Lessons from War

It’s no surprise to me that the Chinese business Community uses a military handbook from the early years of Chinese history as a manual for Chinese business practice in the 21st Century. We fought a guerrilla war for the Independence of Zimbabwe from about 1962 to 1980.

Eddie Cross

Many of us found ourselves in some form of uniform holding a gun. As individuals we learned many things from that experience and I want to remember some of these things and apply those lessons to the struggles we find ourselves locked into today.

The first was how war levelled us in the field. It did not matter who you were or what position you held in civilian life, in the battle lines we were all one. Black, white, rich or poor, war is a great leveller and creates an environment where the only thing that matters is how you react under fire. That is why the Second World War spurred the flag of freedom throughout the world as black and Indian soldiers came back from conflict knowing they were no less human than the white man. In many ways out of that conflict came the struggle for Independence and dignity.

I remember a meeting addressed by Ndabaningi Sithole in Harare in 1974 when he recounted how nervous he was when he first flew in an Executive Jet sent for him by President Kaunda and found it had an all black crew. In the meeting he was asked by an elderly Pastor “what does a young man need to learn to be a pilot?” I will never forget his answer “Mdala” he replied “Independence!” One word and it said it all; only the struggle would bring freedom to be who we are as individuals.

The second lesson for me is one that I use frequently today to explain why I refuse to be defeatist or pessimistic about our situation or our future. It is quite simple really, I think I have a little influence in my society and community and as such I have a responsibility to not only believe in what I am doing but to commit myself to achieving those goals. Who on earth would go into a fight with a Stick of Commando’s under a leader who did not believe in what they were doing or that they were going to do their best, no matter what. No one would, if they did they would be crazy.

That is why all war situations create opportunity for amazing acts of courage and ingenuity which overcome seemingly impossible odds. It is the collective effort of countless such acts that bring victory and peace. In many ways we can all be proud of what our men and women did in war. War is almost always the responsibility of stupid political decisions but it is how we act in response to being drawn into a conflict that is not of our making, that makes the difference.

In Berlin, Germany, there is a memorial to the German soldier in the Second World War. It is not well known but I have been there and watched as German families, most of whom were born after the war was ended, came to remember uncles, grandfathers and others who fought for Germany. It was deeply moving, and every day – even now, 75 years later, the Municipality has to haul away a truck load of flowers. We may not like to think so but the German soldier was one of the most amazing features of German Nazi madness.

I have also been to the Memorial in Washington to the 53 000 men and women who died in the Viet Nam War. Like the memorial in Berlin this is a deeply moving place and watching ordinary Americans lining up to feel the names on that long black wall, even now, so many years later, makes us remember men and women who gave their lives for a cause they believed in. Did not succeed, but the heroism and sacrifice is remembered.

I think we as a Nation need to sponsor memorials to all who were engaged in our war – the Rhodesian Army and Police, the Airforce and the Zipra and Zanla armed forces. We should allow families to sponsor the names of loved ones who gave their all in a fight they all believed in. Not just the victors. I can well remember attending a Service in the Chapel at Plumtree school a few years ago where the Head Boy read out the role of honour mentioning the names of every Plumtree school boy who had lost his life in a battle somewhere, Europe, Malaysia, Zimbabwe. All 600 boys, all black, all born well after the war standing. It was deeply moving. Most white families would find such a memorial a healing experience and somehow we need that as a country.

Then there is the importance of communications. I remember once being in a unit who were expecting to be ambushed in the Eastern Highlands. When we were informed of the intelligence and set off, I was amazed at the clarity of the communications we suddenly had. Every word was clear and audible. I subsequently learned that we were placed on a special system that was used for specialist forces engaged in real fire fights. We were just a Police Reserve Unit on call up and did not usually get such treatment. It was comforting and had we run into trouble (we did not) it would have been very helpful to know that someone knew where we were and what was happening and if we needed help.

Then there is the importance of ground cover and support. Ground cover simply means you have to have boots in the field. The Americans have learned that in many tough places and in our war, it was no less true. Where you did not have people on the ground you lost territory. If you were in a small unit on the ground and ran into trouble against overwhelming odds, then it was essential to know that you could radio for help and that this would materialise in a short period of time. I was once involved in a land mine incident followed by an ambush and we were able to contact a unit nearby who responded and we were able to hand over to them; they were real soldiers and quickly took the initiative.

So what do these lessons from war teach us who are engaged in the struggle for development and growth with stability and peace in Africa. For me there are several, others I am sure would draw many other lessons from their experience. The first is that we must work together, a unit that is not unified in its vision and target, will never get anywhere. This is a struggle that calls for us to work as one nation – our fight is for development and growth in competition with the rest of the world. If our children are going to able to survive and even thrive in this new world they need a decent education – are we preparing them for that role?

Secondly we need leadership, leaders who will sacrifice their interests, even their lives for their fellow employees or people. We need servant leadership that earns the right to lead by example. Thirdly we need discipline. Just look at how the Chinese have handled this new virus – yesterday 8 new cases in the whole of China. No army can win without discipline, not one imposed from above but one given freely and in the interests of the Unit. Our problems as a country stems from leaders who are looking after their own interests first and who totally disregard any need for self-discipline and control.

We need to recognise that we must have good communications – top down and bottom up. We need to know where we are going and how we are going to get there and our leaders need to listen carefully to their people on the ground. Beyond listening to each other we need fast action. Then finally, we need to recognise that in the struggle for development and growth there will be casualties – we are opening up the economy, liberalising our financial markets and this will open up new opportunities but also bring new challenges. When they do, those troops on the front line need to know they have our support and that help is forthcoming.

This is a war we all have an interest in winning. Let’s put aside our differences and fight together for our collective futures.

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