Strategy 17: Defeat Them in Detail (The 33 Strategies of War)

Battle of Marathon
Battle of Marathon

The Divide-And-Conquer Strategy

In division there is weakness. The two things we take from this is to be wary of being divided ourselves as individuals, as groups, and to understand that the best way to fight an enemy is to divide them first.

The Battle of Marathon

In what was considered a defining war for Western civilization, the Greeks were facing an imminent defeat defeat against the Persians – who had lunched an invasion towards Greece. One part of the Persian army would attack Marathon while the other would attack Athens by the sea.
But the Greek army encountered the forces that were about to attack Marathon, and had to make a fateful decision, to fight them now or to retreat and fight them in Athens?

The Greek generals had a vote, and it was decided 6-5 in favor of the attack. The Greeks had little information but they knew through a spy that the Persian army was divided. One Greek general argued that failing to attack now could be catastrophic – if the Persian forces were allowed to encircle the Greeks in two areas simultaneously, they would be almost impossible to defeat. To attack the Persians now, while divided and weaker, even though they still outnumbered the Greek soldiers, was the best strategy. And so they did. The Greeks only lost 300 men and after their victory, they ran back to Athens, to save their people from the Persian invasion. They only had a few hours to do so.

As the Persian fleet appeared from sea, they saw the victorious Greeks appear from Marathon. This was a fatal blow to their morale, they turned their ships around and went back home, knowing that their forces had been defeated.


Musashi was a warrior who fought many enemies at the same time, but he did not to so in a chaotic, frenzied way. Instead, he would fight the men coming at him at an angle or through a tight passage so that he could focus on one enemy at a time. As each man came forward, he was met with the full focus of the master swordsman and had no chance. Had Musashi tried to fight more callously, by trying to get the job done faster, he would have been defeated with ease.

Strength in Unity

You should always divide before you conquer. Even if your task will take longer, it is worth the wait. Victory in the end is what matters, and not getting there first.

If your household is divided, it will be easy to conquer. If your nation is not united, it will be easy for foreign forces to manipulate it, and if you are not united in mind and in spirit towards one goal, it will be easy to distract you and to throw you off track.


A ploughman’s sons were always quarrelling. He scolded them to no avail–his words did nothing to change their ways. So he decided to teach them a practical lesson. He asked them to bring him a load of firewood. As soon as they had done this he gave a bundle to each and told them to break it all up for him. But, in spite of all their efforts, they were unable to do so. The ploughman therefore undid the bundles and handed each of his sons a stick at a time. These they broke without any trouble. “So!” said the father, “you too, my children, if you stay bound together, can be invincible to your enemies. But if you are divided you will be easy to defeat.”


Read The 33 Strategies of War

If you are interested in exploring the darker or hidden parts of human psychology that most people ignore, check out The Dichotomy of the Self.

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.