This isn’t a conflict: it’s a dinner party!

You might as well treat modern war like an elaborate dinner party. Things will get messy. Things will get out of control. So before Western and Middle East commanders consider the life of Ginsu chefs, they should probably answer some vital questions.

1. Do I want my feast to impress or annihilate my guests?  Simple conflict is never simple, and the worst wars are fought for many reasons. The American Civil War was pitched over everything from cotton to general elections, and Honest Abe didn’t even bring up Emancipation until after the carnage at Gettysburg.The Great War was sparked by a young Serbian named Gavrilo Princip, but pitched into a firestorm thanks to warlord cousins, a thirst for resources, national pride and barely remembered handshakes. Keep an eye on those reasons as you stock up for the big night. Remember, your guests have other reasons for clinking glasses with you.

2. Can someone help me in the kitchen?  Ah, teamwork! What a lifesaver! Make sure England doesn’t ruin the broth or there’ll be hell to pay. France is dicing the carrots in very large pieces. Here they are in your kitchen on your terms. You’re doing this together! Try to play safe in times of conflict with a “club house” coalition. Make up a catchy acronym for the media. Don’t forget to reinforce your team with a positive attitude. Avoid friction! You’ve seen Hell’s Kitchen. After all, there will be plenty of blame to go around when the smoke clears. . . .

3. I despise a food critic! How can I keep them from sneaking past the door?  Here is the awful truth, chum. Everybody’s a critic. Tonight, they’ve turned their attention on you. Don’t crack the eggs until you consider a major issue:  this could be the meal they talk about at other people‘s dinner parties. History is written by the victor, but honest history is written by the loser. Critical history is penned by the scholars long after you’re dead and buried. Never expect your legacy to be anything but dust. You can thank the critics for that.

4. Should I throw a dash of chili powder on my chicken or just napalm the sucker?  A chef is only as good as his ingredients. Making a big bang is nice for an impression, but think about the consequences. Your guests may respond accordingly. In World War One, the lobbing of mustard and chlorine canisters on a salient in Belgium was nothing but a horrific tennis match. Today, car bombers are countered by commandos. Never believe this exchange to be an equal one:  AK-47s can be always be answered by artillery.

5. What if I forget the cream fraiche?  Hey, don’t sweat the small stuff. We all forget things at the last minute. How many Confederates marched into Maryland without footwear? How many American troops crossed the Kuwaiti border without desert combat fatigues? But this isn’t a barbeque. This is a grand feast. So bulk up on oil, ammunition, food rations, bandages, blood, jet fuel, bottled oxygen, kevlar, socks, duct tape, webbing, batteries, water, spare tires, flashlights, mosquito netting, vaccinations, and lots and lots of dough. It’s not polite to duck out of dinner and run to the supermarket. Your guests will notice.

6. Can dessert save my dinner from hell?  Absolutely! Watch your guests for signs of discomfort. Perhaps the wild boar basil wasn’t that wild to begin with. . . but no matter. Time for pastries! A cease-fire isn’t anything to be ashamed about. It’s a great opportunity to make small talk and learn that you were both in way over your heads. A simple twitch of the napkin, your white flag of mercy, is the international sign to CUT THE $#!T. Work out your differences over coffee, trade recipes and prisoners, and find a way to salvation. Remember, everyone loves dessert. That’s the best part of dinner! And if you’re very lucky, your guests will stick around to help you clean up.

Warfare, in all seriousness, is complicated beyond belief. There is nothing simple about men who make wholesale violence. The cycle of war is inexplicably linked to civilization like gears in a watch. Perhaps that cycle can be broken in time. . . when nations wipe strife from their minds and our descendants can forgive us.

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