Op-Ed: Huntsman Spiders and the Art of War

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When I graduated from college in 2008, I felt compelled to serve my country as a United States Peace Corps volunteer. I spent two years training teachers and building a modest library in a quaint village in eastern Thailand. Surprisingly, I also learned a lot about the art of war.

Thai people taught me humility, hard work, selflessness and presence. Thai Spiders, on the other hand, taught me the nuances of careful de-escalation in the face of existential conflict. The Thai spiders also taught me that beyond a certain point of no return, even the most peaceful pacifist must engage in war or die.

Type “Thai Huntsman Spider” into your search engine. Now imagine finding one of these atrocities perched on your bathroom sink when you turn on the faucet. Stop. Don’t commit until you have regained control of your breath, pulse, and mind. Yes, it will take a minute. No, you cannot skip this step if you want to have a chance of success. Composure is essential because, at least at first glance, your enemy remains completely connected to the moment. He always sees all the options available to him. If you choose to proceed without the same perspective, you will almost certainly be driven off the battlefield (or the bathroom, as was often the case for me in Thailand).

You have a fleeting opportunity at this point: if you don’t disturb the spider and return to the larger world, you may avoid the war altogether. By the time you return to your bathroom, the spider will often be gone, content with its current sphere of influence over fruit flies, midges, and the occasional small rodent. Having seen you on the periphery (and he has seen you), the hunter will usually share your desire to continue to live independently of each other. Although war may come eventually, it doesn’t have to come right away.

We’ve been dancing this dance with a hunter named Vladimir since the end of the Cold War. Time and time again, we have crossed eyes over the past thirty years – on Syria, Iraq, Libya, and so on. Time and time again we have been reminded that only one side can survive a direct military confrontation between our two nuclear powers. And time and time again, we turned our heads just long enough for Vladimir to step back into the shadows and simmer.

Not this time. Vladimir did what all hunters eventually face a perceived existential threat. He spread his legs in a threatening fit. He raised his hair in a warning that speaks as much to his own fear of death as to the possibility that he could harm us. He rushes headlong into the fight.

Again, the Thai Huntsman is instructive. Once a fighter charges, there is no turning back. I tried to hold off a charging fighter. He won’t stop. I tried to flee from a charging fighter. He won’t give in. Tried to redirect a charging hunter with non-lethal blows from any broom or rag I might have handy. He will not be deterred. Once a hunter chooses war, they engage themselves and you in the process. There is no other choice.

As weeks turned into months and years in the Peace Corps, I learned that the only way to respond to a charging hunter was to run over him. Quickly. Completely. Until he died. No other path leads to peace. Any delay results in chasing, biting, or moving away.

I hated killing hunter spiders. I didn’t go to Thailand to kill anyone or anything. But hating war does nothing to obviate its need once a hunter has made up his mind.

We are on the brink of a global conflict such as we have never seen before. Every fiber of my being wishes we could just turn our heads and let Vladimir crawl into the shadows; I expect all reasonable readers to feel the same way. But Vladimir has already spread his legs. It has already started charging. And we have only one choice left to make: cede the disputed territory (Ukraine? All of Europe? The World?) or kill the hunter.

Once I understood the hunter’s zero-sum game, I developed a consistent approach to dealing with an accusation. I stood as the hunter came towards me. I would freeze as he closed in on my feet. Then I dropped a heavy book on his head. The size of the book was essential: it had to be three or four times the size of the spider itself. Thus, even if the hunter could dash left, right, forward or backward in a final movement to continue the fight, he would do so without hope.

NATO and the United States must prepare for war. The Ukrainian people are brave, fierce and determined to fight for their democracy. But their best efforts seem doomed in the face of Russian military might. We use them in a futile effort to thwart the hunter without eliminating it completely. It won’t work. It’s time for us to stand up, lift a book high in the air and drop it on Vladimir’s head.

Certainly, I do not come to this conclusion lightly or without solemnly appreciating the terrible human costs of a direct conflict with Russia. We are all going to suffer in the weeks and months to come. But we cannot lessen the cost of this war by delaying it now. The hunter has already passed a point of no return.

Chris Boeckx is the co-founder of Boeckx Law LLC.

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