Continuing the series on the 33 Strategies of War, I’ll be summarizing the 2nd Strategy: The Guerilla War Of The Mind Strategy.
Robert Greene begins by stating that often the biggest contributor to failure in strategy is our past — our previous successes and failures. He recommends venturing forth into new ground:
Sometimes you must force yourself to strike out in new directions, even if they involve risk. What you may lose in comfort and security, you will gain in surprise, making it harder for your enemies to tell what you will do. Wage guerilla war on your mind, allowing no static lines of defense, no exposed citadels — making everything fluid and mobile.
He continues by providing 2 examples: Napoleon and Musashi.
Napoleon is heralded by many as a God of War; a genius. But, he also had his doubters. One of those was a Prussian General named Friedrich Ludwig, Prince of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen (1746 – 1818).
For Hohenlohe, success in war depended on organization, discipline, and the use of superior strategies developed by trained minds. The Prussians exemplified all of these virtues. Prussian soldiers drilled relentelessly until they could perform elaborate manuevers as precisely as a machine. Prussian general studied intensely the past victories of Frederick the Great; war for them was a mathematical affair, tha application of timeless principles.
To the Prusssian Generals, Napoleon was an unuducated and uncontrolled hothead, leading an unrly army. The Prussians believed that with their superior knowledge of war tactics, they would crumble the Napoleon and the French armies. Finally, Hohenlohe got what it wanted: on August 1806 King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia declared war.
But, several days later, after war was already declared, the Prussians discovered through a reconaissance mission that Napoleon and his army had broken off into several groups and marched east, merged, and was massing deep toward Berlin, the heart of Prussia. It was further reported that Napoleon’s army had backpacks, instead of the traditional wagons that carried provisions. Backpacks allowed Napoleon to be quicker and more mobile.
Because Napoleon caught Hohenlohe with surprise, the Prussian army didn’t have time to react well. Finally, Napoleon met-up with the Prussian army at the battle of Jena, close to Berlin:
Never had Hohenlohe seen such an army. The French soldiers were like demons. Unlike his disciplined soldiers, they moved on their own, yet there was method to their madness. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, they rushed forward on both sides, threatening to surround the Prussians. The prince ordered a retreat. The Battle of Jena was over.
Greene continues with his interpretation:
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 doctrine, a shell to protect us from reality. Repetition replaces creativity […] every battle, every war is different, and you cannot assume that what worked before will work today.
Miyamoto Musashi was a samurai who lived in 1600’s. At only age 21, he had made a name for himself as a swordsman. Consequently, he was challenged to a duel by many in Japan.
First, Matashichiro challenged him. At Musashi’s previous fight, Musashi arrived hours later than the agreed fight time. Knowing this, Matashichiro decided to arrive on time, with friends for an ambush. When they arrived, Matashichiro and his men lay down for a nap. To their surprise, Musashi had arrived much earlier than expected — he was there before Matashichiro — but, he was hiding behind some trees, waiting for the right moment to attack. As Matashichiro and his men rested, Musashi leadped out of the tree and killed Matashichiro and his men with ease.
Then, Musashi fought several more times. He fought Baiken, a warrior who fought with a chain attached to a spiked ball. To that fight, Musashi arrived with 2 swords, which was unlike him. Musashi was also a counterstriker, but at this fight, he charged first, throwing Baiken off guard and eventually killing him.
Later, Musashi fought Ganryu, a samurai who fought with a very long sword. At that fight, Musashi arrived very late, armed with a long, sharpened wooden oar, much longer than Ganryu’s long sword. Surprised and offended that Musashi was late and arrived with a wooden oar, Ganryu swore to kill Musashi quickly. But the wooden oar was too much for Ganryu and he, too, was killed.
According to Greene —
Miyamoto Musashi won all of his duels for one reason: in each instance he adapted his strategy to his opponent and to the circumstances of the moment […] the greatest generals, the most creative strategists, stand not not because they have more knowledge but because they are able, when necessary, to drop their preconcieved notions and focus intensely on the present moment […] knowledge, experience, and theory have limitations: no amount of thinking in advance can prepare you for the chaos of life, for the infinite possibilities of the moment. We must learn to think in the moment and to adjust.
This chapter was a little long and drawn-out for me. But, I did take away some key points:
- Adjust your strategy to the present; don’t rely on the past
- and repeat (1).
Greene’s writing style, I think, gets in the way of his message: he is verbose and flowery; not to the point and precise. Despite his shortcomings, I still appreciate the main points of his message. Getting through his flowery writing style is a challenge, but continue to learn more about the strategies of war.