With the evolution of Homo sapiens (the first intelligent humans), the history of human conflict begins. The origin of conflict was competition. Competition for food, partner, shelter, authority etc led to conflict among men. Everybody wanted to have things that pleased their body and soul. As they can’t have all the things, there was conflict. Conflict put challenges before them. Challenges helped them in strengthening their survival spirit further. Conflict made the humans what they are today.
In India, I think it was Kautilya, the fourth century BC political philosopher who popularized the saying ‘the enemy of enemy is my friend’. He even wrote a book called Arthashastra, Which is full of political thoughts that lead one to position of authority. He believed in the philosophy of human conflict and its tactful dealing. He applied it in practical life, and dethroned Nanda king of Magadh and established Mauryan Empire in 321 BC. The European counterpart of Kautilya was Machiavelli. He too in his book ‘The Prince’ justified stratagems and deceits to attain political ends.
In the 21st Century, the old kingdoms gave way to new empires. Today, the new empires are big corporate and companies. The war and the battles are still going on sans elephants and horses. Competition, marketing strategy, merger, media war, attrition, intelligence, all these stratagems are used to destroy rivals to gain authority and rule over market.
Modern Offices too are not without believers of the philosophy implicit in the proverb. In offices, we find rivalry among the colleagues to get into the good books of the bosses, attention of the opposite sex, and getting some favors etc. Lobbying, gossiping, befriending the rival of the fellow rival is done with full enthusiasm to checkmate their rivals.
In international relations too, the proverb has practical application. China and Pakistan are friends. Pakistan even went out of way by ceding an important chunk of Himalayan land to befriend China. They both are regarded as India’s archenemy. USA befriended and helped Kuwait to destroy Saddam Hussein. In eighties, it even helped Afghanistan to fight Soviet Union, the then America’s ideological enemy. The old proverb ‘the enemy of enemy is my friend’ has not lost its relevance.
I was surprised to find that in nature too, there is a fish called Pilot fish that cleanse parasites off the body of a shark. These smaller fish swim freely around the sharks, and even inside the mouths of the sharks that could easily eat the small fish. Since the shark's enemy is the parasite and the parasite's enemy is
the smaller fish, the shark considers the Pilot fish a friend and accommodates an otherwise potential food source.
But I wonder what would happen if we get united with the enemy of the enemy and work towards annihilation, extermination, obliteration or neutralization (god forbid such words!) of the enemy; what type of relation then would we have with the enemy of enemy? Would he not become our next rival! Then don’t we again have to find his enemy to destroy him? I think the application of the proverb put us in a vicious cycle.
It is good to have friends. The more we have the better. But I was again surprised to find that Kautilya has written that the deadliest enemy is the one who was once your friend. So be wary in making friends and don’t share all your secrets and weaknesses with them. Who knows tomorrow they may become your enemy! It is bad-bad world!
Though it cannot be denied that the philosophy inherent in the proverb’ the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ has shaped the history of conflict among people, I believe that the conflict has also led many great human minds to come out with philosophies that facilitated a more peaceful and conflict-less society for the humans. In a way it led to a better world. Buddha, Confucius, Christ, Guru Nanak, Gandhi and many such other leaders contributed greatly towards making of a conflict-less society. Their philosophy formed the basis of modern democratic society.
The proverb was a product of a political mind. It was useful where we seek power or have some vested interests, but for a simple and peaceful existence, in a modern civilization where the law takes care of our enemy, perhaps there is no need of such policy. With love and compassion, we can turn even our deadliest enemy into our friend.