The biggest disconnect that political activists face is that between ends and means. They proclaim from their almighty video cameras that they want to accomplish such-and-such, but then (at best) vaguely describe how to get there from where they are starting from. Perhaps we should all learn about how to close that gap if any of us are in fact sincere about accomplishing much of anything.
Covering a span of time similar to John Ellis, Mr. Hart’s survey encompasses all the major wars between the fifth century B.C. to the beginning of the twentieth century, as well as both world wars. From the Greek and Roman to the Byzantine and medieval wars, the author examines the military actions of such historical generals, such as Alexander the Great, Oliver Cromwell, and Napoleon Bonaparte. Needless to say, I think his findings are based on a reliable series of qualitative case studies.
Strategy itself is defined by Hart as:
“The art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy.”
He goes on to elaborate that strategy is concerned with both the movement and effect of forces. This is distinguished from tactics, which are the actual fighting techniques themselves, although it should be kept in mind that they are not always mutually exclusive, since they not only influence but also merge into each other, as the situation dictates.
Sound strategy rests on the rational synergy between ends and means. Diminishing the possibility of resistance by way of movement and surprise is fundamentally good strategy. Similar to Sun Tzu’s teachings on the subject, perfect strategy would produce a victory that would be virtually bloodless.
Concentration is the name of the game known as warfare, and any principles of military science can be derived from it. Hart’s own rules are as follows:
1. Adjust your end to your means
2. Keep your object always in mind
3. Choose the line (or course) of least expectation
4. Exploit the line of least resistance
5. Take a line of operation which offers alternative objectives
6. Ensure that both plan and dispositions are flexible – adaptable to circumstances
7. Do not throw your weight into a stroke whilst your opponent is on guard
8. Do not renew an attack along the same line (or in the same form) after it has once failed
If you are able to exploit and dislocate your enemy, then your Herculean task of defeating them is nearly over. These and similar rules are integral to a successful military effort, for without statesmanship and intelligent strategy, a total war of force without limit or calculation is really nothing more than a mass series of criminal actions perpetrated by an armed mob.
The author’s predilection for the indirect approach is based upon the dislocation of the enemy forces’ physical capabilities and state of mind as the necessary prelude to victory. Decisive military campaigns spanning 25 centuries demonstrates that successful strategists prefer the indirect approach over the direct, even if the indirect happens to be hazardous. Either a strategy of elastic defense (calculated withdrawal) or of elastic offense (stinging in the tail) are indirect approaches that rely on luring and trapping the enemy right where you want them.
Psychological dislocation is much underrated and, if anything, is significantly more important than raw physical capabilities, for if you give the enemy the sense that he is trapped, victory becomes a fait accompli. Depriving the enemy of his freedom of action necessary requires distraction, for this overstretches his forces as well as plants doubts in the minds of their leadership, by way of deception. Through manipulating the enemy’s forces off balance, yet concentrating your own, is as good a recipe for success as any other form of the indirect approach, although it should be kept in mind that every principle of warfare is necessary a duality, so act accordingly. Plans must be flexible enough to accommodate ever changing circumstances; such adaptability is, more likely than not, a better guarantor of success, especially if you take the initiative and peruse a course that simultaneously offers alternative objectives.
Grand strategy, as distinct from both tactics and (normal or military) strategy, is more concerned with acquiring and maintaining the economic and political support needed to wage a full-out military effort in the first place. Also, grand strategy is not limited to the immediate war effort, for its sphere involves actually “winning the peace,” as it were. Winning such a peace is an exercise in mutual beneficence, that is to say, the aim of grand strategy needs to provide a state of peace that is better after the war, rather than what it was beforehand. Uncompromising brutality and other heavy handed techniques are bound to harden resistance to any resolution in your favor; the more benign you are, the more likely victory will literally be plopped into your lap. Never forget that self-exhaustion and internal decay are more responsible in bringing down entire countries than invading foreign enemies.
B. H. Liddell Hart’s Strategy is an essential read for any political dissident who is genuine about wanting to secure his Liberties. It succinctly illustrates the problems inherent with flailing around blindly, whimsically hoping for a Messiah figure to arrive and “rescue” everyone. It would better serve the cause of human freedom if all of us thought more like strategists and less like demagogues.