A Question Of Attrition

Attrition is a tricky sort of solution to the issue of conflict. Normally speaking, people would prefer to deal with conflict in other ways. Coming up with an effective tactic to defeat an opponent is a short-term solution, but one that greatly appeals to many, especially those who are interested in battles and courtroom dramas and the like. Defeating one’s opponents by a longer-term strategy is appealing to others. Still other people perform to win over opponents through diplomatic means and so turn enemies into friends. This is appealing not least because winning over enemies is usually a surefire way to limit conflict on the larger scale, although there are sometimes where people simply refuse to be won over by us, much as we might wish. There is still another way to gain victory, though, and that is through wearing someone down over a long time, taking advantage of advantages in logistics in order to prevent someone from being able to carry on a conflict. This is generally a way of war that can be one only by two sorts of combatants–either those who have enough resources to starve out an opponent, or those whose needs are so modest that they can simply wait out anyone else by refusing to go away.

Attrition happens in a variety of ways in our lives outside of conflict, though, and they are important to recognize as they demonstrate the way that life operates. When I visited the ruins of Aphrodesias in Turkey in 2006, for example, it struck me that even though the city was in what was and remains an active seismic zone that the buildings we saw did not have any reinforcement. I asked our tour guide about this, because I figured that as master builders, the Romans of course would have built reinforced walls in an area that had the risk of earthquakes, and I was told that the Romans did indeed build their walls with reinforcement at first, but had then melted down that reinforcement for cutlery, thus destroying the long-term viability of those cities, as the earthquakes came and numerous cities were abandoned as the people lacked the energy and resources to rebuild. When a nation wastes its infrastructure and eats its seed corn, not investing wisely in capital resources that can help bring prosperity and gain to its people as a whole, then that nation will eventually face the loss of its security and prosperity as it will eventually lack the means to afford it. This is a lamentable fate, but a very common one.

Attrition works in other ways as well. It is commonly and mistakenly thought that much of Africa is overpopulated, but this is not the case. Indeed, when one looks at the nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo, one finds that although the country is massive, it contains a modest population that is concentrated in its capital city and in a few other cities and that large expanses of the country are sparsely inhabited. Indeed, the country does not have enough people to support the sort of large-scale railroad infrastructure, or a large scale road infrastructure, of the kind that had been created by the Belgians. With a better managed jungle and the growing of food and the expansion of interior development to connect towns to other towns and regions with each other, one could expect a country of the size of the DRC to support a population of several times what it has. Its failures are not in the number of people has, but in the conditions those people operate in. Similar problems relating to the expansion of the desert and the political nature of famines that one can find throughout the world indicate that a failure to build physical and political infrastructure can lead to lasting problems in supporting a large population.

Even in less drastic situations, a growing and persistent view of negative conditions may very lead people to leave an area that is viewed as being hostile to one’s well-being and prosperity. High taxes, hostile culture and politics, legal and economic insecurity, and the like can drive people away from areas and leave behind a remnant culture that clings on to the glory days and that often fails to understand what made it great in the first place and how that greatness went way. In the worst case scenario, conditions can be so dire that an area becomes a ghost town or is inhabited by people whose behavior actively threatens the enjoyment that others could find in going to places of past glories, thus actively hindering what presents them the best chance to make something out of the history of their area. The stewardship of resources is by no means a straightforward or an easy task.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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