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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 17-Aug-07


Friday 17-August-07

Wisdom and war

They seem unlikely bedfellows, don't they? And though I still think these are largely polar opposites, I now see more of the essential relationship after attending a lecture by Lord Paddy Ashdown, knight of the realm, former leader of the UK Liberal Democrats and peacekeeper extraordinaire.

After ten years in the marines and special services, in which his largely peacekeeping action reached from Northern Ireland to Borneo, he entered politics, led his party and then went back to diplomacy in the Balkans. A single sentence summary of the life of a great man, perhaps, (and who but a great man would do as he did), but greater justice would require a thick tome. He has charisma and clarity like Clinton, and when talking with you, puts you at the centre of his world, as I found later when talking with him.

But enough of the star-struck woffle, he had much to say that made me think, so here are a few of the takeaways captured quickly before they fade into memory's dust.

  • It is the prospect of prosperity leads to stability. When the prospect is poverty then conflict ensues.

  • Where power goes governance must follow.

  • The first step towards peace is the rule of law.

  • Where there is lawlessness, then criminals will gather.

  • Bringing democracy to lawless places just legitimises criminals.

  • Lawlessness happens near and across boundaries.

  • Systems that cross boundaries are often lawless. Eg. Internet, global finance.

  • If you do not win the hearts and minds of the local population you will never win.

  • Ordinary people just want peace, safety, food and work.

  • We are brilliant at short wars. We a terrible at managing the aftermath.

  • Intervention works! But only if done well. The secret is to keep goals simple.

During the talk I wondered about wisdom and power and how to bring these together. How can we get wiser leaders? How can we get leaders who recognize and listen to wisdom? I asked him this afterwards but he had no magic answers, though tellingly he admitted to seeking and listening to wisdom himself.

 I also wondered: what is wisdom? Decisions that are not wise are often proven so much later, yet leaders (and we) have to make momentous choices based on limited information about an massively complicated world. Perhaps wisdom involves a subconscious process of modelling this complexity and projecting realistic possibilities into the longer term in order to know best what to do.

Someone once said that a wise man does not consider himself wise. This seems true of Lord Ashdown, who prefers to be called Paddy and who admitted frequent uncertainty.

I feel lucky to be able to go to these lectures, and if just a tad of the wisdom of the great and the good rubs off, then I would be happy indeed. To nudge things along I bought Paddy's book, Swords and Ploughshare, which he kindly signed and I'm currently reading. Great stuff!

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