With all the recent talk about battles (i.e., the battle for Libya, the battle over the federal budget, the battle to control a meltdown), it reminded me of two ceditra entries that I wrote a week apart. Both randomly selected snippets chosen through my super-secret formula that not even This American Life can suss out comes from Sun Tzu’s classic treatise The Art of War.
December 29, 2010
If the general is unable to control his impatience and orders his troops to swarm up the wall like ants, one-third of them will be killed without taking the city. Such is the calamity of these attacks.
–Offensive Strategy (Chapter III, Line 9)
The strategy of sending waves of people against the wall (aka, the brute force strategy) is a losing strategy unless you have the numbers. With a quantity of personnel where large losses can be absorbed then it makes sense to throw those forces against the defenses to wear down the opposing forces.
That, so conventional wisdom says, is one of the reasons that Union won the United States Civil War. The side in blue didn’t have the smartest generals or the best strategy, but they had the numbers to absorb Confederate attacks and to throw against the Rebels.
In lieu of the brute force strategy, when you don’t have the numbers, that is when actual tactics comes into play and the battle becomes a chess match rather than a meat grinder.
The Greeks used the Trojan Horse. The Americans in Desert Storm simply went around the Iraqi lines as did the Germans against the French Maginot Line during World War II). Hannibal used elephants. Sir Francis Drake used faster, lighter ships against the Spanish Armada.
Business is the same way. Government should be, but when you can print money, money is never a problem.
January 4, 2011
Thus, those skilled in war subdue the enemy’s army without battle. They capture his cities with assaulting them and overthrow his state without protracted operations.
–Offensive Strategy (Chapter III, Line 10)
We come again to the essence of “strategy”. If one force in a conflict can defeat the other without having to spend any physical energy – thus saving lives, money, and infrastructure – that winning team is beyond victorious, it is genius.
“Defeat” is a relative term. One side can win if it gets the other to accede to its demands. If you can get the other guy to do what you want – you win.
Battles, bullets, and bodies are a waste of resources when more strategic and subtle methods can achieve the same end. Of course, the problem with strategy is that it requires mental activities like thinking and planning. Those activities can be hard given the easy solution of simply trying to pound the other side into submission.
Well, as Issac Asimov in his Foundation series wrote, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”