The Power of Restraint

I have been immersed in the strife occurring across the Middle East in recent months. This has given me pause to consider what the possible solutions are to these age-old conflicts. In order to find solutions, a logical starting point is to look at cause. Is what we are seeing competing interests over oil, the clash of religions, the clash of Western civilization and a culture that plays by different rules, or some combination of these factors?

As I was considering this recently, I recalled a story told to me many years ago by a close friend and Vietnam War veteran. He was an expert marksman and was trained as a sniper, which explains why one day he was walking down a jungle trail on his own. Ahead of him he saw a tan-colored log across his path and as my friend approached it, the log transformed into a king cobra. Before he knew what had happened, he was just a few feet away from the creature and, even though my friend is six feet tall, he was looking at the snake eye to eye. Later he would learn that king cobras can grow up to 18 feet long and that a third of their length can stand upright.

My friend had the reflexes of a seasoned combat veteran and could have aimed his sniper rifle and easily hit his mark. At the same time, the cobra could have launched and struck first, killing my friend. Instead, they each held their ground and neither attacked. Before long, my friend broke eye contact and, still facing the cobra, retreated back down the path the way he came. The cobra did not pursue him nor did he pursue the cobra. Each had presented a real threat and danger to the other (the venom from a single king cobra bite is sufficient to kill an elephant or 20 people) but neither of them attacked.

If, in modern times, one of our soldiers met a terrorist face to face on a remote path, would the same kind of outcome occur? I doubt it. And if our soldier backed down, based on what I have observed, the terrorist would see the soldier as weak and would become ever more brazen in his future attacks. On a larger scale, if an entire nation attempts to back away from conflict while the cobra of terrorism strikes again and again, I believe that nation has no choice but to draw its weapons.

I don’t know if the cobra saw my friend as weak. What I do know is that my friend told me the story with great reverence and respect for the cobra. And while I still don’t have answers to the present conflicts being played out on the world stage, I’m convinced my friend and that king cobra knew something we’d be very wise to remember today: our collective salvation very often lies in the astounding power of restraint.