Never Mind Exit, Let’s Have An End Strategy!
– by David Matthews 2
One of the easiest ways to ruin a good story, whether it is a movie, a book, or a TV series, is to have a cheap ending.
That’s what the people behind “The Sopranos” did. They had no way they could really end the series after all the things that went on. So they just went to black in the middle of the Soprano Family sharing a basket of onion rings with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” in mid-chorus.
There are several cheap endings that have gone down in history. We have the “everything was just a dream” ending. We have the “everything was a virtual simulation” ending. We have the “last-minute turnaround” ending. We have the “I’m back from the dead just in time” ending. My personal favorite of cheap endings is the “Who would have thought it” ending, best made by H.G. Wells in “The War of the Worlds”.
Either way, these kinds of endings usually exist because the situation has become so overwhelming that there is no right way to resolve things. The situation is too dire, the enemy is too powerful, the odds are just stacked too much against the hero to win… the audience is on the edge of their seats just WAITING to see how it all turns out… and they punt! And the audience then says “we wasted our money ON THIS???”
Yeah, many a good story has been lost because they couldn’t come up with a decent resolution.
What bothers me, though, is when the same holds true to the real world.
Take, for instance, the Cold War. Did you know that this was the first-ever conflict that America entered into without ANY kind of real objective to FINISHING it? Sure there were flare-ups in places like Korea and Vietnam and Grenada, but those were all considered part of the overall LARGER conflict that was the Cold War.
But what was the GOAL of the Cold War? To keep the Soviet Union from taking over the world? They couldn’t keep their own people FED! The greatest gift you could give a Soviet family in the 1980’s was an 8-pack of toilet paper! The military industrial complex for both sides were on automatic, cranking out bombs and missile and weapons of mass destruction. They saw only TWO options. One involved mushroom clouds and a radioactively-dead planet. The other involved a non-stop game of brinksmanship.
George Orwell’s concept of a state of eternal war and eternal conflict best characterized in “Nineteen Eighty-Four” was nightmarish when he wrote the story in 1948, but I don’t think he would envision that the United States and the Soviet Union would bring that very concept about and make it last forty years, much less have designs on making it last indefinitely. And if the Soviet Union did not collapse under the weight of its own failures then that is EXACTLY what we would be in the middle of today!
But that really explains the kinds of problems we are in today with our current conflicts.
We got ourselves into TWO wars. One was in Afghanistan, and that really was a conflict of necessity. The bad guys who hurt us in 2001 were there, being supported by the Taliban leaders who were running that oversized chuck of rock and poppy fields. We went over there, we rousted some terrorist leaders up in their caves, we chased out the Taliban leaders, we oversaw the creation of a new government and the election of new leaders…
And then… what? We pretty much left it hanging, that’s what we did! We kept some forces there but we then turned around and focused our efforts on Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
That doesn’t seem to make any sense does it? Leave one war hanging and then go fight another one, and then not really finish up that war, so we have to stay there as well. Keep our forces spread thin, keep putting soldiers in harms way, keep sending resources to those areas.
And yet it makes PERFECT sense when you realize what the ultimate goal has been for these two conflicts and you tie that in as well to the original Gulf War of the 1990’s.
Let’s get brutally honest here… our military industrial complex has been FIXATED on this concept of an ETERNAL WAR! They have been spoiled from the Cold War and they want to reignite that same feeling in the Middle East. That’s why they’ve been leaving things unfinished over there. Where’s Osama bin Laden? Our previous President said in 2002 that he didn’t know and he didn’t CARE where Osama is! He was more worried about Iraq. Catching Saddam Hussein? That was pretty much a fluke. We weren’t supposed to find him! It’s good that we did, but still it was contrary what we were doing for the past ten years, which was to play a glorified game of “Whack-a-Mole” with bombs.
The basic complaint with military conflicts since Vietnam has always been the lack of a good EXIT strategy. Well how about just having a good END strategy? We had clearly-defined objectives once upon a time, even in the wars we were talked into fighting like the Spanish-American War. We knew who the enemy was, we knew what we had to do, and we did it. We weren’t sidetracked or allowed to engage in “mission creep”, or, in our current situations, “mission neglect”.
Let’s take this from the position of writing a story. So why are we in Afghanistan? Because Osama bin Laden, the man who gave the order to bomb America, was hiding there along with his terrorist friends and his allies in the Taliban. Okay, so we send forces there, we hunt him down and hunt down his terrorist friends and hunt down his Taliban allies and we bring them all to justice, or we put them in a body bag, and then we GO HOME! End of story.
Simple storyline; easy to comprehend, easy to sell, easy to remember, and most importantly it is easy to gauge whether we’ve done what we set out to do.
So why is this so hard for the people in charge to figure out?
Listen, wars should never be considered some complicated never-ending money pit for the military industrial complex. The best way to make wars winnable is to make the objectives SIMPLE and to have an easy-to-understand END to them. And preferably an ending that does NOT involve mushroom clouds and radioactive dead zones. If people have to ask WHY you are still there, then you’ve LOST your objective, and you either get it back on track, or else you will have LOST the conflict. It really is THAT simple!
The truth of the matter is that all wars eventually become stories, because that is what history is. It’s up to the people in charge to determine whether that story will have a good ending, a bad one, or a cheap one.
And unfortunately for them, they do not have the luxury of saying it was all just a dream.