land”. When a few members of their party tried to sneak over and spy us out, the opposing general called them back. They just STOOD THERE waiting, as if I was likely to try to break through their line! No way! I may be an idiot at times, but I was not about to abandon our territory and our only chance of rescuing the rest of my team. “McClellan’s” timidity just about made me boil with frustration. The cries of my captured team-mates seared my ears, pleading for deliverance, but though they tore at my heart, I determined to plant my feet on my own land and not budge until the aggressors crossed the border. But to my shock, the cowards made no move. I am firmly convinced that even had Matt Ha alone been left to withstand them, incredulous as it may seem, not one of that immense opposing militia would have plunged into our neck of the woods. Overly cautious is indeed a possible state; in fact, it would be hard to exaggerate the timid caution of that team.

And to make matters worse, my last “trusty” henchman deserted me, waving his white shoe as a sign of truce, attempting to surrender our territory to the enemy (for corn-nuts I presume). When I confronted him, white hot with rage, he protested, “We don’t have a chance anyway!” I threatened to have him flogged for desertion, mutiny and treason. (Not really of course!) I could have added some more colorful forms of outdated military corporal punishment to the threat, but thought that really quite unnecessary.

Playing ‘capture the flag’ always makes me extremely sympathetic for all military commanders past and present. You’re responsible for what happens to your boys, but often you don’t have any choice but to abandon them for a time. You know that if you as a group are to succeed, everyone must work as a team, not as individuals or splintered fragments. But that means that everyone must follow orders implicitly, without reconsidering or deciding whether they really agree with the plan at the last minute. This requires a lot of trust. Men must trust their commanding officer; trust that he actually cares about them, that he won’t risk them unnecessarily, trust that he knows what he’s talking about. If this trust component is absent, operations fall apart.

In my opinion, the bravest man is not necessarily the one who carries out the most daring forays and single-handedly drives back the foe at the risk of his life. Don’t misunderstand me – this is a courageous thing. But the bravest man is he who surrenders his life, placing it in the hands of his commander. That man risks the most. That man is the most vulnerable. This man willingly undertakes to obey at all costs, orders be what they may. A man who commands himself looks out for his own interests. He knows that his “boss” will look out for him, because he is his boss. Nobody likes pain, and no one seeks out pain for himself. (If a person seems to seek out pain, it is because that pain brings him pleasure, strange as it may sound.) But a man who has bound himself to obedience, commits his life and binds his will to his superior. He must trust that the commander will treat his life with as much care as the soldier himself would.

In a way, (now that I’m already off on a MAJOR tangent) this is the same trust and vulnerability as a child toward his parents….and as a wife toward her husband.
Yes, I’m not joking, but I don’t treat this as derogatory either. If I remember correctly I once wrote that those who we love best are those who hurt us the most because for them we open ourselves up. That opening of ourselves is essentially equal to entrusting to the other that which we hold most dear. Often it is even our own lives. When a woman marries, she places herself under her husband’s authority. She entrusts to him her life in a very real way. He ought to recognize the confidence and realize that she trusts him to “look out” for her interests as his own.
But back to the soldier. When one commands, one must be familiar with the character and tendencies of his subordinates. A person who tends to ignore directions because of perceived risk, should NOT be assigned to participate in operations whose success depends on co-ordinated movements. I seem to forget that too often. There is a sort of initiative which is helpful and appreciated by the superior officer, but that initiative is prudent, decisive, and responsible.

I had one young man, let’s call him “Ivan” for anonymity’s sake. From the beginning of the game, I knew I could depend on Ivan. He was bold, willing to risk a term in jail, and full of great strategy. But at the same time, he recognized the need to work together and respected my authority as team captain. He submitted his plans, I approved him, and basically gave him free rein; I knew that if circumstances dictated that he amend his plans, he would act with decisive prudence. Unfortunately, I failed him. Or rather, his team mates failed him. In order to maximize the success of his mission, several other team members were SUPPOSED to charge enemy territory and specific places and times REGARDLESS of the opposition. They had been very plainly informed that their charge was suicidal but they had insisted on their willingness to complete the operation as explained. But they hesitated. Instead of “going” when ordered, they checked themselves at the border. Irritated, I instructed them to rush in as soon as the slightest opportunity showed itself. But they hesitated too long every time. By the time they had worked up the courage to halfheartedly and conspicuously make their way across the border, their other teammates had been captured.

How discouraging! And yet, and yet….I had given the order. Whether they obeyed or not, as their captain, I had bound myself to support them, not risk them unnecessarily, and to rescue them when captured. Mayhap I have read too much Henty; at any rate, my “honor” clearly seemed bound up with the fate of my trusting little team mates. The little (and not-so-little) ones never would have hazarded 15 minutes or more of sitting in jail if they thought I would abandon them.

This is why so many “capture the flag” games consist of random players loitering in the vicinity of the border, tiptoeing over – and tip toeing back. No one is willing to risk themselves for team mates who don’t care about their welfare. Every person wants the glory of finding the flag, but they know that it is extremely likely that they will be thrown in jail. And they suspect (to the shame of the team, quite accurately) that nobody else really cares as long as they themselves are free to continue playing.

But players are willing to take a little more risk, if they are confident that they will not be abandoned in prison. When team-members are abandoned, their trust dramatically falls off. They begin to look out for themselves alone once more.

Where was I? Oh yes, military commanders. In order for any operation to succeed, there must be a well networked hierarchy of authority PLUS firm trust in the authority. This puts a lot of pressure on the authority. A general must balance sincere care for his men with willingness to risk for the good of the entire army. On one side of the ditch falls McClellan. Into the other stumbles Grant. If you sacrifice your men without cause, they lose their trust in you. If you behave with so much caution that nothing is accomplished, they become dissatisfied and label you incompetent. Such is life. Such are life’s cares. Ick! (A good “Ick” seems refreshingly out of context in such musing.)

I know I meant to say something else in there, but that was such an unstructured rambling that I might as well close it with an unstructured ending.

Note to all involved: I am not angry at you; really! I was just a bit frustrated. :D I know you guys are brave and I guess in some circumstances the siege trully is the most effective strategy. :p


Nick-Ig said...

In case you forgot somehow every time Elle and I's team tried to charge we were caught and one of your team snick through to our lines, And you moved your jail! You knew were out flag was and we ad not a idea where your's was. This is a play by play of how the game went.
We all stared at each other. For a very very long time. Then one of their men charged in at break neck speed. We caught him and, put him in jail. They charged again and again. They even found our flag though we caught them. We charged three times and each time we're caught. Then Sarah let them all free. Aaaaaaa!!!!! So than we got our "boys" back and it was even again. So than they charged again and we got three more of their people. Then my brother and my friends brother went in together and we got them both. They were now down to 2. Elle our captain and I thought we could get another one of their men out..... By eating their corn nuts. It worked but then Sarah dragged him back to their territory. We were going to charge but we were told to come up to the house. For more info see my blog on the event. http://nick-the-ig.blogspot.com

Snap said...

Better safe than sorry. :) Though as unlikely as it was, if we had been caught, it could easily turn the tide of the game, we could have lost.

Nick-Ig said...

yeah but we are to cool to lose. ;-)

Snap said...

pride comes before a fall..... :)