The Sarah Doctrine

No, not THAT Sarah. Though she's welcome to swipe it. As is the White House, if they wish to give a rest to that magic eight ball they've been using for foreign policy.

What started me thinking on this was an email from my brother. My brother's political opinions are as different from mine as opinions can be. I think both of us agree that politics pertain to two-legged upright-walking mammals, but after that our thoughts are completely distinct.

My brother - with fulsome praise of it - sent me a video made by some Portuguese twit claiming that the US had been involved in wars with 200 countries in 200 years. This, of course, is supposed to prove our essential badness or perhaps the utter failure of capitalism. (Rolls eyes.) I'd like said twit - after he folds his opinions all in corners and sticks them where the sun don't shine - to consider making similar lists for France, Russia, (the Sov union, even) or any other country big enough or strategic enough to matter (like island countries on the coast of the US.)

I think my brother's problem is that, being ten years older than I, he embraced the whole flower child thing. Our current administration, too, is populated by second generation flower children. Their ethos forces them to believe that you can "give peace a chance" and that you can "refuse to get in a war" and other nonsense like that. (I once had the honor - not - of listening to a newby writer reading a short story about a soldier's funeral, which she said was written to "end the war, otherwise it will just go on and on." One doesn't know whether to be more appalled at the self-centeredness or at the otherworldly lack of knowledge of history.)

Most people who believe this are white-collar and have used this "peace technique" at countless school and office confrontations. They know it "works". They know if one side refuses to get mad, the other side usually calms down and a confrontation doesn't occur.

The thing is they don't KNOW what causes wars. Oh, yeah, they've also written books about ethnic hatred and jingoism, and they think that's what brings war about.

But war and the er... community of nations... is not like an office confrontation over who drank the last cup of coffee - a confrontation in which both sides are perfectly safe and will continue eating and breathing and even, probably, having a job, no mater whether they fight or not.

No, a war is more like certain tough urban neighborhoods: there's people who rob for a living. There's people who just like to beat others up. And then there's the crazy person who follows you around peeing himself, calling you names, and who is as likely as not to pull a knife out of his pocket.

The way to pass unnoticed - i.e. not to get into wars in such neighborhoods - is to fit in and either be one of them or look like you are. To his credit, I think that's part of what the president is trying to accomplish with his endless apology tour. This is because our president - no, I don't care what the hagiographies say - has never been poor a day in his life. He looks at such neighborhoods and sees "poor" and he equates poor with "humble" so he thinks the way for us to fit in is to be humble and apologetic. This doesn't work, of course. In a tough neighborhood, you have to look like you can beat up the next guy for his lunch money - in addition to looking like them - then they leave you alone.

But if you're a large, obviously well fed, well dressed person - or country - and you wander into such a neighborhood, you can't fit in. And you can't hide. You can't appear weak, because that's the worst.

So, what do you do, as a person of peace? You prepare to fight. At every possible moment.

Now, I know this because I was an enormous girl for my generation in Portugal - no, not fat, just large. I stopped growing at 5'7" and size 12 at twelve years of age. After I started minding what I ate and how much, I dropped to a size 7 and stayed there till I had kids. In the states - I found out when I was an exchange student - that made me average to petite. In Portugal, I could pick myself out of any photo of a large gathering: I was the tallest and largest girl.

What this meant is that I could look down on most of my male teachers by the time I hit fifth grade. And also that every bully in the playground in the "preparatory school" (5th and 6th grade) I attended, in a rather tougher neighborhood than where I lived, felt honor bound to beat me up and prove that he/she could. The fact that I was from a white collar family, a girl and bookish only made me more of a target.

So I developed an ability to fight with hands, feet, umbrellas, books and any object that came to hand, including but not limited to boots AND I developed the Sarah doctrine.

Understand that despite what my mom would tell you about me at that time (she got tired of torn clothes and broken umbrellas. Also of a pre-teen/teen daughter who wore work boots because they were better for kicking) I didn't like to fight. My idea of heaven was to find somewhere quiet and warm and have a good book to read. If I thought surrendering my lunch money would have got me that, I'd have done it. But it didn't work. And so I had to develop a way to be left alone and live in peace.

Since the US is one of the largest and most prosperous economies in the world, it can't hide. So it must follow the Sarah Doctrine.

1 - see above - be prepared to fight.

2 - when you absolutely have to fight, fight not just to win but till the other guy is hurting so badly he/she/they is going to remember it for the rest of his/her/their life. In fact, make sure you hurt the other side so bad that when it even looks at you the old pains come up no matter what the wish for revenge. (Revenge might be a dish best served cold. It's also rarely attempted while you still look strong enough to wipe the floor with the other guy.) This is how, as a petite eleven year old I broke one of the hard-case fourteen year old boy's ribs by throwing him against a wall.

3- Beat anyone who makes a move to attack you, no matter how much stronger or weaker than you they seem. Beat them hard enough to leave marks and to make sure they remember it. No pulling punches. They would beat you as hard as they could, if you don't they'll think you weak and you're just inviting trouble.

4 - Do not go out of your way to seek fights but attack first if:

a) one of the crazies has made enough hostile comments about you that you know he's working himself up to jump you - even if he doesn't, he might incite another of the crazies.

b) anyone is making obvious preparations to attack you, including ambushing you on your way home from school, in a deserted area where they have no business being.

c) they beat up on one of your friends - because this is the work-up to beating up on you. They're testing how feisty you are. Also because if you don't defend your friends, you won't have any, and all else aside, who is going to inform you when the crazies are working up to beating you up.

Now, if you read the Sarah doctrine above, you'll see why I was ambivalent on Iraq. While it fell under "they declared war and beat up on our friends" and "they're harassing one of our friends" (Saddam was financing suicide bombers in Israel) I wasn't sure if this was serious or just the things the crazies can't help doing. I.e., is it provocation or Turrets? Of course, I could see that if the Sarah doctrine had been applied under George H W Bush we wouldn't be in that situation. The problem, of course, was that papa Bush pulled punches instead of kicking the crazy into the gutter. I understand that too. There are bullies who seem very threatening, but when you come to grapple with them they start crying, and they're sad skin and bones, and the temptation to let them go is overwhelming. But that is a mistake you only make ONCE.

Once we were engaged in the fight, the Sarah doctrine dictates doing a serious whooping. Also, I would never consider the whole rebuilding bit - shrugs - look... Yes, I understand it as a more sophisticated grown up. But in the logic of the playground this is wrong. You don't try to make the bully one of your body guards or at least not till you've beat him so hard he pees himself when he thinks of hitting you.

What else would the Sarah doctrine dictate? Well, we should be punching Iran's lights out, but NOT getting involved with Syria.

Iran has "declared war" on us thirty years ago, and since then has been sending his feebler-minded buddies against us in every way and at every possible chance he gets. It's also ganging up with the other bullies, even those who are very different from it, like North Korea and Venezuela. We're going to have to punch Iran's lights out and the sooner it's done, the less trouble it will cause.

On the other hand, on Syria, if one of the crazies is hitting himself on the head with rocks, you tell the school nurse. She won't do much of anything, but that's all that will happen. Yeah, being humanitarian and stopping someone you don't even like from hurting himself might give you a warm glow all over, but it's just borrowing trouble. If you get involved some of the crazy's friends are going to decide you're beating up on him and gang up against you. The other side of it is that you might have to associate with their friends to stop them beating themselves up, and letting the crazies get familiar with you is to invite trouble.

Anyway, by swift beating up of everyone who infringes your safety and by steering clear of the places they hang out - which yes, means our developing every possible form of energy ourselves, so that we can let the crazies in the world neighborhood eat sand and drink oil - we as a country could probably find a quiet warm corner to read our book in peace.

And that is the Sarah Doctrine.  It's not chiseled in stone, but it allowed me to survive an exceptionally tough neighborhood school and it might serve us well in the exceptionally tough global community, too.

On the other hand, of course, a magic eight ball is cheaper and has the advantage of making the mistakes "no one's fault."

posted by Sarah on 04.04.11 at 11:11 AM


I endorse the Sarah Doctrine.

I think it boils down to having "street smarts":

Eric Scheie   ·  April 4, 2011 11:56 AM

Sarah, LOVE IT! I, too, believe that pulling punches increases violence and reduces peace, and I wish the US would stop doing it. We can win decisively if we let ourselves, and the results would be far better if we did.

John S.   ·  April 4, 2011 11:57 AM

I like it, even if nobody else does.


Mark Alger   ·  April 4, 2011 12:15 PM

Interesting coincidence... just read the following quote of Jeff Cooper:

"If you don't understand weapons you don't understand fighting. If you don't understand fighting you don't understand war. If you don't understand war you don't understand history. And if you don't understand history you might as well live with your head in a sack."

Bullies always prey on the weak, they only respect or respond to strength.

#1 rule of fighting for me, always fight as if my life depends on it.

#2 rule - don't get into a fight unless your life depends on it.

I've managed to get through life without getting into fights or using violence, so far. I am perfectly willing to use violence, and I am capable of using violence, but a life or death situation has not come up in life.

Si vis pacem, para bellum
If you want peace, train for war.

Great post Sarah.

Keith_Indy   ·  April 4, 2011 12:19 PM

Keith... What often gets us into "trouble" is that gray area where you, I , or Sarah decide that someone IS working themselves up to be a threat, and the faint of heart look at you like "you're a bully and a barbarian."

... but given that between the embassy ('70), the FIRST towers bombing, the Cole, and 9/11, some people STILL can't see a declaration of war when it craps on their face..


Worse, some of them are absolutely fascinated by the bullies.

For me - my son's looking at colleges, and I'm glad Columbia turned him down. They thought Gaddafi was a good idea for "guest speaker."

Darius   ·  April 4, 2011 1:18 PM

Well, what policy do we expect from people who live with their heads in sacks (and have rose colored glasses on top of that.)

We should have taken care of Iran when they invaded our embassy.

Keith_Indy   ·  April 4, 2011 3:09 PM

Endorse it? I'm going to write a post on my other blog.

When I was a hippie I was loosely affiliated with the outlaw biker crowd. I never fell for that peace, love, good vibes stuff.

Armed non-violence was more my style. Don't tread on me.

And of course without the bikers the hippie thing would have been impossible. Those hombres were the ones delivering the party favors to the hippies. For a price.

M. Simon   ·  April 4, 2011 4:56 PM

Let me add that the bikers LOVED to party just as much as the hippies. Maybe more.

Where they differed from the hippies is that they understood how the world really works.

M. Simon   ·  April 4, 2011 5:07 PM


I salute you. That was exactly perfect. And, I'll add something. I was 5' tall and light (not as much light now - but you noted the US height difference - I suspect I could find clothes that fit me in your homeland)).

Bullies don't always want to challenge - a lot of times they just want what you might call an easy win. And your doctrine worked for me, too. You've just got to be a bit more crazed when you fight at my size. But I was never bothered twice by a bully.

Kathy Kinsley   ·  April 4, 2011 6:29 PM

P.S. Just in case I sound like a bully myself... I never fought unless I had to.

Kathy Kinsley   ·  April 4, 2011 6:37 PM


You don't SOUND like a bully, you sound like someone who will solve her own problems. :)

As for clothes fitting you -- sigh. Most of my friends were 4'8" to 5'2". Mind you, the new generation is much taller (improved nutrition, I think) but still. I couldn't find clothes that fit me, when I was a size seven. I got told that they didn't carry clothes for "fat people." (At that point you could see my ribs without an x ray...)

Standardization is an article for tomorrow, if I have time. (I'm finishing a novel.)

Sarah   ·  April 4, 2011 10:32 PM

The Sarah doctrine ... I like it. And our version of it worked very well for my brother and I, in a semi-tough working-class suburb: don't go looking for a fight, but look like you could dish it out ten-fold to anyone looking for an easy mark.

Sgt. Mom   ·  April 5, 2011 9:33 AM

I like and endorse the Sarah doctrine too. It sounds very much like my own attitude toward bullies in school. I'm a guy who has always been tall but skinny. I knew it didn't make much sense to be looking for fights. However I learned early on that if I was willing to fight a bigger guy who was itching for a fight that if I immediately made a point of hitting him as hard as I could in the head as often as I could then despite the ultimate outcome he would invariably leave me alone thereafter. Like you said leave marks they won't forget.

Glad to hear you learned the same lesson I did. I think it would work well as applied to our foreign policy too.


Rick   ·  April 5, 2011 12:45 PM

I not only endorse the Sara Doctrine, but I lived it as a K-12 student. I was big, slow and bookish.

In my senior year, another student attacked me with a knife. A friend of his had attacked my younger brother -- at another school -- and had the stuffing knocked out of him by my brother, even though my brother's attacker had a knife and my brother did not. So it was an attempt to get back at my brother through me.

He did successfully stab me, but by the time the fight was over, I had beaten my attacker into unconciousness. I did it with my bare hands and a massive dose of adrenaline. And I pressed charges that sent him to prison for three years.

To be honest, I did not expect to win the fight, but realized that no one else was going to stop the fight but me. So I figured I had nothing to lose (and actually thought he had opened a major artery or vein and that I two minutes to kill him before I passed out - marvelous motivator that, even though I was wrong).

Afterwards I learned that my attacker had a reasonable expectation that he could stab me in a crowded lunchroom at school and get away unpunished. He was one of a pair of identical twins, who planned their crimes so that one was very visibly somewhere else when the other did the dirty work. If the attacker got away they would play the game of each claiming to be the good twin, raising reasonable doubt. Because I fought back, the attacking twin was apprehended at the scene -- literally red-handed, with my blood all over him. The prosecutor had the culprit beyond a reasonable doubt!

I had an older brother who was even more bookish than me -- but he was subsequently left alone. I think by that time the gang that was mad at my younger brother -- and me (after fight #2) -- decided that they were in some real-life version of The Three Billy-Goats Gruff, and did not want to press their luck with the oldest goat, given the treatment they received from the younger two.

Mark L   ·  April 6, 2011 4:53 PM

And how about not letting any more of them into the country?

rechill   ·  May 5, 2011 6:40 PM

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