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Strategy 19: Envelop the Enemy – The Annihilation Strategy (The 33 Strategies of War)

The Zulu

The Zulus defeated the British, even though their technology was inferior. They managed to instill fear in the British by appearing to emerge out of nowhere, and by gaining a psychological advantage. Not only were they highly disciplined, but when a British soldier was killed by the Zulu spears, a disturbing sucking sound could be heard.

Earlier in the 19th century, the Zulu way of fighting was perfected by King Shaka Zulu. He transformed a minor tribe into the region’s greatest fighting force. He invented the heavy, broad-bladed Zulu spear, the assegai. He imposed deadly discipline and trained his army to encircle their enemies with incredible precision.

Humans know how to adapt after being defeated. But there is no defense to envelopment. When the enemy is given no room to move, no hope, they are helpless. The Zulus kept a force in reserve, they hit their enemy with this force when they sensed weakness.

You must make your opponent acknowledge defeat from the bottom of his heart.

Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645)

We lived a nomadic life thousands of years ago, we associate room to roam with freedom. A cat does not mind enclosed spaces, but we suffocate in them. This reflex is today psychological, we cannot stand being in a situation where our options are closed.

Enclosure disturbs us, it makes us overact. When someone or something besieges us, we lose our willpower, we lose control over our emotions. Give your opponents room to maneuver and they will exploit it, no matter how powerful you are. Shrink their possibilities of action.

John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil, worked to monopolize the railroad industry (oil’s main transport). He then tried to gain control overt he pipelines that connected the refineries to the railroads.

He tried to buy all the land that stood in his way, but his opponents (Tidewater) worked around him, building a zigzag pipeline all the way to the sea. Rockefeller was faced with a classic war paradigm: a motivated enemy was exploiting every gap in his defenses to avoid being engulfed by him.

His solution was to envelop them. He started a campaign to buy up stock in the Tidewater company, his minority interest allowed him to work from within and spark dissention. Eventually, he won, Tidewater conceded to Standard Oil.

Rockefeller’s strategy was to create relentless pressure from all directions. Independent oil producers were confused by this, they couldn’t understand where his influence stopped. Rockefeller was able to succeed because of the immense resources he had, and he used his resources not only practically, but psychologically.

In the Ismaili Shiite sect during the eleventh and twelfth centuries A.D., a group later known as the Assassins developed the strategy of killing key Islamic leaders who had tried to persecute the sect. Their method was to infiltrate an Assassin into the target’s inner circle, perhaps even joining his bodyguard. Patient and efficient, the Assassins were able over the years to instill the fear that they could strike at any time and at any person. No caliph or vizier felt secure. The technique was a masterpiece of economy, for in the end the Assassins actually killed quite a few people, yet the threat they posed gave the Ismailis great political power.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

Read The 33 Strategies of War

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

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