“Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD) was the term used during the Cold War to express the fickle (and spiteful) state non-agression that prevailed between the USA and USSR (and their allies) ever since WWII ended and until the dissolution of the USSR. The Cold War is probably a phenomenon that could only exist when two nations “fighting it” happen to be spectacularly powerful. So much that no matter what outcome a potential conflict may have, either nation would at best achieve a terminally Pyrhhic victory.
Now, I’m not saying that MAD is the ultimate ingredient for peace in any situation, but its success in keeping the US and USSR from annihilating each other (and in the process, the world) and its prevalence in nature are evidence of its potential.
My Kung-Fu teacher told me a story today about his old master, Richard Ratzkoff, who had an appointed fight against a fellow martial artist, nicknamed (or otherwise called) “Duke”. When Richard came to Duke’s dojo, he bowed. Duke bowed back accordingly, and a split second later, was in mid-air, fist outdrawn, aiming at Richard’s face, missing it by a fraction. Richard evaded the blow a tiny moment before recieving a knock-out fist.
Right after this single attack, Richard and Duke turned to face each other, bowed again, shook hands, and parted, the melee drawn to a close right there and then. Richard said that when he parried Duke’s blow, he noted in that instant that should that man succeed in striking him, he would be done for. Duke later revealed that at that moment, he came to the realization that Richard just evaded his most powerful, most agile, and fastest attack, and he would never be able to exceed it.
So the two hardened warriors accepted their opponent as worthy, and came to terms with the fact that none of them could leave this battlefield without irreparable harm.
So they chose non-aggression as a better option. I see this event as a beautiful analogy to the Cold War – two warlike giants, hardened, natural-born fighters, having witnessed each other’s prowess as warriors – concluded that a clash between them will be disastrous for both.
When I heard the story, I immediately thought of similar skirmishes in nature, for example, in stags. Some stags possess exceedingly large horns, and in many occasions, when fighting for mates or territory, conclude their fighting with both parties unharmed (or at least, alive), after coming to the realization that either party will have too much to lose by winning that fight.
So nations, grand masters and stags make their calculations similarly.
The theory collapses when you let madmen who don’t invest a great deal of thinking do the fighting. These are the kind of people who would go headlong into a fight, oblivious to whether they win or lose, but it appears that even the most dedicated warriors (as Richard and Duke obviously are) make rational considerations when they enter a conflict.