Patience and Persistence

Most will remember that President George W. Bush was once the managing general partner for the Texas Rangers, a major league baseball team. Competition in sports is far less serious than real world conflict. However, at the risk of stretching a metaphor until it snaps, the case can be made that the habits, virtues, and disciplines associated with baseball may serve this President well now.

The comedian George Carlin once had a routine that compared baseball with football. Football, according to Carlin, is a militaristic activity where “the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault” while “baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game” played in a “park.”

Actually Carlin was wrong. Baseball is as fiercely competitive as football, but the rhythm, pace, and expectations are dissimilar. The differences between football and baseball in some ways mimic the differences between conventional war between massed armies and our present fight against global terrorism.

In football, intelligence, finesse and stealth can be important, but generally victory goes to the most aggressive, the biggest, and the strongest. For example, in World War II, the Americans did not defeat the Germans through cleverness or surgical military strikes as much as by out producing and overwhelming the Third Reich. Our productive capacity and population crushed the Nazis under its weight.

In baseball, the 162-game season is much longer than in football and endurance, patience, persistence, and focus are necessary virtues. No baseball team constantly dominates. Even the best teams loose about a third of their games. Defeats as well as victories punctuate ultimate success. Baseball, therefore, nurtures a constancy and devotion of spirit.

In the same way, the war with terrorism will be a day-by-day struggle with an adversary that will not succumb to force unless that force is wisely applied. Patience, and strength persistently used over months and years will test our endurance. Force and strength are important, but so are intelligence, guile, speed and boldness. Perhaps the 50-year victory over Soviet communism in the Cold War provides a model of low-key conflict carried on over a variety of levels. The War with the Barbary Pirates in the early nineteenth century, not unlike our current problem with state-less terrorists, extended over 15 years.

This conflict with radical terrorists is certainly no game and the stakes are tremendous. The analogy here is not meant to trivialize, but illuminate. In one real way, Carlin was right. The goal in baseball as well as the ultimate goal in our current struggle is to be “safe at home.”

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