Strategy: A History

Ants are among the most warlike of creatures. Their foreign policy has been described as “restless aggression, territorial conquest, and genocidal annihilation of neighboring colonies whenever possible. If ants had nuclear weapons, they would probably end the world in a week.

As this required a comprehensive defeat, Napoleon had little interest in indirect strategies. When a point of weakness was found, extra forces would be poured in to break through.

A strategist should think in terms of paralyzing, not of killing. —Basil Liddell Hart

Clausewitz was wary of the general who tried to be too smart. He preferred those who kept their imaginations in check and a firm grip on the harsh realities of battle.

Don’t you see that the whole aim of newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? —George Orwell,

Even where men’s conceptions are sound and reasonable, where by their own creative power and their discernment of actuality they correspond to things, actuality in its capacity as Luck, will behave in an unreasonable way, as Pericles says, and overturn conceptions of the greatest nobility and intelligence.

Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth. —Mike Tyson

Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are… The common people are always impressed by appearances and results.

God created strategy by allowing choice,

Having a strategy suggests an ability to look up from the short term and the trivial to view the long term and the essential, to address causes rather than symptoms, to see woods rather than trees.

Here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast. —The Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass

Indeed, Clausewitz was wary of the general who tried to be too smart. He preferred those who kept their imaginations in check and a firm grip on the harsh realities of battle.

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. —Yogi Berra (also attributed to Albert Einstein)

It is as well to avoid illusions of control, but in the end all we can do is act as if we can influence events. To do otherwise is to succumb to fatalism.

John Stuart Mill in 1848: “It is commerce which is rapidly rendering war obsolete, by strengthening and multiplying the personal interests which act in natural opposition to it.

man becomes a little cog in the machine, and, aware of this, his one preoccupation is to become a bigger cog. —Max Weber,

Napoleon embodied a new way of fighting wars: a combination of individual genius and mass organization, and objectives far more ambitious than those of his predecessors.

Radical groups with distant goals could find comfort in an isolated purity, while those who tasted success saw the value of accommodating the views of others.

So the realm of strategy is one of bargaining and persuasion as well as threats and pressure, psychological as well as physical effects, and words as well as deeds. This is why strategy is the central political art. It is about getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest. It is the art of creating power.

strategy formation walks on two feet, one deliberate, the other emergent.

Strategy is revolution. Everything else is tactics.

The ability to persuade not only one’s people but also allies and enemies was a vital attribute of the successful strategist. In this way, strategy required a combination of words and deeds, and the ability to manipulate them both.

the art of creating power

The brain consumes 20 percent of the body’s energy, far more than any other organ, while making up only 2 percent of an adult’s body weight.

The forward movement necessary to occupy enemy territory taxed the attacker’s energies and resources, while the defender was able to use this time to prepare to receive the attacker.

The point at which God asserted his greatness to his chosen people was when he arranged the escape of the Jews from Egypt, where they were kept as slaves. One reading of the story of Exodus is that it was not so much about freeing the Israelites from slavery as about asserting God’s greatness by establishing a people beholden to him and ensuring that they—and others—were in awe of his power. Under this interpretation, the Exodus story becomes a gigantic manipulation.

There are no endings. If you think so you are deceived as to their nature. They are all beginnings. Here is one. —Hilary Mantel

we are all inevitably someone’s adversary.

We may be likened to two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life. —J. Robert Oppenheimer

What Frederick shared with Napoleon—and what later theorists celebrated in both—was the ability to create strength on the battlefield, even without an overall numerical advantage, and direct it against an enemy’s vulnerabilities.