The Art of War: 5 Ways of Winning Without Fighting (As Proved by The USA)

Bruce-Lee

 

THE ART OF WAR: 5 WAYS OF WINNING WITHOUT FIGHTING (AS PROVED BY THE USA)

 

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the cult classic of military strategy. And yet Sun Tzu often comes across as a pinko pacifist pussy, quoting poetry to hide that when he’s not being obvious, he’s being obtuse. I mean, come on – “The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even roll stones along in its course” and “The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon”. What?! Of course, part of this is because The Art of War is thoroughly imbued with Taoist philosophy, including my personal favorite principle of ‘wu wei’ or the art of doing nothing effectively. Nowhere is this more evident than in its defining principle that the true art of war lies in winning without fighting. Well obviously, but how? It brings to mind Bart Simpson’s response when his karate teacher gives him a copy for his first lesson – “Um, I already know how not to hit a guy”.

 

In fairness, Sun Tzu does explain how to win without fighting, when you cut away all the poetry. However, as usual, history shows it much more bluntly, as proved by the United States of America. Of course, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that this superpower excelled at the art of war (at least until recently)  – as opposed to, say, Germany, which despite (or perhaps because of) its reputed military professionalism, proved that it was very good at fighting but not very good at war. (All it achieved in two world wars was encirclement and attrition by enemies with superior resources). So how does history show the art of war in winning without fighting? Let me count the ways…

 

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(1) SPLENDID ISOLATIONISM (OR STAYING OUT OF WARS)

 

Now this one should be a no-brainer, as it is Sun Tzu’s apparent eagerness to avoid war that makes him seem such a pacifistic pussy. Wars are costly and destructive, especially big or long wars of attrition, and even when you win, you often lose. So, the best strategy lies in avoiding wars in the first place, if possible – and the worst place to be in war is at the front line. The best place to be in war is sitting it out at the sidelines, ideally playing the balance of power and making money through financing or supplying your favored side – and only entering, if at all, to tilt the balance of power in your direction. This pretty much defines the historical foreign policy of Britain towards continental Europe – they coined the phrase ‘splendid isolationism’ and it served them pretty well, until you know, they fought two world wars too many.

 

To - ah - just forget about it

To – ah – just forget about it

 

USA! USA! USA!

 

The Brits might have coined the phrase, but the United States historically defined itself by isolationism. George Washington declared it in his Farewell Address in 1796 and Thomas Jefferson similarly announced in his Inaugural Address in 1801 the policy of “entangling alliances with none”. Isolationism suited the United States pretty well, generally avoiding war with European powers until, you know, it was big enough to win – and the above strategy of sitting it out on the sidelines also essentially defines American foreign policy in the world wars. After the Second World War, it was a different story, as isolationism got a bit of bad press, although critics of American foreign policy on both left and right would argue that the United States has not been isolationist enough. It is even arguable that the United States fought the First World War to “make the world safe for democracy”, only to make it safe for fascism – then fought the Second World War against fascism only to make it safe for communism.

 

Of course, like most things in life and history, there’s a catch to isolationism – the luck of geography. No doubt Belgium would have loved splendid isolationism, but the geography of being wedged between France and Germany was against it. The isolationist ideal is to effectively have a continent to yourself, like the United States – or better yet, to actually have a continent to yourself:

 

Guarded by its navy of sharks and crocodiles

Guarded by its navy of sharks and crocodiles

 

Islands are the next best thing, particularly as historically you could get by with a strong navy instead of a standing army. We’ve already mentioned Britain, but another example was Japan (to the point that it closed itself off from the world from 1641 to 1853), which did pretty well until, you know, it fell victim to the most famous of classic blunders by getting involved in land wars in Asia. Of course, you can’t just sit around in your isolationism like some shut-in crazy cat lady, you have to do things so as to win without fighting. What to do? Well…

 

 

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(2) MAKE LOVE NOT WAR

 

The hippies were right! Well, half right – as it should be make babies, not war. War isn’t purely a population numbers game, but it’s hard to beat a big population (and ideally the land area to go with it) – just look at China or Russia. At the very least, you have reserves. Also, there’s nothing quite like a population change in your favor (both between nations and between groups within nations) to tilt the balance of power your way without firing a shot. Historians will probably always debate the causes for the fall of the Roman Empire (or even when and if it fell), but at least one factor was its declining population, particularly as opposed to the increasing population of German tribes. And so the Roman Empire slowly became…German (or more precisely the western Roman Empire slowly became a number of German kingdoms). History never repeats but sometimes it rhymes, and in the modern era, France was eclipsed as the predominant power in Europe when the more populous Germany was united under Prussia (and even more so with France’s declining birthrate and demographic demoralisation between the world wars).

 

Population growth can basically be your baby BOOM!

 

USA! USA! USA!

 

Again, war is not purely a population numbers game, so it’s hard to be definitive about it, but it is no coincidence that the rise of the United States to superpower was linked to its rise to the most populous Western nation, fuelled by massive immigration. Even in its origin, one hypothetical example might be whether the United States could have effectively won the American Revolution without firing a shot by just waiting until its population outgrew that of Britain – or indeed, if it had secured parliamentary representation instead of revolution whether it would have ended up running Britain and the British Empire.

 

Giving rise to the Britannian Empire in Code Geass - where everyone is FABULOUS!

Giving rise to the Britannian Empire in Code Geass – where everyone is FABULOUS!

 

However, there is one cold, hard example that has recurred throughout history whenever hunter-gatherers have come up against agricultural societies, which can feed more mouths (and have more diseases) – the Indian Wars. The United States basically steamrollered its manifest destiny from coast to coast over the native American tribes as a function of population growth – while most of its population barely noticed. (The United States population that is – the native American population noticed a lot).

 

So population helps, but there is another set of numbers that usually counts for even more…

 

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(3) MAKE MONEY NOT WAR

 

There is a military adage “Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics” – and ultimately logistics are a matter of money, so nations with money are hard to beat. Sun Tzu bemoaned the daily cost of keeping an army in the field (“a thousand ounces of silver a day”) – and that was when armies could forage and loot much of their supplies. Wars are costly and expensive, especially with modern industrial technology. As we’ve seen, the best place to be in war is sitting on the sidelines – making money from trade and financing or supplying your side of choice (and entering, if at all, to win it so they can pay you back), or effectively fighting with money by subsidizing other nations. Even better, money is a means to become powerful without fighting at all – through trade, finance, investment and influence. Germany dominates Europe today and Japan rose to power through money more effectively than they ever did by war, while China has risen to superpower through making money more than it ever did through its military and nuclear bluster under Mao.

 

money-best-superpower-ever

USA! USA! USA!

 

Need we say more? Money has been the fundamental American art of war. Who says money can’t buy superpower? Just ask Batman…and the United States has been the goddamn Batman of the world – crimefighting with cash, gadgets and firepower. For starters, the United States simply bought large parts of its territory, most notably the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1804 and Alaska from Russia in 1867.

 

I'll take the green part to go - and could you throw Alaska in a doggy bag?

I’ll take the green part to go – and could you throw Alaska in a doggy bag?

 

When it has come to wars, the United States has relied on its economic, financial and industrial strength – from the victory of the North over the South in the Civil War to victory in the world wars. As Stalin is reputed to have said of the victory in the Second World War (and if he didn’t, he should have) – England provided the time, Russia provided the blood and America provided the money. That’s how you win without fighting and that’s what Germany got for trying to be a Nietzschean Superman, trying to fight its way to victory (“he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterward looks for victory”), rather than being Batman like the United States. (It also goes to show who would really win between Batman and Superman. Even in the comics Batman could just pay Wonder Woman to beat up Superman or cut a deal with Lex Luthor, all while getting rich from shares in kryptonite). And for the ultimate money shot of winning without fighting, there’s the Cold War, where the United States won when the Soviets essentially ran out of money.

 

Of course, historically speaking, sooner or later in your rise to power through becoming populous and rich (indeed often as obstacles during it), you will face wars with adversaries or rivals. So, how do you win them without fighting?

 

 

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PICK CURB STOMP BATTLES

 

It’s simple – you should pick battles that are so ridiculously one-sided in your favor that they have their own trope, like stomping someone into the curb. Monty Python demonstrates the basic principle:

 

 

Empires are generally built by big or powerful nations stomping on small or weak ones. Picking curb stomp battles or “winning with ease” is the essence of Sun Tzu’s strategist – “hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage”. Typically, this is a matter of numerical superiority, as Sun Tzu himself emphasized – “though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force”. However, it is very often a matter of qualitative superiority (from what in military lingo is termed force multipliers) – such as superior training or technique but most demonstrably superior technology, the historical equivalent of beating opponents who bring knives to gunfights. This is how the Europeans curb stomped their colonial empires – as Hillaire Belloc wrote, “whatever happens, we have got. The Maxim gun and they have not”. The Anglo-Zanzibar War lasted the whole of 38 minutes on 27 August 1896, as British ships used the Zanzibari sultan’s palace for target practice from 9.02 am to 9.40 am. (Part of the terms of peace was that the Zanzabaris had to repay the cost of the shells).

 

BEP1

 

USA! USA! USA!

O land of the free and home of the brave – but one has to admit, this is kind of how the United States won its smaller wars. H. L. Mencken typically mocked this in his essay “The Anglo-Saxon”, but as we’ve seen, it is the essence of clever strategy and all nations like to do it if they can, even Mencken’s beloved Prussian Germany, which lost when it took on opponents bigger than itself – the world in general and the Soviet Union in particular. Sure, the United States started off big, as the potential stompee against the British Empire in the American Revolution (and its sequel, the war of 1812), but after that it curb stomped its manifest destiny across the continent. We’ve already talked about the Indian Wars, but there was also the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, which Ulysses S. Grant – no pinko pacifist pussy – called “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger on a weaker nation” (and added about half of Mexico to the United States).

 

What?! They weren't using it anyway!

What?! They weren’t using it anyway!

 

The debut of the United States into the international scene with a war against a European power was equally as sordid, as it pounced upon an enfeebled Spain in 1898 and snatched the last decent remnants of the declining Spanish empire (like the Philippines and Cuba), leaving Spain with such gems as the Spanish Sahara and Fernando Poo. (No, really – Fernando Poo). The Mexican-American War and Spanish-American War typified many American wars south of the border and across the waters, from the so-called Banana Wars through Panama and Grenada to the first Iraqi War.

 

And for that matter, even the bigger wars of the United States have something of this character. Such was the economic strength and resources of the United States in the world wars, that they were really a foregone conclusion after its entry, especially when you throw in the other allies – and as the United States swarmed Japan with its ships and planes in the Second World War, it did indeed have some actual curb stomp battles, such as the ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot’ in June 1944, labelled by American naval aviators for the ease with which they shot down the remnants of Japanese carrier aviation (prompting Japan to resort to kamikazes). Also, although the American Civil War – a war that the Pacific War oddly resembled in many ways – was hardly a curb stomp battle, the North had such advantages in population and resources over the South that its victory was virtually a foregone conclusion as well.

 

Of course, sooner or later, you will face adversaries or rivals with which you are more evenly matched and which would involve wars of attrition, which Sun Tzu labelled the worst possible wars. How do you win without fighting?

 

 

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(5) HAVE OTHERS DO THE FIGHTING FOR YOU

 

Again, it’s simple – sit back while others do the fighting for you. This essentially comes in two versions. There’s the adversarial version, in which you sit back while your adversaries or rivals destroy or exhaust themselves fighting each other, although that’s often as much a matter of good luck as good strategy. One reason for the Islamic conquest of the remaining eastern Roman or Byzantine empire and the Persian empire is that they were exhausted from decades (or centuries) slugging it out against each other like glazed-eyed punch-drunk boxers. Alternatively, there’s the allied version, which is much the same except you sit back while your allies bear the brunt of the fighting, although typically you’ll have to finance or supply them or at least do some cheerleading.

 

clothlands

 

USA! USA! USA!

 

Again, one has to admit that, through good luck or good strategy, this is kind of how the United States has won its bigger wars. Perhaps its biggest war, at least in terms of the disparity with its adversary, was the American Revolution, so it was just as well France fought it for them – not just France but Spain and the Netherlands as well, in what was essentially a world war against Britain. The sequel War of 1812 was somewhat similar, as the United States was mostly a distraction from Britain’s main concern with, in the words of H. L. Mencken, “an enterprising Corsican gentleman, Bonaparte by name”. The world wars were even more of the same. The United States entered the First World War at the tail end of it, when every other combatant was exhausted by years of fighting, with far fewer casualties as a result. In the Second World War, it came in about halfway, but it was the Soviet Union that did most of the fighting against Nazi Germany, as well as most of the dying – at least 20-30 MILLION dead (albeit mostly as civilians or captured prisoners) as opposed to about 420,000 dead for the United States.

 

So yeah, it was more like saving Private Ivan

So yeah, it was more like saving Private Ivan

 

The biggest exception to the rule was the war it fought against itself, the American Civil War, which is why it involved the most casualties of any American war.

 

Again, like most things, there’s a catch. The adversarial version needs good judgment – in correctly judging that your adversaries will destroy each other, rather than one defeating the other and becoming stronger or more dangerous to you as a result. The allied version on the other hand has a problem all of its own – namely that your uppity allies, having done the fighting, might think that they should do the winning as well. Once again, the United States has excelled at putting an end to this crap. France went broke from its spending in the American Revolution and had a revolution of its own, while Spain had similar problems and lost its American colonies. Virtually everyone was exhausted, broke and owed money to the United States or swallowed up by revolution or civil war at the end of the First World War. The biggest exception was the Second World War, with the Soviet Union claiming its spoils of victory. It just took a bit longer – and the United States winning the Cold War by making money – for them to be exhausted and broke as well. Although there was also something Sun Tzu didn’t see coming, which luckily turned into one last way of winning without fighting (and hopefully has helped the world turn away from fighting), because fighting would mean everyone losing…

 

abomb

 

Stark Ravings – The Art of War

Bruce-Lee

 

STARK RAVINGS – THE ART OF WAR

 

For my stark ravings on the art of war, I continue to recline in my comfortable armchair of hindsight and ruminate about how all history is the art of war or the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

 

We’ve looked at how the United States has proved the art of war as winning without fighting (as opposed to Germany, which showed itself to be very good at fighting but not very good at war – that’s what you get for trying to be a Nietzschean Superman, rather than being Batman), as well as how reputed military leaders like Hannibal or Napoleon were actually losers.

 

As for upcoming features, we’ll look at the art of war in the Second World War, rating Allies and Axis by their eight biggest mistakes in the art of war, as well as a closer look at the American art of war, rating the wars of the United States. We’ll also have a closer look at the lack of German art of war – and just how idiotic Hitler was in the Second World War. You know, apart from all the death and destruction. (When you get right down to it, Hitler and his Nazi regime were two-time losers, hopelessly trying to re-fight the war Germany had lost twenty years previously, except worse – which of course makes neo-Nazis three-time losers, hopelessly trying to re-fight the Second World War on the internet).

 

And there’s all my favorite oddities of empires (from the safe distance of not actually being in them) – franchise zombie empires, the crappiest European empires for bling and booty (because they were full of crap otherwise), and all the times Europe narrowly escaped being part of someone else’s empire. And overlapping with my top tens of everything, there’s my top ten wars, empires and evil empires in history.

 

 

5 More Great Military Leaders Who Were Actually Losers: (5) Isoroku Yamamoto

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5 MORE GREAT MILITARY LEADERS WHO WERE ACTUALLY LOSERS: (5) ISOROKU YAMAMOTO

 

Isoroku Yamamoto, Marshal Admiral and commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Combined Fleet in the Pacific War, is one of the more ironic military losers in our list, as he had all the right strategic instincts for the art of war. He opposed the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, war with China in 1937 and the alliance with Nazi Germany. Above all, he opposed war with the United States – he had travelled extensively there and was fluent in English, so he well knew the overwhelming superiority of resources the United States could bring to bear against Japan. Of the prospects for such a war, he stated that he would “run wild” for the first six months to a year, but had utterly no confidence after that (which proved to be stunningly accurate). Japan would have done well to follow his instincts. However, it did not and this is where the irony kicks in – when Yamamoto had to wage war against his instincts, he seemed to abandon his strategic sense altogether (and proved his own prophecy).

 

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It was Yamamoto who, upon threat of resignation, insisted upon the attack on Pearl Harbor, envisaging it as part of the decisive battle to destroy the American fleet and more importantly their resolve for war. Of course, it was an impressive tactical success, although it was not as effective as might have been in inflicting more critical damage. By American good fortune, its aircraft carriers were not there for the attack, but the attack also did not target the submarines – forcing the United States to rely on its carriers and its submarines, which proved to be its most effective weapons in the Pacific War. The attack also did not target the naval repair yards and fuel depots, which would have deprived the United States of the logistical means to support its fleet (perhaps even sending it all the way back to the West Coast). However, it was the strategic sense of the attack that was truly disastrous, as Yamamoto should have considered whether to attack the United States at all. Japan could have just attacked the British and Dutch empires in Asia – Japan would have then had access to the oil it so desperately needed in the Dutch East Indies or Indonesia, and it is highly questionable whether the United States would have been able to muster the political resolve to actually go to war to defend the European empires in Asia. Instead, Yamamoto handed war to the United States on a plate.

 

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Yamamoto then compounded his strategic failure in yet another attempt at decisive battle to destroy the American carrier fleet at Midway. Of course, he had substantial misfortune to be fighting an American naval force that had cracked the Japanese codes and was led by two of its best admirals, Chester Nimitz and Raymond Spruance. Yet Yamamoto also frittered away Japanese numerical superiority by an overly complex plan, dispersing his forces too widely (including naval support of an invasion of the Aleutian islands in Alaska) and aborting reconnaissance – allowing the American carrier aircraft to ambush the Japanese carriers and sink four of them, turning the tide in the Pacific War only six months after Pearl Harbor. Yamamoto himself suffered much the same fate, when he was shot down by American planes when his flight plans were revealed through broken codes.

 

Eagle_Banking_against_sun_2012_Robert_OToole_Photography

 

5 MORE GREAT MILITARY LEADERS WHO WERE ACTUALLY LOSERS

(1) ATTILA THE HUN

(2) RICHARD THE LIONHEART

(3) ROBERT E. LEE

(4) WINSTON CHURCHILL

(5) ISOROKU YAMAMOTO

5 More Great Military Leaders Who Were Actually Losers: (4) Winston Churchill

winston-churchill

 

5 MORE GREAT MILITARY LEADERS WHO WERE ACTUALLY LOSERS: (4) WINSTON CHURCHILL

 

Winston Churchill – man of Britain’s finest hour in the Second World War, it is hard to imagine another political figure who could have led or mobilized Britain as he did to fight on against Nazi Germany (or in the words of John F Kennedy, to have mobilized the English language and sent it off to war). And for that alone, he earns his place as a great wartime leader and heroic figure. He even visually embodied British bulldog determination. Yet aside from that finest hour, most of his career was one long losing streak…

 

bulldog

 

His most notorious loss was the Gallipoli campaign, his grand plan as First Lord of the Admiralty (the typically British title for the commander of the navy) in the First World War to take out Germany’s ally Turkey, an ill-conceived naval attack and landing in the narrow straits directed towards Turkey’s capital – both of which failed (despite the legendary Australian soldiers in the latter, immortalized as the Anzacs), resulting in Churchill’s dismissal from the Admiralty. However, thereafter Churchill would remain prone to recurring bouts of Gallipoli disease (Gallipolio? Gallipolitis? Gallipolepsy?), indeed typically in the same Mediterranean location, almost as if to redeem his lost strategic vision of victory against Germany’s “soft underbelly” – quixotic military adventures away from the main enemy front, typically raids or landings, half-assed and half-baked in concept or execution with over-romanticized consequences of victory. (He would also remain prone to screwing over Australia, such as his resistance to Australia recalling its troops to fight off Japanese invasion in the Pacific War – and even then he tried to divert them to defend the British Raj in India).

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He was again appointed to the First Lord of the Admiralty at the commencement of the Second World War. Ironically, he was involved in another Gallipoli-style fiasco – the campaign (and defeat) in Norway – which this time saw him replace Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister. Yet despite the finest hour in the Battle of Britain (and the less romanticized but more sustained Battle of the Atlantic), Churchill presided over Britain’s long losing streak for the first years of war. There was of course the defeat in France in 1940, although Churchill had little responsibility for that. However, he did bear a large responsibility for defeat in the Mediterranean in 1941. The British had rebounded with a stunning victory over the Italians, Germany’s comic sidekicks, in North Africa. Just as the British were about to wind it up, Churchill succumbed to another fit of Gallipoli fever – pulling out troops to send to Greece, so that the remaining troops in North Africa were then defeated by the German Afrika Korps under Rommel AND the troops sent to Greece were not enough to stop invasion and defeat by the Germans there. 1942 saw yet more defeats in the war against Germany, as well as the worst defeats in British military history by the Japanese.

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From 1942, the tide turned to British victories, as the weight of the Americans and the Russians was also brought to bear against Germany. Yet even then, Churchill would remain prone to Gallipoli fever with proposals for military adventures going nowhere, particularly in the Mediterranean – contrary to the American focus on the cross-Channel invasion of France, which would actually be decisive. In 1945, Churchill returned to his losing streak – having won the war in Europe, he then lost the election as the British voted him out of office. However, that was not before his last and biggest Gallipoli fever dream, although in fairness one that even he recognized as a dream – plans for war against the Soviet Union and the Red Army that had primarily defeated Germany, or Operation Unthinkable, presumably because Operation Raving Insanity was already taken…

 

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5 MORE GREAT MILITARY LEADERS WHO WERE ACTUALLY LOSERS

(1) ATTILA THE HUN

(2) RICHARD THE LIONHEART

(3) ROBERT E. LEE

(4) WINSTON CHURCHILL

(5) ISOROKU YAMAMOTO

5 More Great Military Leaders Who Were Actually Losers: (3) Robert E. Lee

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5 MORE GREAT MILITARY LEADERS WHO WERE ACTUALLY LOSERS: (3) ROBERT E. LEE

Robert E Lee, iconic general and hero of the Confederacy in the American Civil War, was immortalised as a car in The Dukes of Hazzard (second only to a pair of shorts) as a tribute to his military reputation – as demonstrated by his tactical proficiency in winning most of his battles, outfighting superior Union armies. However, like many other great military leaders who were actually losers, his strategic judgement was more flawed. While he demonstrated his tactical skill in defence, his two major offensives into Union territory resulted in two failures that were turning points in the war.

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The first was the Battle of Antietam. This failure was not so overt, as the battle was tactically inconclusive and Lee was able to withdraw back into Virginia despite facing larger Union forces – but it was a strategic defeat because it ended Lee’s invasion of Union territory (and gave President Lincoln the opportunity for the Emancipation Proclamation). The second was that little thing known as the Battle of Gettysburg, where Lee’s failure was much more evident – the Confederate forces were defeated and beaten back, the end of the their offensive capacity and the start of their long retreat that ended with defeat.

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In this, Lee was symbolic of the South itself, which sought to compensate for strategic inferiority in industry, population and resources with allegedly superior martial qualities and Southern ‘honour’ , paying the price in total defeat. The South might not enjoy the comparison, but historian H.P.Willmott draws the parallel with the Pacific War 80 years later, where the United States defeated an opponent with similar strategic inferiority and delusions in the same duration of about 4 years in much the same way. Unfortunately, Lee has also been adopted as a symbol for advocates of the so-called Lost Cause of the South and neo-Confederates, who seek to romanticise the South in the Civil War, typically by forgetting about the slavery part. I’m not sure that Lee would have stood for that, but surely the South can commemorate its history and those who paid the price for it, while acknowledging that they were on the wrong side of that war in more ways than one.

5 MORE GREAT MILITARY LEADERS WHO WERE ACTUALLY LOSERS

(1) ATTILA THE HUN

(2) RICHARD THE LIONHEART

(3) ROBERT E. LEE

(4) WINSTON CHURCHILL

(5) ISOROKU YAMAMOTO

5 More Great Military Leaders Who Were Actually Losers: (2) Richard the Lionheart

Crusader

 

5 MORE GREAT MILITARY LEADERS WHO WERE ACTUALLY LOSERS: (2) RICHARD THE LIONHEART

 

King Richard I of England had his reputation as a great military leader in his very epithet – Richard Coeur de Leon (because English kings then were as much French as English) or Richard the Lionheart. He won his historical reputation as one of the leading Christian commanders of the Third Crusade, so much so that it is typically portrayed almost as a duel between him and the Muslim commander, Saladin – and became so legendary that later writers linked him into the legend of Robin Hood. Because…why not?

 

And why not make him an actual lion while you're at it?

And why not make him an actual lion while you’re at it?

 

However, when you look closely, he was something of a loser, although perhaps not the biggest loser in this list. As a king of England, he was the stereotypical absentee monarch, who said he was just popping out for a quick crusade but never came back. Of his ten year reign 1189-1199 AD, he spent as little as six months in England, leaving his brother John to succeed him. I always seem to remember Prince John as a villain in Robin Hood, squeezing the kingdom for money – but it was Richard who primarily saw his kingdom as the expense account for his military adventures, extorting it for revenue and declaring that he would have sold London if he could have found a buyer.

 

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As for the Third Crusade itself, it was reasonably successful in reviving the so-called ‘Latin’ kingdoms or crusader states in the Holy Land, but did not succeed in its primary objective in recapturing Jerusalem – Richard had to settle for a truce with Saladin that left it in the latter’s hands, because his rivals (his brother John and King Phillip II of France) were plotting against him back in England and France. En route back home through Central Europe, he was captured by the Duke of Vienna (who held a personal grudge from the Crusades) and then famously held for ransom by the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany. After his release, he forgave his brother John and spent his remaining reigning years as an English monarch should – waging war in France (against King Phillip II).

 

Okay, maybe we're getting a little less historical now

Okay, maybe we’re getting a little less historical now

 

Not as outright a loser as others on these lists, Richard the Lionheart earns his place here as representative of the Crusades and Crusaders in general. I’m not so much talking about the morality of them – say what you will but it certainly made religion more badass.

 

Verily!

Verily!

 

Rather, I’m talking about their pointlessness and diminishing returns. The Crusades were initially declared with the intention of helping the dwindling Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire against Turkish invaders and reclaim the Holy Land, particularly Jerusalem, for Christianity. The First Crusade fortunately coincided with divisions amongst the Muslim ranks to establish the military crusader states. Ultimately however, the continued success of the crusader states depended on the regular influx of crusaders and their unity, so that they were doomed in the long run as both waned. The real destruction of Muslim power in the Middle East came not from the west, but the east – the Mongols (although even they had their first defeat there). But let’s not be too judgmental, the Crusaders did succeed in mortally wounding one power in the Middle East – the Christian Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire, when the Fourth Crusaders decided that Jerusalem was so last crusade and sacked the Byzantine capital instead. Although the empire eventually evicted the crusaders, it never recovered before falling to a new set of Turkish invaders, the Ottoman Turks, who then swept over Christian Europe, even besieging Vienna – twice – before being beaten back. Nice job breaking it, crusaders…

 

5 MORE GREAT MILITARY LEADERS WHO WERE ACTUALLY LOSERS

(1) ATTILA THE HUN

(2) RICHARD THE LIONHEART

(3) ROBERT E. LEE

(4) WINSTON CHURCHILL

(5) ISOROKU YAMAMOTO

5 More Great Military Leaders Who Were Actually Losers: (1) Attila the Hun

mariusz-kozik-attila-tw-01

 

5 MORE GREAT MILITARY LEADERS WHO WERE ACTUALLY LOSERS: (1) ATTILA THE HUN

 

Attila the Hun was ruler of the Hunnic Empire, the unsung fourth great empire of late classical antiquity, and known as the ‘Scourge of God’ for his flagellation of two of the other great empires, the eastern and western Roman empires. The Huns were the most notorious of the perennial Eurasian nomads that rode in their horse blitzkrieg from the steppes – at least before the Mongols and Genghis’ carnage. Such was their tide across Europe that they brought about the decline of the Roman empire from a distance – the German tribes we normally associate with the fall of Rome were actually fleeing into the empire from the Huns. The Huns themselves arrived at the remaining western and eastern halves of the Roman Empire at the peak of their own empire under Attila, who then proceeded to scare the living daylights out of both halves.

 

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So it is only from the safety of a millennia and a half that I call Attila a loser and even then I’m a little nervous – but when you come right down to it, Attila was something of a loser. Attila didn’t forge his empire – he and his brother inherited it from his uncle, although in fairness Attila then proceeded to menace the other three great empires of antiquity that bordered his own. After securing a treaty and tribute from the eastern Roman Empire, the Huns attacked their first target, the Sassanid Persian Empire, but – ah – lost. Defeated in Armenia, they abandoned their invasion.

 

The Huns then turned their attention to the eastern Roman empire, which is where Attila gained most of his success and reputation as scourge of God. Under Attila and his brother, the Huns rampaged across the border of the empire on the Danube River into the Balkans, but this somewhat pales as the Romans had stripped their forces from the Balkans to fight the German Vandals in North Africa and the Persians. The Huns rode the very capital of the eastern empire in Constantinople, but could not take the city and were bought off by tribute – the Mongols would never have stood for such half-assed badassery.

 

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Attila did return to rampaging through the eastern Roman empire after his brother died and left him as sole ruler, before he turned his attention to the western Roman empire in 450 AD – and this is where he earned his stripes as a loser in our hall of shame, because to call it the western Roman empire in 450 AD is something of a bad joke. To paraphrase Voltaire, by then it was neither Roman nor an empire. It had moved its capital to Ravenna after Rome had been sacked twice – and it was the sick and dying last gasps of former empire, propped up by shifting alliances with the German kingdoms that had almost completely overrun it (and would a quarter of a century later). So it was more accurately the Ravennan Alliance rather than the Roman Empire.

 

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Firstly, instead of just conquering it like any self-respecting steppe leader, Attila sought to claim it as a wedding dowry, claiming that the emperor’s sister had proposed marriage when she sent him her engagement ring to plead for his help to escape her forced betrothal to a Senator. What is this – soap opera?! Genghis would have mocked him that you’re meant to inspire the lamentations of their women, not answer them. And when he actually rode into Gaul to conquer it, this sick and dying empire got up out of its deathbed and defeated him, in alliance with the Germanic Visigoths at the Battle of Chalons – led by the formidable Flavius Aetius, often hailed as the “last of the Romans”. However, there was little Aetius could do when Attila rode into Italy itself, the former heart and last remnant of the western Empire. All of Roman Italy lay open to Attila’s advance, but then he just left when the Pope asked him nicely. As Stalin would exclaim in the twentieth century (when the French brought up their relations with the Pope when negotiating an alliance against Nazi Germany) – “The Pope? And how many divisions has he got?”

 

Scourge of God? More like pope-whipped pussy! Pathetic…

 

Although it was the Dark Ages when the Pope had magic...

Although it was the Dark Ages when the Pope had magic…

 

5 MORE GREAT MILITARY LEADERS WHO WERE ACTUALLY LOSERS

(1) ATTILA THE HUN

(2) RICHARD THE LIONHEART

(3) ROBERT E. LEE

(4) WINSTON CHURCHILL

(5) ISOROKU YAMAMOTO

5 More Great Military Leaders Who Were Actually Losers

"On my command, all ships will line up and fly directly into the alien death cannons, clogging them with wreckage!"

“On my command, all ships will line up and fly directly into the alien death cannons, clogging them with wreckage!”

 

5 MORE GREAT MILITARY LEADERS WHO WERE ACTUALLY LOSERS

Once again we return to the art of war and recline in the comfortable armchair of hindsight to pass judgment on the military leaders of history. We’ve previously looked at some of the great luminaries of military history – the Spartans, Hannibal, Belisarius, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Germans – and seen that they were actually losers in the art of war. As we’ve seen, the art of war is tricky. In the words of Sun Tzu, the true art of war lies in winning without fighting. Victors in the art of war tend to be quiet achievers, amassing overwhelming power or force behind – or before – the scenes of battle, so that their victories bring them “neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage”.  All too often, however, military leaders are very good at fighting but not very good at war – which typically involves knowing when not to fight at all, or above all an appreciation of the limitations of military force within war and of national power within the world.

This is why once again we can find five further military leaders – albeit not quite on the same stellar level as our first round – who were renowned for their skill at fighting but who were ultimately losers in the art of war…

 

5 MORE GREAT MILITARY LEADERS WHO WERE ACTUALLY LOSERS

(1) ATTILA THE HUN

(2) RICHARD THE LIONHEART

(3) ROBERT E. LEE

(4) WINSTON CHURCHILL

(5) ISOROKU YAMAMOTO

 

Art of War vs Star Wars – 9 Examples of Military Incompetence in Star Wars: (9) You Don’t Win Wars With Magic

Force Ghosts - also known as dead losers.

Force Ghosts – also known as dead losers.

 

ART OF WAR VS STAR WARS – 9 EXAMPLES OF MILITARY INCOMPETENCE IN STAR WARS: (9) YOU DON’T WIN WARS WITH MAGIC

 

The most fundamental flaw underlying the Star Wars series is of course the Force, also known as magic.

You don’t win wars with magic. There’s a word for people who try to win wars with magic – losers. Magic is the desperate last resort of people facing complete defeat or conquest by opponents with overwhelming material superiority – and in the real world, material superiority trumps magic every time. Actually, it tends to trump everything most of the time – most wars are won with cold hard force, not the Force. In reality, magic is a ghost dance. In the late nineteenth century, the Ghost Dance was a religious movement that spread through native American tribes in the western United States, most notably the Lakota Sioux – with its focus on the eponymous dance to defeat the United States and restore them to the land they had lost (variously including the herds of buffalo and the spirits of their ancestors to fight alongside them). Instead, it led to defeat and massacre at Wounded Knee (although I wish it hadn’t).

 

"I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone's ass" - Neil Gaiman, "American Gods"

“I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass” – Neil Gaiman, “American Gods”

 

Now don’t get me wrong. I respect the ghost dance. I understand the ghost dance. Indeed, most of my life has been a ghost dance. (Isn’t everyone’s? Life is the last lost long look back). History is full of ghost dances and ghost dancers. The Jews had their great messianic ghost dance against the Roman Empire. The Rebellion in Star Wars mirrors the Boxer Rebellion in the Chinese Empire – but instead of the Jedi, there were the much cooler and more badass Boxers (or Righteous and Harmonious Fists) claiming supernatural feats and invulnerability to bullets. Needless to say, they lost.

 

Use the fists, Luke! (Admit it - Kung Fu Star Wars would be awesome!)

Use the fists, Luke! (Admit it – Kung Fu Star Wars would be awesome!)

 

Of course, in fantasy (including space fantasies a long time ago in a galaxy far away), the ghost dance works. Or does it? I think the Force is all smoke and mirrors or alien drugs (which would explain the Rebellion’s revenue), but even accepting the reality of the Force, it is arbitrary, inconsistent and unreliable – with the Jedi seemingly making up the rules as they go, or true “from a certain point of view” (or to put it another way, a lie). The Jedi didn’t see Order 66 to take them all out like a bunch of chumps coming from the Clone Troopers, but the Jedi mind trick works fine on stormtroopers?! (Except of course when it doesn’t work). Anakin Skywalker is too old to train as a Jedi at the age of 9 years, but Luke (or potentially Leia) is just dandy as a teenager?! (And in a crash course of a day or so in Yoda’s swamp – the same time it took the Imperial Fleet and Boba Fett to hunt down the Millennium Falcon). Darth Vader can sense Luke as his son in The Empire Strikes Back (but not in Star Wars) but can’t sense Leia is his daughter (despite torturing her in Star Wars)?! Emotional and sexual relationships are discouraged, even though the Force is clearly hereditary?! Just because Yoda and Obi-wan weren’t getting any. (Mace Windu on the other hand…)

 

And emotional self-control is perfectly fine, but what is the deal with their ascetic, monastic repression of emotional attachments to people or natural human emotions as anger or fear as gateway drugs to the Dark Side of the Force?

 

"I hate Darth Vader" "No Luke - you must love Darth Vader. Then you can kill him!"

“I hate Darth Vader” “No Luke – you must love Darth Vader. Then you can kill him!”

 

Ultimately, the Force is pretty useless and the Jedi are full of crap. (The Sith are also full of crap but they seem to have more fun). Certainly, the primary Jedi we see, Yoda and Obi-wan or Ben Kenobi, are. “Do or do not, there is no try”?! Really, Yoda? You’ve certainly been doing a lot in that swamp for the last two decades. I’d have tried punting that muppet across the swamp for that one. It doesn’t even make sense, because trying is part of doing. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”?! Yeah sure, Obi-wan – if by more powerful you mean a nagging, whining disembodied voice or ghost.

 

"Go, Luke - while I sacrifice myself to buy you a few seconds"

“Go, Luke – while I sacrifice myself to buy you a few seconds”

 

And that nagging, whining disembodied voice distracts Luke at the critical moment of taking that perfectly aimed shot to destroy the first Death Star. “Use the Force, Luke”! Aren’t you dead, Ben?! How did using the Force work out for you? No Luke – use the guidance computer, it’s a lot more reliable. Anyway, it can’t be that hard – Lando flew the Millennium Falcon inside the second Death Star and took the shot, all without using the Force

Even if the Force was all it was cracked up to be, then surely there would be ways that science or technology could counter or suppress it – particularly when the Force is given a mundane explanation in the prequel trilogy, you know, midi-chlorians or something. To quote Rick Sanchez using science to beat the Devil’s magic in Rick and Morty, “it detects and catalogs all your Twilight Zone, Ray Bradbury, Friday the Thirteenth the Series voodoo magic crap!” (You know, like science disproves magic in the real world).

And come on – in the original trilogy, there’s only three Jedi and two Sith amongst the billions or trillions of people and droids in the Galaxy! I mean, Return of the Jedi refers to Jedi in the singular, not the plural! What is this – the Skywalker family drama? And why is the Emperor so obsessed with turning Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side – hardly a war-winning strategy (and a distraction from winning it)? Is he collecting Skywalkers and just wants the set?! Isn’t it just a huge risk with little if any reward? He already has his tame Sith apprentice in Darth Vader. After all, the Emperor turned Vader to the Dark Side by playing on the feelings he had for his girlfriend Padme. Doesn’t the Emperor apprehend the conflict of loyalties that might (and does arise) for Darth Vader in dealing with his son from the same girlfriend? Indeed, it’s an absolute no-win situation for the Emperor, because even if Luke turns to the Dark Side, won’t Vader then be eying off his master’s throne with Luke as his apprentice and heir? Indeed, that’s exactly what Vader proposes to Luke when trying to win him over – an imperial coup to rule the Galaxy together.

But then, that’s what happens when you use the Force and not your brain.

 

This is your brain on the Force.

This is your brain on the Force.

 

ART OF WAR VS STAR WARS – 9 EXAMPLES OF MILITARY INCOMPETENCE IN STAR WARS

(1) JUST WHAT WAR ARE THEY FIGHTING?

(2) JUST WHERE ARE THEY FIGHTING THE WAR?

(3) DRONE WARS (OR THESE ARE THE DROIDS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR)

(4) THE DEATH STAR IS USELESS

(5) THE IMPERIAL WALKERS ARE USELESS

(6) THE REBEL BASE IN HOTH IS USELESS

(7) SHOW ME THE MONEY

(8) THE EMPIRE IS DEFEATED BY EWOKS

(9) YOU DON’T WIN WARS WITH MAGIC

Art of War vs Star Wars – 9 Examples of Military Incompetence in Star Wars: (8) The Empire is Defeated by Ewoks

Not so cute now, hey?

Not so cute now, hey?

ART OF WAR VS STAR WARS – 9 EXAMPLES OF MILITARY INCOMPETENCE IN STAR WARS: (8) THE EMPIRE IS DEFEATED BY EWOKS

Ewoks. Just…ewoks.

This is it – the nadir of Imperial military incompetence, a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory despite the massive material superiority of the new Death Star, the Imperial Fleet and its “finest legion” of stormtroopers. This was the Galactic Empire’s equivalent of the crushing Roman defeats in the battles of Cannae and the Teutoburg Forest combined (although the narrative parallel is more the battle of Adrianople, in which the Roman legions and Emperor Valens himself were lost to Gothic rebels, initiating the fall of the western Roman Empire), except even worse because it came not at the hands of the Rebel equivalent of Hannibal or Arminius – or even a Wookie Spartacus (as I understand the Imperial defeat was originally conceived as a Wookie slave revolt) – but through luck, magic and…Ewoks.

 

The fall of the Empire?!

The fall of the Empire?!

 

The Imperial defeat at Endor represents the culmination of all the previous examples of military incompetence. The premise of Imperial strategy seemed sound enough, with the Emperor himself leaking intelligence on the new Death Star to lure the Rebel guerilla fleet into, in the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar, a TRAP! – except he mostly forgot the trap part, which might have involved a dummy or decoy shield and not leaking the correct location of the Death Star’s design flaw. As I’ve said before, was it thinking too far outside the box to put the shield for the Death Star (or at least a reserve shield, if only for the Death Star’s weak spot) on the Death Star (or at least a ship in the Imperial Fleet near the Death Star)? That would have been a trap.

 

ackbar

 

As for the actual shield stupidly placed on the moon of Endor, the Empire compounded its idiocy by its stupid arrangements for defending it. Bear in mind that this shield generator was meant to be part of the trap, with apparently the finest legion of stormtroopers actually awaiting the Rebel attack. The entire area should have been swarming with surveillance, security and droid or drone defences, not to mention air defenses or support – you know, in case the Rebels had attacked it with X-wings, missiles or drones, instead of just walking up to it. Speaking of walking, the Empire doubled down on its useless Imperial walkers, by having even more useless smaller, weaker two-legged walkers perfectly designed for tripping over in heavy forest.

 

Sigh.

Sigh.

 

The big four-legged Imperial walkers from Hoth would actually have been useful in a static defense (and beefed up with some anti-personnel devices).

 

Except it's hard to clean off those Ewoks afterwards

Except it’s hard to clean off those Ewoks afterwards

 

Tanks and air support would have been even more useful – personally, I would have called in an airstrike to drop napalm on the entire forest. I love the smell of Ewoks burning in the morning – smells like victory…

 

Living the dream...

Living the dream…

 

Instead, the stormtroopers seem to be strolling casually around as if they’re on summer camp and goofing off on those flying bike things, injuring or killing themselves by flying through thick forests – rather than, you know, over them. The Rebel plan succeeds in surprising the base that was expecting them despite being no more credible or sophisticated than if they had knocked on the door and asked if they could use the phone – or sent Leia in her slave-girl outfit as a decoy strippergram. Actually that last one probably would have worked better.

 

 

Princess Leia by J Scott Campbell

Princess Leia by J Scott Campbell

 

However, I’m still calling shenanigans on the Ewok victory – it just wouldn’t happen, even with all the Imperial incompetence. The only reason it happens is because it was contrived by the story. Lucas wanted an Imperial defeat at the hands of a technologically backward underdog and he wanted cute cuddly teddy bears to market to children (despite the fact that Ewoks eat people) – but Stone Age technology defeating Space Age technology?! It might have been different if they had some advantage of physical size and strength – I understand that the original idea involved the Wookies (in a slave revolt), which would have made sense not only in their physical stature but also their technological proficiency. I don’t care how many Ewoks there were – teddy bears with slingshots will not beat guys with lasers.

 

All one has to do to look at actual history, where industrialized or technologically advanced nations have routinely crushed or curb stomped less technologically developed opponents. Yes – there have been examples where this has been reversed, but they have been rare and limited to particularly favorable circumstances or execution of strategy, and never with a technological differential as wide as that between the Empire and the Ewoks. Even then, these have generally been solitary battles in wars later won by the more developed nation. The Aztec Empire was effectively Stone Age in their military technology, lacking metal and large domesticated animals, and the Spanish conquistador Cortez conquered their empire of about 10 million inhabitants with an army of only about 500 men and a dozen horses. Pizarro conquered the even larger Inca Empire with an army less than half the size. The Spanish were armed with sixteenth century steel and slow, single-fire, muzzle-loading guns, which often couldn’t hit the side of a barn at anything other than short distance – so probably more accurate than stormtroopers.

 

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My theory is that the Empire lost to the bookies – on the bright side, all the Imperial forces in the battle of Endor retired rich after collecting their high-odds bets against the Empire…

 

ART OF WAR VS STAR WARS – 9 EXAMPLES OF MILITARY INCOMPETENCE IN STAR WARS

(1) JUST WHAT WAR ARE THEY FIGHTING?

(2) JUST WHERE ARE THEY FIGHTING THE WAR?

(3) DRONE WARS (OR THESE ARE THE DROIDS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR)

(4) THE DEATH STAR IS USELESS

(5) THE IMPERIAL WALKERS ARE USELESS

(6) THE REBEL BASE IN HOTH IS USELESS

(7) SHOW ME THE MONEY

(8) THE EMPIRE IS DEFEATED BY EWOKS

(9) YOU DON’T WIN WARS WITH MAGIC