Sunday, June 11, 2017

'Strategy' in Shadow of Hitler and in Light of Star Wars

Review by Bill Doughty

The opening lines of B. H. Liddell Hart's "Strategy" (Faber and Faber, 1954, 1967) is by Sun Tzu, from "The Art of War": "All warfare is based on deception." The quote is one of a baker's dozen from Sun Tzu's "Art of War" that makes up a sort of extended epigraph to "Strategy."

Another is: "In all fighting the direct method may be used for joining battle but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory."

Hart, then methodically presents examples of leaders, battles and wars that exemplify those principles, first outlined in China around 500 BCE.

At nearly the same time in history, the Persians drew Athens out to do battle at Marathon, weakening their core. Classic deception. (By the way, the Rebel Alliance did something similar in Star Wars: Rogue One – where indirect warfare, subterfuge and diversion was purposefully part of the strategy and tactics.) Don't force the Force.

Centuries later the Mongols employed "the best example of strategy in the Middle Ages." Hart writes, "In scale and quality, in surprise and mobility, in the strategical and in the tactical indirect approach, their campaign rivals or surpasses any in history."


Mussolini rides with Adolf Hitler in 1940. (Photo from National Archives)
Nationalist authoritarian Adolf Hitler's record before the outbreak of actual war was in 1939 was successful (from a Nazi perspective) when he used indirect methods of engagement. Hitler fomented fear, anger and hate that eventually led to suffering and mass death.

Through lies, false promises and indirect use of force, Hitler succeeded by taking Belgium and other less protected countries before going after France and Great Britain. But France failed under "notorious Plan XVII," using a direct approach against Germany's might.

Hart notes, "Later, (Hitler) gave his opponents ample opportunity to exploit the indirect approach against him."
Sun Tzu

Hitler is one among a Eurocentric Who's Who of leaders Hart examines: Bismarck, Napoleon, Miliades, Alexander, Caesar, William of Normandy, Edward, du Guesclin, Sabutai, Cromwell, Turenne, Marlborough, Frederick, Wellington, Allenby, Lawrence, Pershing, Ludendorff, Guderian, Rommel, and Zhukov, among others.

While Hart touches on the war in the Pacific and Yamamoto's use of indirect tactics, he doesn't mention the decisive Battle of Midway, an exemplar of winning strategy and tactics.

There's a bit of irony there, since the seeds for successful strategy come from the East to the West – Sun Tzu and Genghis Khan and the Mongols being cases in point.

In his multi-trilogy mythology phenomenon "Star Wars," George Lucas explores the impact of Eastern teachings in warfighting. In the attitudes and attributes of Jedi Masters like Yoda we see the mythic wisdom and playful joy of Zhaozhou (Joshu in Japanese), coupled with Eastern martial arts. Lucas speaks through Yoda: "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

Hart focuses more on Britain and Germany and seems to channel Clausewitz. Hart's skill is matching a pedestrian recitation of history with deeply planted insights worth quoting in their own right. For example:

"In war, as in wrestling, the attempt to throw the opponent without loosening his foothold and upsetting his balance results in self-exhaustion, increasing in disproportionate ratio to the effective strain put upon him."

"In most campaigns the dislocation of the enemy's psychological and physical balance has been the vital prelude to a successful attempt at his overthrow."

"Helplessness induces hopelessness, and history attests the loss of hope, not loss of lives, is what decides the issue of war."

"The most effective indirect approach is one that lures or startles the opponent into a false move – so that, as in jyu-jitsu, his own effort is turned into the lever of his overthrow."

"Two historic lessons – that a joint is the most sensitive and profitable point of attack, and that a penetration between two forces or units is more dangerous if they are assembled shoulder to shoulder than if they are widely separated and organically separate."

"Force can always crush force, given sufficient superiority in strength or skill. It cannot crush ideas."

Hart concludes by examining theories of strategy, military strategy, and grand strategy; the relationship of strategy to policy; the difference of strategy, tactics, object, and national aim; and the balance of offense and defense.

Nazis march after successfully invading Poland. (National Archives)
First published just nine years after the end of the Second World War it is understandable that the heart of Hart's examination of warfare pierces the nearly contemporaneous rise and fall of the Third Reich. Hitler's shadow still seemed to loom over the Western world in 1954 even as fear of global communism grew.

Hitler's "flair for offensive strategy was not matched by a corresponding sense of defensive strategy. The immensity of his earlier successes led him, as Napoleon had been led, to believe that the offensive offered a solution of all problems," Hart writes.
"Hitler gave the art of offensive strategy a new development. He also mastered better than any of his opponents, the first stage of grand strategy – that of developing and coordinating all forms of warlike activity and all the possible instruments which may be used to operate against the enemy’s will. But like Napoleon he had an inadequate grasp of the higher level of grand strategy – that of conducting war with a far-sighted regard to the state of the peace that will follow. To do this effectively, a man must be more than a strategist; he must be a leader and a philosopher combined. While strategy is the very opposite of morality, as it is largely concerned with the art of deception, grand strategy tends to coincide with morality: through having always to keep in view the ultimate goal of the efforts it is directing."
Hitler in-Vader
The Nazi empire under Hitler spread "germs of resentment from which resistance to their ideas would develop." Is the Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS, DAESH) or Al Qaeda or other militant extremists any different? Fear+Anger+Hate=Suffering.

How did the Empire create resistance and a rebel alliance in George Lucas's world, and how did the heroes come together to defeat evil villains in the name of hope for a better future? It's explained (or foreshadowed) in "Strategy."

"Strategy" is featured in the "canon" of books recommended by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson in the Navy Professional Reading Program.

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