Indirect Battle Strategy and How It Can Help Us Overcome Our Own Obstacles

B.H. Liddell Hart (31 October 1895 – 29 January 1970) was a British soldier and a military historian. He is perhaps most famous for his 1954 book, Strategy, in which he argued that an indirect approach to a battle is superior to a direct approach.

It helps us to realize that there are two forms of practical experience, direct and indirect and that, of the two, indirect practical experience may be the more valuable because infinitely wider.

Now, most of us are never going to be in a position where we have to direct armies and win battles. However, by using a different perspective on Hart’s theory, we can perhaps apply the indirect approach to our life. We all have obstacles and problems in our lives which require different solutions. By broadening our possibilities through the inclusion of an indirect approach we also broaden the number of solutions available to us.

Direct experience is inherently too limited to form an adequate foundation either for theory or for application. At the best it produces an atmosphere that is of value in drying and hardening the structure of thought.

If our mind is set on one way of thinking, then that thought pattern gets engrained and hardened. This limits our possibilities which limits the probability of success.

To move along the line of natural expectation consolidates the opponent’s balance and thus increases his resisting power.

Hart cites the example of the Peloponnesian War where the different Greek states, primarily Sparta and Athens, fought for twenty-seven years. The majority of which was spent using a direct approach in battle. Often times this lead to a stalemate or just small swings in momentum. The two major shifts in the war occurred when the Athenian general Alcibiades decided to attack the Spartan economic stronghold in Sicily and when the Spartan general Lysander attacked Athens lines of communication. Lysander found success with his approach and was able to make Athens come to terms which favored the Spartans.

I can think of many instances where I used the same approach to an issue I was having and it didn’t result in any proper solution, just temporary relief before the problem came back again. Fortunately, it wasn’t twenty-seven years of stalemate.

This example reminds me of issues that can arise between parents and children where the parent wants the child to act in a certain manner but instead of communicating it properly, they end up simply ordering the child to do. This rarely works for the long term. Instead, if the parent shows the benefits of proper behavior perhaps by even behaving like that themselves the child can observe and begin to mimic them. Or perhaps rewarding the child each time he/she behaved in the correct manner. This can stick with the child for the long term. So, the indirect approach can get the result the parent wanted rather than the direct approach of compliance.

Effective results in war have rarely been attained unless the approach had had such indirectness as to ensure the opponent’s unreadiness to meet it. The indirectness has usually been physical, and always psychological.

An example of this unreadiness can be seen in Hannibal Barca‘s war tactics. Hannibal was a Carthaginian who had successfully invaded the Roman territory with his army. Although he was outnumbered and his supply chain severely depleted, he continued to have success against the Roman armies because of his indirect approach, this was most famously exemplified in the Battle of Lake Trasimene. Instead of waiting for the Romans to gather their strength and fight them on an open field, Hannibal decided to ambush the Roman army as they crossed a heavily forested area where the lake fell on one side and the woods on the other. Hannibal worked his army day and night in order to ensure that they would reach the woods in time to enact the largest ambush in military history. Hannibal succeeded in his aim as the Romans were caught off guard and Hannibal’s army fell upon them from three different sides and with the lake to barricade them in position, many of them were killed and those who decided to jump into the lake drowned from their heavy armor.

What we can take away from Hannibal’s indirect approach is to think of the future problems that can arise and tackle them before they grow into something powerful. Often times we wait around until an issue matures and gets overwhelming. Hannibal would advise us to plan for the future and act before the problem grows.

This is clearly evident in bad habits. Most of us know what is good for us, what the proper way to act is, what we shouldn’t do and yet, we end up indulging the bad habits, telling ourselves it’s okay, just one last time, one last drink and all of this only strengthens the habits we are trying to break. Instead of waiting for the habit to become overwhelming, we should take Hannibal’s approach and stomp it out in its infancy.

The goal is to grow as an individual and overcoming obstacles is the best way to do that. However, solutions from the previous obstacle may not apply to the next one. This is why being open-minded, approaching issues with different perspectives, tackling the problems with an indirect approach can be beneficial.


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Pessimism: Understanding Life, Yourself and Your Fellow Man

Arthur Schopenhauer was one of the most influential German philosophers. He wrote widely on topics such as metaphysics, ethics, morality, and psychology. His idea of the ‘will to live’ touches upon the subconscious drivers that are present in our psyche. This Will is the need that everyone has to stay alive and reproduce, whether your conscious of it or not.

Additionally, Schopenhauer is known for his pessimistic philosophy. This was perhaps developed due to his own failures in life much of which he spent on the outskirts of the intellectual circles and universities while his own deepest desires were to be part of such circles.

The pessimistic view can turn some people off. No one really wants to hear about how horrible and depressing life can be. People are aware of such a fact through their own existence and they rather escape this than be reminded of it. However, by truly understanding the pessimistic approach, you can gain a new perspective on life, on your own behavior and how you interact with others.

Every individual is embodied will, and the nature of will is to strive to live — will is ‘will to live’. This means that fundamentally every individual is an ego whose interest in staying alive overrides every other, including of course the life-interest of every other individual. The outcome is universal conflict. The suffering engendered by this conflict is the normal and inescapable condition of life, and happiness means merely the dimuition of suffering, i.e, happiness is negative.

It was Schopenhauer’s belief that we are only really aware of the negative. ‘The little place where the shoe pinches,’ as he says which means that your whole body might be in great physical condition and everything is good but your mind is focused on the little annoyance you feel in your foot.

The positive things are like a stream that isn’t obstructed, it just flows, unconsciously, but it’s the obstructions that draw our attention. The obstruction is the thing that comes in the way of something we desire. So, this negative thing makes us experience, it makes us conscious. All desires come with obstacles. So, if we desire something, we need to be willing to suffer.

The only way to not suffer is through the abolition of desires or by ending your own life but that contradicts the will to live, the reproductive will that we all have which forces us to keep living and hence keep suffering.

For the world is hell, and men are on one hand the tormented souls and on the other the devils in it.

It was Schopenhauer’s understanding that much of man’s suffering came from his own hands. The reason for this is because man has knowledge. An animal doesn’t compare himself to another animal and get filled with envy, sadness or regret. While, man is constantly bombarded by negative feelings which consume his thoughts. The ability to reflect and ponder can bring about disappointments and humiliations which add to the suffering.

More closely considered, what happens is this: he deliberately intensifies his needs, which are originally scarcely harder to satisfy than those of the animal, so as to intensify his pleasure: hence luxury, confectionery, tobacco, opium, alcoholic drinks, finery and all that pertains to them. To these is then added, also as a result of reflection, a source of pleasure, and consequently of suffering, available to him alone and one which preoccupies him beyond all measure, indeed more than all the rest put together.

The more we want, the more we desire, the more things we find pleasure from, the greater our troubles get because when we don’t get these things it brings about pain and suffering. Much of this is added baggage, things that we don’t necessarily need in order to survive but because we have to occupy time, to escape reality, to get out of our own head, we cling to such things.

In reality, the basic needs are easy to fulfill but such fulfillment doesn’t provide the individual with pleasure and happiness because we have the habit of dwelling on things that we don’t have or some future trouble that isn’t real.

In this manner, misfortune becomes the general rule as Schopenhauer believed.

However, in the pessimism, in the suffering, in the misfortune is an optimistic outlook. By accepting life as Schopenhauer saw it, we can also see what our fellow man is. He is you. The same sufferings, negativity, hardships you are going through are the same ones your neighbor is as well. This calls for understanding when dealing with other people because you know that they are suffering as well. Through comradery we may be able to ease the burden of life. With a helping hand, we may be able to make someone else’s time on this planet less troublesome.

From this point of view one might indeed consider that the appropriate form of address between man and man ought to be, not monsieur, sir, but fellow sufferer, compagnon de misères. However strange this may sound it corresponds to the nature of the cause, makes us see other men in a true light and reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience, forbearance, and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes.

Or at the very least, we can be less judgemental and aggressive towards the fellow man for he is just like you, trying to make it through life.

Bad Memory Has Its Benefits

We would all love if our memory was better. We could recollect more clearly, remember the exact detail of some past moment, in a way, we could relive our past. If my memory was better I could recall the exact feelings, thoughts, and emotions which I’ve felt and that would make writing about such things so simple. Better yet, we would love to recall anything we read one time. All that information which seems to flow in and then out, only the smallest traces of it sticking with us, could become permanent.

No more losing our keys or forgetting directions or spending the day trying to recall that one song we heard on the radio that one time.

So, clearly, the benefits of good memory are immense. You may think who would ever want a bad memory? Or be happy that their memory is bad? 

The answer to that is Michel De Montaigne. Montaigne was a French philosopher who is best known for his collection of thoughts which he mixed with real-life anecdotes, which are promptly called Essays. It is the way Montaigne thinks that has attracted people to him for centuries after his passing. An example of this unique perspective can be seen in the essay titled “On Liars” in which he lists a few benefits of having a bad memory.

One benefit is that you have to use your own reasoning ability, your own logic, instead of relying on the works of others because you are unable to recollect the arguments others have made in a cohesive manner.

If, thanks to memory, other people’s discoveries and opinions had been kept ever before me, I would readily have reached a settled mind and judgment by following other men’s footsteps, failing as most people do to exercise my own power.

Another benefit that you may not have realized of having a bad memory is that you talk less when your memory is poor.

I talk less; it is always easier to draw on the storehouse of memory than to find something original to say.

Furthermore, bad memory means to relive experiences and moments.

Books and places which I look at again always welcome me with a fresh smile.

Lastly, your mind is at ease when your memory is poor for you cannot recall information that would bring you discomfort.

I remember less any insults received. I would need an Official Reminder like Darius: in order not to forget an insult suffered at the hands of the Athenians he made a page intone three times in his ear as he sat at table: ‘Remember the Athenians, sire.’

If nothing more, this is a good exercise to practice. Whatever you deem to be bad, think of two or three things that demonstrate how that bad thing has benefits of its own. What I take away from this essay is simple: be mindful of your perspective. There are very few things in life which are black or white, good or bad, most things fall somewhere in the middle, the gray area, where one’s perspective matters more than anything else.

Jocko Willink On Dealing With Stress

I previously wrote a blog in which I introduced Jocko Willink and one of his core principles of prioritizing and execute, this can be found here. As the title suggests, this blog is concerned with handling stress and who better to take advice from than a former navy seal commander.

Stress needs no introduction. We have all experienced stress and sometimes dealt with it successfully and other times have given in to the pressure. It is for those times where stress got the better of us that I turn to Jocko for advice.

In his book, Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual, Jocko simply states two things concerning stress.

First is to gain perspective. Not to minimize what you are going through but it is always good to understand that other people have been through much worse. This does not mean that what you are going through isn’t important. It is important and it is real but remember, those people who have had stress beyond what you have ever experienced, they made it through that, they figured out what was required and they were able to deal with their stress, which means you can too.

But warriors have faced much much worse: The Battle of the Somme, or Gettysburg, or the Battle of the Bulge, or the Chosin Reservoir. Humans can withstand almost inconceivable stress — and you can too.

Perspective allows you to take a deep breath and calm your mind and think clearly.

Secondly, you must detach from your situation. This is done in order to see if you have control over whatever it is that is causing you stress. This is a simple yes or no. If the answer is no, then, you just have to accept the situation that is causing you stress.

The worst thing about incoming artillery fire is you can’t control it. It is happening and you just have to accept it. Don’t stress about things you can’t control.

However, if the answer is yes and you do have control over the situation that is causing you stress, then detachment allows you to see your own lack of discipline and ownership of the situation which has resulted in it becoming a stressor. So, simply take control of the situation, solve the issue and relieve the stress.