The most important decisions you make are often not what to do, but what not to do. Like the time singer James Blunt “prevented World War III”.
Before he became a hit singer, James was a Captain in the British Army. At a 1999 stand-off during the Kosovo War known as the “Incident at Pristina Airport”, he risked a court marshall by refusing an order from US General Wesley Clark, who was the NATO Supreme Commander in Europe, to attack the Russians and potentially sparking a World War III.
James was at the head of a column of 30,000 NATO troops, and was on a mission to capture Pristina Airport, but he got there to find the Russians had beaten them to it.
As James recalls, ”I was the lead officer with my troop of men behind us. The soldiers directly behind me were from the Parachute Regiment, so they’re obviously game for the fight.”
“We had 200 Russians lined up pointing their weapons at us aggressively … and we’d been told to reach the airfield and take a hold of it.”
“The direct command that came in from General Wesley Clark was to overpower them. Words such as ‘destroy’ came down the radio.”
James refused the order, and luckily soon after he was backed up by the Commander of the British Forces, who also went against their superior, General Clark: ”Fortunately, up on the radio came General Sir Mike Jackson, whose words were, ‘I’m not going to have my soldiers start World War Three.’
Asked in an interview with the BBC whether he agreed the attack could have triggered World War III, James said “Absolutely. And that’s why we were querying our instruction from an American general.”
James got his men to surround the airport instead, “And after a couple of days the Russians there said, ‘Hang on, we have no food and no water. Can we share the airfield with you?’”
James said, even if he didn’t have the support of his British General, he still would have refused the order: “There are things that you do along the way that you know are right, and those that you absolutely feel are wrong, that I think it’s morally important to stand up against, and that sense of moral judgement is drilled into us as soldiers in the British army.”
After the incident, General Jackson came close to resigning, and General Clark was dismissed by his boss, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, for “Integrity and character issues”.
With no need to fight in a World War III, James left the army, released his first album ‘Back to Bedlam’, got his first No.1 hit ‘You’re Beautiful’, and went on to sell 11 million albums…
How about you? What are the biggest things you could decide simply not to do right now?
Why not replace your to-do list with a not-to-do-list?
Why not replace doing ten half-hearted things with one full-spirited thing?
Your decisions of what not to do may not be as big as preventing World War III, but they could be decisions that clear the way for the life you’re meant to live.
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell