The 33 Strategies of War
The 33 Strategies of War

The 33 Strategies of War

mistakes. 16 HIT THEM WHERE IT HURTS: (Location 109)

But what connects them, in fact what constitutes the art of war itself in Sun-tzu’s eyes, is the ideal of winning without bloodshed. (Location 264)

The evolution toward more unconventional, dirtier strategies—guerrilla warfare, terrorism—mirrors a similar evolution in society, where almost anything goes. (Location 270)

Everything in life can be taken away from you and generally will be at some point. Your wealth vanishes, the latest gadgetry suddenly becomes passé, your allies desert you. (Location 329)

We become so enmeshed in the conflicts we face that we can think only of how to get what we want in the battle we are currently facing. To think strategically is difficult and unnatural. (Location 353)

Think of strategy as a series of lines and arrows aimed at a goal: at getting you to a certain point in the world, at helping you to attack a problem in your path, at figuring out how to encircle and destroy your enemy. Before directing these arrows at your enemies, however, you must first direct them at yourself. (Location 409)

First, become aware of the weakness and illness that can take hold of the mind, warping its strategic powers. Second, declare a kind of war on yourself to make yourself move forward. Third, wage ruthless and continual battle on the enemies within you by applying certain strategies. (Location 414)

You need clarity. Learn to smoke out your enemies, to spot them by the signs and patterns that reveal hostility. Then, once you have them in your sights, inwardly declare war. (Location 423)

The problem was in their heads. Fighting for money rather than for a purpose or cause, unable to distinguish between friend and foe, they had gotten lost. (Location 474)

Life is battle and struggle, and you will constantly find yourself facing bad situations, destructive relationships, dangerous engagements. (Location 495)

you have only yourself to blame. (Location 498)

Focus on an enemy. It can be someone who blocks your path or sabotages you, whether subtly or obviously; it can be someone who has hurt you or someone who has fought you unfairly; (Location 504)

Margaret Thatcher came to power as an outsider: a middle-class woman, a right-wing radical. The first instinct of most outsiders who attain power is to become insiders—life on the outside is hard—but in doing so they lose their identity, their difference, the thing that makes them stand out in the public (Location 568)

At every step of the way, to give her the contrast she needed, Thatcher marked out an opponent: the socialists, the wets, the Argentineans. (Location 572)

Do not worry about antagonizing people; without antagonism there is no battle, and without battle, there is no chance of victory. Do not be lured by the need to be liked: better to be respected, even feared. Victory over your enemies will bring you a more lasting popularity. (Location 581)

Your first task as a strategist is to widen your concept of the enemy, to include in that group those who are working against you, thwarting you, even in subtle ways. (Location 602)

Without getting paranoid, you need to realize that there are people who wish you ill and operate indirectly. Identify them and you’ll suddenly have room to maneuver. (Location 604)

You can even work to turn this enemy into a friend. But whatever you do, do not be the naïve victim. Do not find yourself constantly retreating, reacting to your enemies’ maneuvers. Arm yourself with prudence, and never completely lay down your arms, not even for friends. (Location 606)

Those children who seek to avoid conflict at all cost, or those who have overprotective parents, end up handicapped socially and mentally. (Location 685)

He described their recent treachery and said they were an evil culture that could find no favor with the gods. And so it is with you: victory is your goal, not fairness and balance. Use the rhetoric of war to heighten the stakes and stimulate the spirit. (Location 701)

What you want in warfare is room to maneuver. Tight corners spell death. Having enemies gives you options. (Location 703)

Measuring his actions and calculating carefully, he did only those things that left him in a solid position in relation to Pompey. (Location 705)

Remember: there are always people out there who are more aggressive, more devious, more ruthless than you are, and it is inevitable that some of them will cross your path. (Location 708)

Always keep the search for and use of enemies under control. It is clarity you want, not paranoia. (Location 719)

Margaret Thatcher, usually brilliant at the polarizing game, eventually lost control of it: she created too many enemies and kept repeating the same tactic, even in situations that called for retreat. (Location 723)

What most often weighs you down and brings you misery is the past, in the form of unnecessary attachments, repetitions of tired formulas, and the memory of old victories and defeats. (Location 730)

Be ruthless on yourself; do not repeat the same tired methods. (Location 732)

Wage guerrilla war on your mind, allowing no static lines of defense, no exposed citadels—make everything fluid and mobile. (Location 734)

The generals realized that Napoleon knew about their plans—he had excellent spies—but the Prussians had a head start, and once their war machine started to move, nothing could stop it. (Location 770)

The reality facing the Prussians in 1806 was simple: they had fallen fifty years behind the times. Their generals were old, and instead of responding to present circumstances, they were repeating formulas that had worked in the past. (Location 799)

Reality was staring them in the face, yet they chose to ignore it. Indeed, they told themselves that Napoleon was the one who was doomed. (Location 804)

What limits individuals as well as nations is the inability to confront reality, to see things for what they are. As we grow older, we become more rooted in the past. Habit takes over. Something that has worked for us before becomes a doctrine, a shell to protect us from reality. Repetition replaces creativity. (Location 806)

Never take it for granted that your past successes will continue into the future. Actually, your past successes are your biggest obstacle: every battle, every war, is different, and you cannot assume that what worked before will work today. You must cut yourself loose from the past and open your eyes to the present. Your tendency to fight the last war may lead to your final war. (Location 810)

REFRESHING THE MIND When you and your opponent are engaged in combat which is dragging on with no end in sight, it is crucial that you should come up with a completely different technique. (Location 835)

Ignoring the warnings of his friends, Musashi challenged Baiken and showed up at the man’s tent with two swords, one long, one short. Baiken had never seen someone fight with two swords. (Location 844)

Miyamoto Musashi, author of The Book of Five Rings, won all his duels for one reason: in each instance he adapted his strategy to his opponent and to the circumstances of the moment. (Location 872)

That is the same as fighting the last war: instead of responding to the moment, they relied on training, technology, and what had worked before. (Location 879)

His first thought was of the gambit that would take this particular opponent most by surprise. (Location 881)

In preparing yourself for war, you must rid yourself of myths and misconceptions. Strategy is not a question of learning a series of moves or ideas to follow like a recipe; victory has no magic formula. (Location 890)

The problem, though, is not that we think of the solution only when it is too late. The problem is that we imagine that knowledge is what was lacking: if only we had known more, if only we had thought it through more thoroughly. That is precisely the wrong approach. (Location 900)

We are listening to our own thoughts, reacting to things that happened in the past, applying theories and ideas that we digested long ago but that have nothing to do with our predicament in the present. More books, theories, and thinking only make the problem worse. (Location 902)

Understand: the greatest generals, the most creative strategists, stand out not because they have more knowledge but because they are able, when necessary, to drop their preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present moment. (Location 906)

no amount of thinking in advance can prepare you for the chaos of life, for the infinite possibilities of the moment. (Location 909)

The better we can adapt our thoughts to changing circumstances, the more realistic our responses to them will be. The more we lose ourselves in predigested theories and past experiences, the more inappropriate and delusional our response. (Location 911)

Obsessional thoughts, past experiences (whether traumas or successes), and preconceived notions are like boulders or mud in this river, settling and hardening there and damming it up. (Location 919)

The river stops moving; stagnation sets in. You must wage constant war on this tendency in the mind. (Location 921)

Reexamine all your cherished beliefs and principles. When Napoleon was asked what principles of war he followed, he replied that he followed none. (Location 923)

When you are faced with a new situation, it is often best to imagine that you know nothing and that you need to start learning all over again. (Location 935)

Erase the memory of the last war. The last war you fought is a danger, even if you won it. It is fresh in your mind. If you were victorious, you will tend to repeat the strategies you just used, for success makes us lazy and complacent; if you lost, you may be skittish and indecisive. (Location 939)

The last war you fought is a danger, even if you won it. It is fresh in your mind. If you were victorious, you will tend to repeat the strategies you just used, for success makes us lazy and complacent; if you lost, you may be skittish and indecisive. (Location 939)

During the Vietnam War, the great North Vietnamese general Vo Nguyen Giap had a simple rule of thumb: after a successful campaign, he would convince himself that it had actually been a failure. (Location 942)

Ted Williams, perhaps baseball’s greatest pure hitter, made a point of always trying to forget his last at-bat. Whether he’d gotten a home run or a strikeout, he put it behind him. (Location 944)

Attention to the details of the present is by far the best way to crowd out the past and forget the last war. (Location 947)

All the greatest strategists—Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Musashi—were childlike in this respect. Sometimes, in fact, they even acted like children. The reason is simple: superior strategists see things as they are. They are highly sensitive to dangers and opportunities. (Location 951)

Their minds are always moving, and they are always excited and curious. They quickly forget the past—the present is much too interesting. (Location 954)

when Napoleon crushed the Prussians at Jena. In each case the conquering army developed a way of fighting that maximized a new form of technology or a new social order. (Location 977)

Developing antennae for the trends that have yet to crest takes work and study, as well as the flexibility to adapt to those trends. (Location 979)

Instead of staying sentimentally attached to some fashion of days gone by, she was able to sense a rising trend and go with it. By constantly adapting and changing your style, you will avoid the pitfalls of your previous wars. Just when people feel they know you, you will change. (Location 982)

Dostoyevsky’s method was a little extreme, but sometimes you have to shake yourself up, break free from the hold of the past. This can take the form of reversing your course, doing the opposite of what you would normally do in any given situation, putting yourself in some unusual circumstance, or literally starting over. In those situations the mind has to deal with a new reality, and it snaps to life. The change may be alarming, but it is also refreshing—even exhilarating. (Location 990)

Think of your mind as an army. Armies must adapt to the complexity and chaos of modern war by becoming more fluid and maneuverable. (Location 1005)

The guerrilla army never stops to defend a particular place or town; it wins by always moving, staying one step ahead. By following no set pattern, it gives the enemy no target. The guerrilla army never repeats the same tactic. It responds to the situation, the moment, the terrain where it happens to find itself. There is no front, no concrete line of communication or supply, no slow-moving wagon. The guerrilla army is pure mobility. (Location 1007)

But while you’re eliminating that pernicious tendency, you must imagine that your enemy is trying to do the same—trying to learn from and adapt to the present. (Location 1015)

When Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, he thought the United States had yet to recover from “Vietnam syndrome”—the fear of casualties and loss that had been so traumatic during the Vietnam period—and that it would either avoid war altogether or would fight in the same way it had, trying to win the fight from the air instead of on the ground. He did not realize that the American military was ready for a new kind of war. (Location 1017)

He forced himself to be more resolute than anyone around him. The moment he entered battle, he ratcheted up his aggressive impulses. Where other sea lords worried about casualties, the wind, changes in the enemy’s formation, he concentrated on his plan. (Location 1126)

moments of turmoil and trouble, you must force yourself to be more determined. Call up the aggressive energy you need to overcome caution and inertia. Any mistakes you make, you can rectify with more energetic action still. Save your carefulness for the hours of preparation, but once the fighting begins, empty your mind of doubts. Ignore those who quail at any setback and call for retreat. Find joy in attack mode. Momentum will carry you through. (Location 1133)

Understand: presence of mind is the ability to detach yourself from all that, to see the whole battlefield, the whole picture, with clarity. All great generals have this quality. And what gives you that mental distance is preparation, mastering the details beforehand. Let people think your Buddha-like detachment comes from some mysterious source. The less they understand you the better. (Location 1191)

Understand: your mind is weaker than your emotions. But you become aware of this weakness only in moments of adversity—precisely the time when you need strength. What best equips you to cope with the heat of battle is neither more knowledge nor more intellect. What makes your mind stronger, and more able to control your emotions, is internal discipline and toughness. (Location 1206)

Expose yourself to conflict. George S. Patton came from one of America’s most distinguished military families—his ancestors included generals and colonels who had fought and died in the American Revolution and the Civil War. Raised on stories of their heroism, he followed in their footsteps and chose a career in the military. But Patton was also a sensitive young man, and he had one deep fear: that in battle he would turn coward and disgrace the family name. (Location 1223)

The story of Patton teaches us two things. First, it is better to confront your fears, let them come to the surface, than to ignore them or tamp them down. Fear is the most destructive emotion for presence of mind, but it thrives on the unknown, which lets our imaginations run wild. By deliberately putting yourself in situations where you have to face fear, you familiarize yourself with it and your anxiety grows less acute. (Location 1239)

Second, Patton’s experience demonstrates the motivating power of a sense of honor and dignity. In giving in to fear, in losing your presence of mind, you disgrace not only yourself, your self-image, and your reputation but your company, your family, your group. You bring down the communal spirit. Being a leader of even the smallest group gives you something to live up to: people are watching you, judging you, depending on you. To lose your composure would make it hard for you to live with yourself. (Location 1249)

Grant had learned his lesson by the time of the Vicksburg campaign, in 1862–63. He rode the terrain himself, studying it firsthand. He reviewed intelligence reports himself. He honed the precision of his orders, making it harder for his captains to flout them. And once he had made a decision, he would ignore his fellow generals’ doubts and trust his convictions. To get things done, he came to rely on himself. His feelings of helplessness dissolved, and with them all of the attendant emotions that had ruined his presence of mind. (Location 1265)

And you need to feel more confident in your own judgment. Understand: we tend to overestimate other people’s abilities—after all, they’re trying hard to make it look as if they knew what they were doing—and we tend to underestimate our own. You must compensate for this by trusting yourself more and others less. (Location 1270)

His fellow generals were timid, indecisive, narrow-minded men. They balked at the duke’s bold plans, saw dangers everywhere, were discouraged at the slightest setback, and promoted their own country’s interests at the expense of the alliance. They had no vision, no patience: they were fools. (Location 1277)

Instead he treated them like children, indulging them in their fears while cutting them out of his plans. Occasionally he threw them a bone, doing some minor thing they had suggested or pretending to worry about a danger they had imagined. (Location 1286)

Understand: you cannot be everywhere or fight everyone. Your time and energy are limited, and you must learn how to preserve them. Exhaustion and frustration can ruin your presence of mind. The world is full of fools—people who cannot wait to get results, who change with the wind, who can’t see past their noses. You encounter them everywhere: the indecisive boss, the rash colleague, the hysterical subordinate. (Location 1297)

When circumstances scare us, our imagination tends to take over, filling our minds with endless anxieties. You need to gain control of your imagination, something easier said than done. Often the best way to calm down and give yourself such control is to force the mind to concentrate on something relatively simple—a calming ritual, a repetitive task that you are good at. You are creating the kind of composure you naturally have when your mind is absorbed in a problem. A focused mind has no room for anxiety or for the effects of an overactive imagination. (Location 1334)

Shostakovich maintained his presence of mind in several ways. First, instead of letting Stalin intimidate him, he forced himself to see the man as he was: short, fat, ugly, unimaginative. The dictator’s famous piercing gaze was just a trick, a sign of his own insecurity. Second, Shostakovich faced up to Stalin, talking to him normally and straightforwardly. By his actions and tone of voice, the composer showed that he was not intimidated. Stalin fed off fear. If, without being aggressive or brazen, you showed no fear, he would generally leave you alone. (Location 1350)

Finally, he personalized his relationship with his men. He always had a sense of their morale and knew exactly what he could expect from them. (Location 1367)

Confidence, fearlessness, and self-reliance are as crucial in times of peace as in times of war. Franklin Delano Roosevelt showed his tremendous mental toughness and grace under pressure not only during the crises of the Depression and World War II but in everyday situations—in his dealings with his family, his cabinet, his own polio-racked body. (Location 1377)

It is never good to lose your presence of mind, but you can use those moments when it is under threat to know how to act in the future. You must find a way to put yourself in the thick of battle, then watch yourself in action. Look for your own weaknesses, and think about how to compensate for them. People who have never lost their presence of mind are actually in danger: someday they will be taken by surprise, and the fall will be harsh. All great generals, from Julius Caesar to Patton, have at some point lost their nerve and then have been the stronger for winning it back. The more you have lost your balance, the more you will know about how to right yourself. (Location 1403)

You are your own worst enemy. You waste precious time dreaming of the future instead of engaging in the present. Since nothing seems urgent to you, you are only half involved in what you do. The only way to change is through action and outside pressure. Put yourself in situations where you have too much at stake to waste time or resources—if you cannot afford to lose, you won’t. Cut your ties to the past; enter unknown territory where you must depend on your wits and energy to see you through. Place yourself on “death ground,” where your back is against the wall and you have to fight like hell to get out alive. (Location 1415)

sense of urgency comes from a powerful connection to the present. Instead of dreaming of rescue or hoping for a better future, you have to face the issue at hand. Fail and you perish. People who involve themselves completely in the immediate problem are intimidating; because they are focusing so intensely, they seem more powerful than they are. Their sense of urgency multiplies their strength and gives them momentum. Instead of five hundred men, Cortés suddenly had the weight of a much larger army at his back. (Location 1504)

Feeling death at your heels will make all your actions more certain, more forceful. This could be your last throw of the dice: make it count. (Location 1589)

The world is ruled by necessity: People change their behavior only if they have to. They will feel urgency only if their lives depend on it. (Location 1609)

Death ground is a psychological phenomenon that goes well beyond the battlefield: it is any set of circumstances in which you feel enclosed and without options. There is very real pressure at your back, and you cannot retreat. Time is running out. Failure—a form of psychic death—is staring you in the face. You must act or suffer the consequences. (Location 1622)

But put yourself in a high-stakes situation—a psychological death ground—and the dynamic changes. Your body responds to danger with a surge of energy; your mind focuses. Urgency is forced on you; you are compelled to waste no more time. The trick is to use this effect deliberately from time to time, to practice it on yourself as a kind of wake-up call. The following five actions are designed to put you on a psychological death ground. Reading and thinking about them won’t work; you must put them into effect. They are forms of pressure to apply to yourself. Depending on whether you want a low-intensity jolt for regular use or a real shock, you can turn the level up or down. The scale is up to you. (Location 1627)

His body and spirit responded with the energy he needed. Often we try too many things at one time, thinking that one of them will bring us success—but in these situations our minds are diffused, our efforts halfhearted. It is better to take on one daunting challenge, even one that others think foolish. Our future is at stake; we cannot afford to lose. So we don’t. (Location 1648)

We often wait too long to act, particularly when we face no outside pressure. It is sometimes better to act before you think you are ready—to force the issue and cross the Rubicon. Not only will you take your opponents by surprise, you will also have to make the most of your resources. You have committed yourself and cannot turn back. Under pressure your creativity will flourish. Do this often and you will develop your ability to think and act fast. (Location 1664)

When she was challenged, when she felt on edge, she burst with energy and was at her best. Like Crawford, you sometimes have to force yourself onto death ground—leaving stale relationships and comfortable situations behind, cutting your ties to the past. If you give yourself no way out, you will have to make your new endeavor work. Leaving the past for unknown terrain is like a death—and feeling this finality will snap you back to life. (Location 1683)

During campaigns he worked eighteen to twenty-hour days. If necessary, he would go without sleep for several days, yet sleeplessness rarely reduced his capacities. He would work in the bath, at the theater, during a dinner party. Keeping his eye on every detail of the war, he would ride endless miles on horseback without tiring or complaining. (Location 1701)

Take a risk and your body and mind will respond with a rush of energy. Make risk a constant practice; never let yourself settle down. Soon living on death ground will become a kind of addiction—you won’t be able to do without it. When soldiers survive a brush with death, they often feel an exhilaration that they want to have again. Life has more meaning in the face of death. The risks you keep taking, the challenges you keep overcoming, are like symbolic deaths that sharpen your appreciation of life. (Location 1715)

REVERSAL If the feeling of having nothing to lose can propel you forward, it can do the same for others. You must avoid any conflict with people in this position. Maybe they are living in terrible conditions or, for whatever reason, are suicidal; in any case they are desperate, and desperate people will risk everything in a fight. This gives them a huge advantage. Already defeated by circumstances, they have nothing to lose. You do. Leave them alone. (Location 1725)

Always try to lower the other side’s sense of urgency. Make your enemies think they have all the time in the world; when you suddenly appear at their border, they are in a slumbering state, and you will easily overrun them. While you are sharpening your fighting spirit, always do what you can to blunt theirs. (Location 1731)

This military model is extremely adaptable to any group. It has one simple requirement: before formulating a strategy or taking action, understand the structure of your group. You can always change it and redesign it to fit your purposes. The following three chapters will help you focus on this critical issue and give you strategic options—possible organizational models to follow, as well as disastrous mistakes to avoid. (Location 1744)

Hamilton’s style was to tell his officers the purpose of an upcoming battle but leave it to them how to bring it about. He was a gentleman, never blunt or forceful. At one of their first meetings, for example, Stop-ford requested changes in the landing plans to reduce risk. Hamilton politely deferred to him. (Location 1787)

The first links in the chain of command were Stopford and Hammersley. Both men were terrified of risk, and Hamilton failed to adapt himself to their weakness: his order to reach Tekke Tepe was polite, civilized, and unforceful, and Stopford and Hammersley interpreted it according to their fears. They saw Tekke Tepe as a possible goal to aim for once the beaches were secured. (Location 1830)

Success depended on the speed with which information could pass in both directions along the chain of command, so that Hamilton could understand what was happening and adapt faster than the enemy. The chain was broken, and Gallipoli was lost. (Location 1836)

The truth is that everything starts from the top. What determines your failure or success is your style of leadership and the chain of command that you design. If your orders are vague and halfhearted, by the time they reach the field they will be meaningless. Let people work unsupervised and they will revert to their natural selfishness: they will see in your orders what they want to see, and their behavior will promote their own interests. (Location 1840)

reducing from sixty to six the number of deputies who reported to him. Marshall hated excess; his reports to Roosevelt made him famous for his ability to summarize a complex situation in a few pages. (Location 1885)

He’d get frustrated, lose time, and probably give himself a heart attack. Second, by trying to micromanage the department, he would become embroiled in petty entanglements and lose sight of the larger picture. And finally he would come across as a bully. The only way to slay this many-headed monster, Marshall knew, was to step back. He had to rule indirectly through others, controlling with such a light touch that no one would realize how thoroughly he dominated. (Location 1910)

The key to Marshall’s strategy was his selection, grooming, and placement of his protégés. He metaphorically cloned himself in these men, who enacted the spirit of his reforms on his behalf, saving him time and making him appear not as a manipulator but as a delegator. His cutting of waste was heavy-handed at first, but once he put his stamp on the department, it began to run efficiently on its own—fewer people to deal with, fewer irrelevant reports to read, less wasted time on every level. This streamlining achieved, Marshall could guide the machine with a lighter touch. The political types who were clogging the chain of command were either retired or joined in the team spirit he infused. His indirect style of communicating amused some of his staff, but it was actually a highly effective way of asserting his authority. An officer might go home chuckling about finding Marshall fussing over a gardening bill, but it would slowly dawn on him that if he wasted a penny, his boss would know. (Location 1924)