KNOW YOUR ENEMY
Included in today's newsletter is an editorial that was
published in the monthly "American Dairy Farmer" magazine.
I received an invitation to dinner at the northern Florida
dairy farm owned by Teresa VanWagner and family.
If you've seen the ending to the movie, "Easy Rider," you
can relate to my mixed feelings at accepting that
invitation. Would I be buried somewhere in the north 40?
Although she is a friend, there is no misunderstanding
between us. I am the dairy industry's worst nightmare. One
well placed pitchfork, and I'd be sleeping with the cow
I see great wisdom in knowing one's enemy. I subscribe to
many dairy magazines and journals and try to keep up with
the politics, science, and business within that industry.
Know your enemy. That view was shared by Italian statesman
Niccolo Machiavelli, Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu and Abraham
Lincoln. These men combined the art of political science
with the psychology of human nature to write their own
unique chapters in the collective textbook of the art of
warfare. Lincoln once said:
"I destroy my enemy when I make him my friend."
Machiavelli's text,"The Prince," has been used for tutoring
monarchs and chief executives in a centuries-old lesson:
successful campaigns are waged on and off battlegrounds.
Those who understand their opponents win wars.
The great Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu wrote in his "Art of
"If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are
certain to be in peril."
GUESS WHO CAME TO DINNER by Teresa VanWagner
"At any gathering, he'd be the center of attention, the life
of the party. One minute he'll regale you with stories of
his misadventures, the next minute he'll single-handedly and
fairly debate both sides of an issue. He's a whirlwind of
energy with a brilliant mind. He reads people as easily as
the rest of us read traffic signs, and his sense of humor
doesn't quit. He's charismatic to a spellbinding degree, and
his name is Robert Cohen. Yes, that Robert Cohen-the
NotMilkman, founder of the Dairy Education Board, author of
the book "Milk - The Deadly Poison," the person the dairy
industry loves to hate - THAT Robert Cohen came to dinner.
In the past, via email, Robert and I had engaged in an
offensively hostile war of words. Trading verbal putdowns,
attempting to discredit another's avocation by discrediting
the person is a forgivable fault of human nature. But
standing in the middle of a raging battlefield, playing
mindless word games, isn't good strategy for staying alive.
Finally, Robert and I decided to act like intelligent
adults. We agreed to respectfully disagree. By openly
acknowledging that knowing one's enemy is of utmost
importance in the pursuit of winning any adversarial
conflict, we discovered that while we would always be
enemies on one level, we could be, and are, friends on
another. It's a fragile trust, based on a shared philosophy
that there is no one in this world from whom we can't learn
So there we were, seven of us - three generations of
VanWagners, Robert Cohen and his friend, Eva Jones–sharing a
meal and lively, laughter-filled and serious, conversation.
A summit meeting of sorts, with a unique cast of characters
as comfortable with one another as the dairy, pasta,
poultry, and vegetarian foods on the table. From our email
conversations, I had already come to the conclusion that
behind Robert's abrasive, inflammatory mockery of dairy
products lies a man with a serious dedication to his mission
Before I met him, it was warning enough to simply say,
'Watch out for this guy! He has an extensive knowledge of
science and a superior ability to combine facts, in a
variety of ways, to support his arguments.'
Since meeting him, however, I know those were naive words.
They don't do justice to Robert's powerfully persuasive
personality, or to his thorough understanding of dairy
farmers and the dairy industry. He has sincere appreciation,
empathy and admiration for dairy farmers, publicly and
privately describing us as the most dedicated and
hardworking people he knows. He has an excellent grasp of
the fragmentation within our ranks and the reasons behind
our divisiveness. He has some outstanding ideas on how to
promote milk consumption, as well as valid, constructive
criticisms of our present milk marketing programs.
Is Robert Cohen an enigma? Maybe. What's important is that
he knows his enemy well-far better than we know ourselves. I
have two lasting impressions from that evening. One is that
underestimating Robert Cohen's ability to damage the dairy
industry is a big mistake. The other is a profound wish that
the man was on our side. And I have a question. If 'got
milk?' and 'NotMilk!' from opposite sides of the battlefield
can agree to find middle ground, why can't those of us, on
our side of the battlefield, do the same?"
You can visit Teresa, her family, and the 600 cows on on the
Have a happy and healthy new year!