BOOKS: Earthforce! An Earth Warrior’s Guide To Strategy

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1994:

Earthforce! An Earth Warrior’s Guide To Strategy
by Captain Paul Watson
Chaco Press 1993 (distributed by the Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society, 1314 2nd
St., Santa Monica, CA 90401), 118
pages, paperback, $13.
“There is one person who is in a
class of his own in my pantheon of heroes,”
writes Wild Earth editor and Earth First!
cofounder Dave Foreman in his foreword to
Earthforce! “Paul Watson,” he continues,
“has perhaps thought more deeply about strat-
egy than has any other conservationist…One
thousand years from now, sagas will be sung
about Captain Paul Watson, defender of the
oceans, and people will praise his name
because there will still be whales, walruses,
dolphins, and sea birds. Paul Watson is the
hero of our time…the strategic genius of non-
violent ecological defense.”

Watson is widely regarded as an
individual who “breaks the rules” to defend
wildlife and ecosystems. But as Earthforce!
makes plain, that’s dead wrong. In truth,
Watson so scrupulously follows certain rules
of engagement that he and his crews have
managed to sink more ships than some navies
without ever causing an injury to either a per-
son or an animal, and without ever being con-
victed of a crime. The rules Watson follows
are those articulated by Sun Tzu, the 4th cen-
tury author of The Art of War; the 17th centu-
ry Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi,
who rousted Christianity from Japan for two
centuries; the late media theorist Marshall
McLuhan, a fellow native of Atlantic Canada;
and those he has learned himself the hard way,
in struggles from the Wounded Knee siege of
1973 to his forthcoming trial in Nova Scotia
for challenging a Cuban dragnetting vessel
last summer. Watson could as easily have
substituted the often misunderstood and mis-
represented Italian statesman/reformer Nicolo
Machiavelli for any of the above, or Gandhi,
or any of many other master tacticians,
though those he has selected undoubtedly
have more panache with his potential audi-
ence. The lessons of innovation, considera-
tion, flexibility, forethought, and keeping the
moral high ground are the same, whether
learned around a Lakota campfire or at the
Harvard School of Business. Watson wraps
his presentation in Native American imagery
and Eastern wisdom literature partly because
these are the mediums with which he feels
most familiar, partly because they provide the
sugar coating to get New Age-influenced fel-
low activists and would-bes to swallow and
digest his timely message––the most impor-
tant part of which is to think about tactics, not
just blindly do this or that because someone
else did it or does it or recommends it.
Watson does not preach the adoption
and use of any one particular tactic, nor does
he rule out many. His chapter on “Attacking
With Fire,” for instance, opens with the warn-
ing that, “An Earth Warrior must refrain from
deliberately attempting to take life,” and adds
in conclusion that, “To kill with explosives
intentionally is cowardly and can seldom be
justified within the strategy of a warrior serv-
ing the Earth.” Yet he leaves the possibility
open: “However, if it is the only defense
available, it should be carefully prepared and
executed with extreme efficiency.”
This too is part of strategy. When
and if Watson is cornered by someone who
may wish to kill him, and the list of people
who might like to is considerable, he wants
that individual to consider the possibility of
ferocious response in kind, which might buy
him just enough time to escape. Nothing in
Watson’s history suggests he would ever resort
to violence against any living being, but
everything he’s done suggests his mastery of
keeping opponents guessing.
Religion and the media
Watson does trip over his own feet
occasionally. Of the five evident instances in
E a r t h f o r c e !, two involve religion. On page
24, we read that, “To be spiritually liberated
from the chains of anthropocentrism, you
must ruthlessly abandon all attitudes that place
humanity on a special pedestal of worthiness.
Christ, Mohammed, and Buddha were pri-
mates, cousins to the chimpanzee and the
mountain gorilla, just as we are all the chil-
dren of a species of naked simians. In pri-
mateness, we can find family.” True enough,
in a literal sense––and Jesus, Mohammed,
and Buddha themselves probably wouldn’t
have objected to Watson’s statement, in con-
text. On the other hand, millions of people
have found and continue to find in religious
teachings the encouragement and moral
authority they need to carry out acts of kind-
ness–– among them St. Francis, whose exam-
ple and influence have scarcely been erased by
the contrary examples of those who have used
and still use religion to rationalize violence.
To paraphrase Shane’s speech on guns in the
1951 film Shane, “Religion is a tool…It’s only
as good or as bad as the person who uses it.”
Trampling religious sensibilities needlessly is
bad strategy, unchacteristic of Watson, who
might get away with it anyhow, in context,
except that six pages later he delivers a rather
conventional endorsement of the abortion-is-a-
woman’s-right position. By itself, that would
not necessarily harm him, but following the
easily yanked from context apparent blasphe-
my, it is sufficient to make Watson a lot of
new enemies he doesn’t really want or need,
especially among the 29% of animal rights
activists who according to one recent survey
take an opposite view of abortion.
Watson’s advice on media relations,
on pages 36, 43, and 108, is even more cer-
tainly damaging, not only to himself but to
anyone who accepts it. Watson’s first “media
law” is that, “The media is not concerned with
facts, figures, statistics, or scientific reports.
The media is interested in drama, scandal,
violence, and sex.” Though this is essentially
true of most television, it is equally essentially
untrue of the most influential print media.
Most newspapers actually devote more space
to facts, figures, and statistics––including
sports scores and stock market
quotations––than to the “drama, scandal, vio-
lence, and sex” in the headlines, and back up
drama, scandal, violence, and sex stories
with factual and statistical support. Note too
that even the most sensational and voyeuristic
TV news programs give prominent billing to
scientific reports on such subjects as cancer
and diet, as do the flashiest supermarket
tabloids. Packaging matters, but ultimately,
so does substance.
Watson further advises that, “If you
do not know an answer, a fact, or a statistic,
“then simply follow the example of an
American president and do as Ronald Reagan
did: make it up on the spot and deliver the
information confidently.” That works for the
exceptionally charismatic, but is suicide for
anyone else. Just ask Dan Quayle. Now that
Watson has uncharacteristically tipped his
hand, it probably won’t work as well for him
any more either. Fortunately for Watson and
the creatures he defends, he usually does have
authoritative, verifiable answers to hard ques-
tions handy.
––Merritt Clifton
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