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Strategy 13: Know Your Enemy (The 33 Strategies of War)

The Intelligence Strategy

The key to success in battle is to know the mind of your opponent. If you understand their psychology, then you will know how to deceive and control them, while avoiding being preyed upon yourself. Pick up their unconscious signals and note what they imply about their hidden motives. Act friendly to get them to lower their guard. Try to think as they do. If you find their psychological weaknesses, then you can defeat them with ease.

[As to the second case] , that of being drawn into one [a trap or ambush] …you must be shrewd about not believing easily things not in accord with reason. For example, if the enemy puts some booty before you, you ought to believe that within it there is a hook and that it conceals some trick. If many of the enemy are put to flight by your few, if a few of the enemy assail your many, if the enemy turn in sudden flight,…you ought to fear a trick. And you should never believe that the enemy does not know how to carry on his affairs; rather, if you hope to be less deceived…and…run less risk, in proportion as your enemy is weaker, in proportion as he is less cautious, you should the more respect him.

THE ART OF WAR, NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI, 1521

In the 18th century, the British invaded Afghanistan, masquerading as their protectors from tyranny. One enthusiastic man who spearheaded this move was William Macnaghten, he was the chief secretary of the Calcutta government. He liked the idea of an invasion since it would secure British interests in the area. The Russians also had influence on Afghanistan, and they were presented as the enemy of the Afghans by the British.

Afghanistan is a country with loyal and proud people, but the British did not take this into consideration. They assumed that the Afghans were simple, childish people who would be easily influenced by bribery. And so, the British transgressed on Afghan lands, scouring for food, and hassling the local population. They tried to bribe Afghan leaders and installed a puppet Shah to lead the country. But eventually, a revolution took place, and Macnaghten’s miscalculation cost him dearly. He was murdered, and the British were soon forced to flee the country.

This story teaches us an important lesson, to never be so arrogant so as to assume that your enemy is like you, or even that you know your enemy without having studied them. The atrocities the British faced in Afghanistan, both soldiers and civilians, could have been averted had they taken the time to study the Afghani people.

Do not make the same mistake as the British.

THE AGING LION AND THE FOX

A lion who was getting old and could no longer obtain his food by force decided that he must resort to trickery instead. So he retired to a cave and lay down pretending to be ill. Thus, whenever any animals came to his cave to visit him, he ate them all as they appeared. When many animals had disappeared, a fox figured out what was happening. He went to see the lion but stood at a safe distance outside the cave and asked him how he was. “Oh, not very well,” said the lion. “But why don’t you come in?” But the fox said: “I would come inside if I hadn’t seen that a lot of footprints are pointing inwards towards your cave but none are pointing out.” Wise men note the indications of dangers and thus avoid them.

FABLES, AESOP, SIXTH CENTURY B.C.

What gets in the way of sound psychological reading is narcissism. We assume that each person is a reflection of us, that they share our values and desires. But people are not alike in many fundamental ways, and unless you understand their idiosyncrasies, you risk isolating and alienating them.

Bait.–“Everyone has his price”–this is not true. But there surely exists for everyone a bait he cannot help taking. Thus to win many people over to a cause one needs only to put on it a gloss of philanthropy, nobility, charitableness, self-sacrifice–and on to what cause can one not put it?–: these are the sweetmeats and dainties for their soul; others have others.

HUMAN, ALL TOO HUMAN, FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, 1886

If you let your narcissism get between your understanding of others, you will misread people, and will misfire. See others dispassionately, each person is an alien culture that deserves to be studied carefully. If you allow yourself to get close, you will notice their shadow, their dark side, especially when they are caught in a moment of anger. These are opportunities for you to gather valuable insight about them.

Anger empties out the soul and brings even its dregs to light. That is why, if we know no other way of discovering the truth of the matter, we must know how to put our acquaintances, our adherents and opponents, into a rage, so as to learn all that is really being thought and undertaken against us.

HUMAN, ALL TOO HUMAN, FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, 1886

Read The 33 Strategies of War 

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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