Burn the Boats

Whenever the topic of secession comes up, critics (those who don’t immediately dismiss the idea out of hand as impossible, moronic, etc.) inevitably pose questions such as “But what about…” I just read one such article this evening. In his article How Would a National Divorce Work? Thomas Knapp asks the following questions:

  • What happens to the national debt?
  • What happens to federally-owned military assets?
  • How would border crossings work?

These are valid and important questions. And each of them will require a resolution when one or more states decides to move forward and secede from the union.

Plan B vs Burn the Boats

There are two lines of thinking regarding making momentous decisions: the Plan B method vs the Burn the Boats method.

Personally, I’ve always leaned towards the Plan B camp. “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” Plan to do project A, but have a backup plan B in case A goes sideways. This strategy seems logical and safe to me.

The Burn the Boats camp, on the other hand, goes all in. Advocates of this strategy believe it forces a state of full commitment, by eliminating other options. It focuses 100% of your energy and focus on your goal. If you keep the door open to going back to the status quo, then you’re psychologically dragging one foot behind you. A part of you is actually planning for failure.

Boat burners are Do or Die. Like Bruce Willis leaping off the roof of the burning Nakatomi Tower with only a fire hose tied around his waist in “Die Hard”, the battle cry of the Burn the Boats brigade is “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!”

I used to think the Burn the Boats brigade were hopeless dreamers and lunatics. Per Murphy’s Law, whatever can go wrong, WILL go wrong. It only makes sense to plan for that, right? Sure, work hard for your dream, but make sure you have a backup plan so you don’t go splat too badly if it doesn’t work out.

The thing is… some extremely successful people have endorsed the Burn the Boats strategy.

Boat Burners from History

Historians sometimes credit Hernán Cortés, Spanish explorer and conqueror of the Aztec empire, as the originator of the Burn the Boats philosophy. In 1519, he led a large expedition from Spain to Mexico. After his men and horses disembarked from their boats, Cortés made the irreversible decision to burn the boats in which they’d travelled from Spain. This sent a clear message to his men: there is no going back.

Another historical example (although opinions differ on the accuracy of this story) is Julius Caesar’s arrival on the shores of the island of Britain in 55BC. The Celts outnumbered Caesar’s men, who began to panic. Caesar burnt all his boats, forcing his men to fight with 100% commitment.

A related strategy is to not burn your enemies‘ boats. According to Naphtali Hoff in his article “To Be Successful, Burn Your Boats”, “Hebrew tradition teaches a similar value. In ancient times, Israelite armies would besiege enemy cities from three sides only, leaving open the possibility of flight. They understood that so long as the enemy saw that they had an escape route available, they would not fight with utmost earnestness and energy. In most cases, this played right into the besiegers’ hands.”

Modern Boat Burners

Tony Robbins is a modern example of a highly successful individual who promotes this strategy:

“If you want to take the island you need to burn the boats.”

Tony Robbins

I know a man here in New Hampshire who had dreamed for many years of living off-grid. He took steps towards making his dream a reality. First, he purchased a large piece of land. Then he spent time and money clearing and prepping part of it. Then he purchased supplies and got friends to help him erect a small, simple structure. It had no electricity or running water.

Now, this man had a house, a mortgage, a full-time job and children to feed. He had no personal experience living off-grid, although he’d read some books and watched YouTube videos. He didn’t know what sorts of unforeseen things he’d run into when he started living in the woods with no power or plumbing.

The Plan B part of me thought that the smart thing for him to do would be to move into his new off-grid place, but hang on to his house, at least at first. That way, if something went terribly awry, he’d have his house to fall back to. But that’s not what he did.

This guy sold his house, set the closing date, and at that point, there was no going back. He had to get rid of all his possessions that wouldn’t fit in the new, far smaller, place. Goodbye to the conveniences of hot running water, temperature controlled by electric thermostat, refrigerator, electric lights… He pursued his dream with 100% commitment, trusting in himself to figure out solutions to whatever problems would arise. He moved into his off-grid home, and two years later has zero regrets. Has he run into some unexpected problems? He most certainly has. And he’s come up with a solution to each one. Furthermore, his new lifestyle is more satisfying and rewarding than he had ever imagined.

Burn the Boats for New Hampshire Independence

There are a million and one questions that will need to be answered regarding the logistics of New Hampshire becoming an independent nation. But they don’t all necessarily need to be answered now.

I can imagine a scenario where a thinktank of brilliant, sincere people spend years working out the details of how national defense, international trade, social services, etc would be structured in the new nation of New Hampshire… but much of it would be speculative. The plans would need to be adjusted, or scrapped and rewritten from scratch, in the new reality of independence.

And, most importantly, it would never be enough to satisfy some critics. Some people will never be convinced that independence makes sense. And… that’s OK. We don’t need to convince everyone. We only need to convince enough people, the right people, those with the courage to move forward, and with trust in our competency to manage our own lives. We’ll figure out the things that need figureout-ing.

It’s time to burn the boats.

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