The 33 Strategies of War

Robert Greene Also available in audiobook: Download our app for free listening.

Whether in your life or at work, you've probably seen a complicated situation that you couldn't get out of. Getting rid of problems like this often calls for a revolutionary strategy and this is what we want to show with this work.

In this book, author Robert Greene explores innumerable historical, political, philosophical and religious contexts, as well as some violent conflicts of humanity, to outline a guide with 33 successful war strategies. Learn offensive and defensive strategies that will help you deal with numerous situations. Have agility, balance, and calm at decisive moments. This microbook will help you have enough ammo to overcome your difficulties and be successful in your daily battles! Come with the 12min team and discover how to do it!

#1 DECLARE WAR AGAINST YOUR ENEMIES: POLARITY STRATEGY

Before entering any battle, you must stop to think and evaluate each scenario. The first step is to know who the fight will be against. The first of all, you need to know and identify your opponents.

The inner enemy. Hired to fight the Persians in 401 BC, Xenophon had to turn a group of Greek mercenaries into a unified group. They had to identify the opponent, determine the reasons for the fight, and overcome their difficulties.

The outside enemy. Margaret Thatcher defined her fight and opponent. She fought relentlessly for what she believed to be right, not hesitating to face the oppositions that prevented her from completing her goals.

#2 DON'T FIGHT THE LAST WAR: THE  MIND WAR STRATEGY

As is common for various types of knowledge, tactics also age. Better-structured strategies may become obsolete. Keep your tactics modern and always develop new strategies.

  • Historical Examples:

The Last War. In 1806, Prince Friedrich Ludwig of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen fought against Napoleon, but his strategies were the same as Frederick the Great and were old. Napoleon's innovative strategies surpassed him.

Changing war standards. In 1605, Miyamoto Musashi, a samurai, had a multitude of definitive duels. He developed a pattern for his fights but regularly changed his tactics to confuse his opponents. Without ever falling into an ordinary place, his continuous adaptation prevented his opponents from getting comfortable.

#3 IN THE MIDDLE OF CONFUSION, DON'T LOSE YOUR PRESENCE OF MIND: THE COUNTERWEIGHT STRATEGY  

You need to stay focused, set your goals and have the confidence to reach them. In that way, strive to achieve these goals relentlessly.

  • Historical Examples:

The aggressive tactic. Lord Nelson in 1801 fought in Copenhagen, disobeying the orders of his superior Sir Hyde Parker. His confidence and leadership helped him defeat the Danish navy.

Hitchcock's tactic. Director Alfred Hitchcock has always planned his films very well. He knew exactly how they should be. His methodical approach, though confusing to others, helped him be calmer on the set.

#4 CREATE A SENSE OF EMERGENCY AND DESPAIR: THE DEATH-GROUND STRATEGY

When there are no other options, people fight harder. If the choice is between life and death, they have nothing to lose.

  • Historical Examples:

The "no return" tactic. In 1504, Hernán Cortés used this tactic by preventing his 500 men from returning to Cuba. They had to fight against the Aztecs, even with a much smaller army.

Death at your feet. The near-execution of Fyodor Dostoevsky helped him to do each of his jobs as if it were his last. The intimate experience of his mortality enabled him to overcome the life difficulties.

#5 AVOID THE IDEA OF GROUP THOUGHT: THE STRATEGY OF COMMAND AND CONTROL

Take command and control. Don't be too authoritarian or too weak.

  • Historical Examples:

The broken chain. At the beginning of World War I, the British attacked Constantinople to reach the Black Sea to aid Russia and facilitate the attack on the Germans in the East. But General Ian Hamilton let his subordinates make important command decisions. This resulted in a lack of understanding of the tactical objectives, causing them to lose the battle.

Remote Control. During his career, General George Marshall defined a set of protégés, carefully teaching them his command philosophy. This gave him the ability to know and trust the actions of his subordinates. Eventually, it allowed him to raise generals like Dwight Eisenhower, knowing that these generals would act according to his style and beliefs.

#6 SEGMENT YOUR FORCES: THE CONTROLLED-CHAOS STRATEGY

Smaller units are more agile, mobile and have more skill.

  • Historical Examples:

Calculated disorder. In 1805, Napoleon was being attacked by the Austrian troops under Karl Mack's command. Napoleon divided his troops and gave them specific instructions. They surrounded the Austrians that surrendered in the Battle of Ulm, with little fight.

#7 TURN YOUR WAR INTO A CRUSADE: MORAL STRATEGIES

Create a clash atmosphere for some noble cause or need. Respect your troops.

The art of human management. Be a leader who:

1) strives for a cause;

2) supports the team;

3) leads by example;

4) focuses on team strategy and avoids idleness; 5) Feeds the emotions to feed the cause;

6) rewards and punishes in moderation, but lets the team know the possibilities;

7) builds a story for the team and makes connections;

8) removes detractors.

  • Historical Examples:

1931: Lyndon Johnson kept his teams working hard, praising and encouraging competition to earn more praise.

1950: Green Bay Packers hired Vince Lombardi, who treated all players equally. He used fear of public reprimand to keep team members in line.

#8 CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES: THE PERFECT-ECONOMY STRATEGY

Fight economically, retaining all your assets. Know your strengths and use them. The War consists in weakening the other side - militarily, financially and morally.

  • Historical Examples:

Spiral effect. In 280 BC, Pyrrhus of Epirus acted as a mercenary with the city of Tarentum about to go to war with Rome. He was led into a series of battles on behalf of his ego and guided by his inadequate intelligence. He won the battles, but his army was wiped out. The final War, the Pyrrhic War, ruined him forever and gave birth to the term "Pyrrhic victory."

Strengths and weaknesses. Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne of England in 1558, at a time when the country was a secondary military power. Contrary to her counselors, she waited and didn't marry Philip II of Spain. Instead, she searched for more subtle ways to hurt him. She enlisted in the Royal Navy, performing pirate attacks on his ships returning from the New World. Also, she used other less conventional techniques to destroy the Spanish Armada. Queen Elizabeth I carefully chose her battles to conserve her resources and show her superior strength.

#9 CHANGING THE SITUATION: THE  COUNTER-ATTACK

If you move first, you show your opponent your strategy so wait. Get him to move first. Analyze the strategy and counterattack based on the weaknesses revealed.

  • Historical Examples:

Disguised aggression. Before the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, Napoleon pretended to be afraid. Czar Alexander I of Russia, eager for revenge, decided to lead the allies in the battle. Napoleon drew the enemy forces to expose his weaknesses and then defeated them.

Jiu Jitsu. In 1944, in the Democratic presidential race, the Republican Party in the attempt to elect Thomas Dewey, made continuous false statements about Franklin Roosevelt. He waited and didn't answer until comments were made about his dog. Roosevelt made a satirical speech defending his dog, humiliating Dewey.

#10 CREATE A THREATENING PRESENCE: DISSUASION STRATEGIES

Make people think they will lose and bluff if necessary. People like an easy win and won't attack if they think they will lose.

Reverse Intimidation.

1) make bold maneuvers and bluff;

2) be a threat, make sudden movements, indicate aggression;

3) move irrationally, be unpredictable, act with madness;

4) feed your opponent's paranoia, indicating scary abilities;

5) maintain a bad reputation, don't bargain and be bad.

  • Historical Examples:

In 1874, Louis XI from France used Duke of Milan ambassador to France, Christopher Bollate, to lead rumors invented on the French suspicions of the Duke's intentions, threatening an attack. This helped to maintain a peaceful alliance.

John Boyd was appointed to work on the Pentagon to design a new attack strategy but found policy difficulties. He used a strategy of playing dumb while researching the problems proposed by others and developing tactics to end the initiatives.

#11 EXCHANGE SPACE FOR TIME: THE DISENGAGEMENT STRATEGY

A retreat will help you gain the advantage of decreasing your opponent's strength by allowing your forces to focus. Going without a fight, when they know you can, will provoke your opponent and increase the chances that they have some irrational attitude.

  • Historical Examples:

Regroup to advance. Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist party forced the withdrawal of the Communist Party from Mao Tse Tung in the early stages of the Chinese Civil War. This attitude strengthened support for the Communists, uniting the peasantry. In 1949, the communists defeated the nationalists.

#12 LOSE THE BATTLES BUT WIN THE WAR: THE GREAT STRATEGY

Have a greater plan.

  • Historical Examples:

Great campaign. Alexander the Great developed a new strategy by looking ahead, differentiating himself from other leaders. First, he gained the territory he needed, but didn't increase his possessions to the point where he couldn't govern them. He didn't fight battles he couldn't win, for example, drawing up plans to capture the Mediterranean main ports, effectively nullifying the Persian navy.

Total war. In 1968, during the Vietnam War, Von Nguyen Giap executed an offensive across the country during a holiday. Although his army retreated, the offensive confused the American and South Vietnamese armies and deceived the American media.

#13 KNOW YOUR ENEMY: THE INTELLIGENCE STRATEGY

Know your opponent's moves and don't let your moves be known. Understand how your opponent thinks.

  • Historical Examples:

The mirrored enemy. In 1838 the British invasion of Afghanistan led by Lord Auckland aimed to reintegrate the friendly Shuja Shah Durrani, dismissing the then leader Dost Mohammad Khan. But Auckland didn't understand the Afghans or their culture, making countless mistakes. The result was his death and Dost Muhammad's return to power.

Close support. Between 1806 and 1813, Prince Metternich met with Napoleon, hoping to understand him and to find weaknesses that could be explored. Eventually, he assisted in the realization of Napoleon's marriage to Marie Louise. Metternich used that fact to the advantage of Austria, allowing them to build an army and join a great alliance in Europe, which eventually defeated Napoleon in Waterloo.

#14 SPEED RESISTANCE: THE BLITZKRIEG STRATEGY

A slow and methodical start, with a well-planned attack and quick, sure moves.

  • Historical Examples:

Slow-slow-fast-fast. In 1218, Genghis Khan attacked and defeated the mighty Muhammad II of Khwarezm, beginning with a series of small attacks that looked more like defeats. He then began more serious and rapid attacks to defeat Muhammad II.

#15 CONTROL THE DYNAMICS: STRENGTH STRATEGIES

Be in control. Be assertive. Control your opponent's mind. Get them moving in your territory.

  • Historical Examples:

In 1942, during World War II, Rommel used smaller units in the deserts of North Africa to defeat the British. He kept his units moving, like ships in the sea, reducing their ability to be attacked. Often he rode with the front line to decrease the < chain information.>

While working on Paramount Pictures filming night after night in 1932, Mae West took small steps to change the dynamics of power on the set. Eventually, she took on large portions of the movie scripts.

#16 HURT WHERE IT HURTS: THE  GRAVITY CENTER STRATEGY

Attack the center point. Capture and destroy your opponent.

  • Historical Examples:

Pillars of collapse. In 209 BCE, Publius Scipio attacked and captured New Carthage, the main supplying point for Hannibal in the Spanish capital. This attack hampered Hannibal's supply routes. Scipio then arrived in Carthage in 204 BC, removing Hannibal from Italy.

#17 DEFEAT THEM IN DENIAL: THE DIVIDE AND CONQUER STRATEGY

Observe the parts and determine how to control individual ones, create conflicts, and take advantage of them.

  • Historical Examples:

Center position. In 490 BC, the Persians planned an attack on ancient Athens. They arrived 24 miles north of Athens. The Greeks traveled north blocking the passage between the areas. The Persians divided their troops at night and attacked Athens by the sea. The Greeks attacked the troops at the Battle of Marathon and rushed to Athens to prevent the Persians from disembarking (and that's where the famous name and event came from).

#18 EXPOSE AND ATTACK YOUR ENEMY'S WEAKER SIDE: THE CONVERSION STRATEGY

Attract your opponent to a frontal attack, make him vulnerable, and hit his weaknesses.

  • Historical Examples:

Turning point. In 1795, Baron Joseph Alvinczy's attempt to withdraw the French from Verona was hampered by Napoleon at the Battle of Arcola, exposing his weaknesses and allowing Napoleon to defeat him.

#19 INVOLVE YOUR ENEMY: THE ANNIHILATION STRATEGY

Maintain constant pressure on your opponent to defeat him.

  • Historical Examples:

Beast's Horns. In 1778, the British wanted to absorb the Zulus territories. In the battle of Isandlwana, the Zulus used their knowledge of the territory, surprised and defeated the British.

#20 MANEUVER THEM INTO WEAKNESSES: RIPENING FOR THE SICKLE STRATEGY

Make calculated moves. This will allow you to control the situation, confuse and tire your opponent.

  • Historical Examples:

In 1800, Napoleon had to defeat the Austrian army in Italy. He made his plans, and almost everything went wrong. But Napoleon also made alternative plans and continued trading in the new situations, and then defeated the Austrians in Marengo.

In 1936, in the presidential campaign, the Republican Party named Alf Landon to run with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Landon attempted to defeat Roosevelt by supporting the New Deal but criticizing its creator. Roosevelt waited until Landon ran out of time and attacked.

#21 NEGOTIATE WHILE ADVANCING: THE DIPLOMATIC WAR STRATEGY

When negotiating, you should not give in to the pressure to move forward.

  • Historical Examples:

War by other means. Philip II of Macedonia came to power in 359 BC The city of Athens did not support him. In the negotiations between the Athenians and Philip II, he continued to make promises of peace but continued to increase his empire. Eventually, he formed the Corinthian League, to gather Greek cities and attack the Persians.

"Jade for Tile." At the beginning of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, Minister Capo d'Istria believed that Russia should support Greece. That would give Russia access to ports in the Mediterranean.

#22 KNOW HOW TO FINISH: THE EXIT STRATEGY

Know when you have been defeated and decrease your losses. Learn how to win with honor and bring a positive end to the battle by reducing your opponents in the future.

  • Historical Examples:

No way out. The invasion of the Soviet Union into Afghanistan and the resulting war led to their defeat mainly because of the lack of understanding of the Afghan people. Significant expenses caused Gorbachev to withdraw Soviet troops.

Ending how it started. Lyndon Johnson fought a complicated election for the 10th seat of the Texas Congress in 1937. Shortly after the election, he approached his opponents and thanked the fight, successfully succeeding in allying with them.

#23 A MIX OF FACT AND FICTION: DECEPTION STRATEGIES

Cheating is an ancient and invaluable art when you need to keep it from being watched. Wrong information can consume your opponent.

  • Historical Examples:

The false mirror. In preparation for the invasion of Normandy in World War II, the Allies developed deceptive plans. They included a fake army in England and a stuntman of General Montgomery in the Mediterranean theater. Several misinformation paralyzed Hitler's decision-making abilities when the actual invasion began.

#24 USE THE LEAST EXPECTED PATH: THE COMMON-EXTRAORDINARY STRATEGY

Do the unexpected. If you are always calm, be radical; if you are always radical, do something common.

  • Historical Examples:

In 219 BC, Rome decided to fight against Hannibal. They chose to face him on the river Trebia. Hannibal exhibited unstable behavior and led the Roman army across the river, and then surprised them with elephants. The Romans made several attempts, but Hannibal acted in an opposite way than expected, giving him a great advantage.

Cassius Clay challenged heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in boxing in 1962. Clay's unorthodox behavior and fighting techniques gave him a significant advantage in the fight as his opponent didn't know what to expect.

#25 OCCUPY THE MORAL HIGH GROUND: THE RIGHTEOUS STRATEGY

Justify your cause is correct and moral. Show the selfish side of your opponent. Show that you are downtrodden.

  • Historical Examples:

The moral offensive. Pope Leo X wanted to complete the construction of St. Peter's Basilica. To raise funds for the church, he began practicing the sale of indulgences. A German theologian and priest named Martin Luther challenged practices in 95 theses, saying that only God could forgive sins. His arguments based solely on the Bible, refuting the Pope. This effort by Martin Luther was the beginning of Protestant and Lutheran traditions.

#26 DENY THEM TARGETS: THE VOID STRATEGY

Remove any targets you have for your opponents. No target will thwart your opponents, increasing the chance of making mistakes.

  • Historical Examples:

The empty bait. Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 found a retreating Russian army with little resistance. The withdrawal of troops left behind destroyed cities and no food. French troops decreased from 450,000 to 100,000 men until they arrived in Moscow.

#27 SEEM TO WORK WORK FOR THE INTEREST OF OTHERS WHILE FURTHERING YOUR OWN: THE ALLIANCE STRATEGY

Form temporary alliances to meet your current needs. Do whatever it takes to hide the temporary nature of your business. Weaken the alliances of your opponents.

  • Historical Examples:

The perfect ally. In 1467, Charles I expanded its empire by allying with Edward IV of England to attack Louis XI of France. But King Louis XI discovered about the invasion and allied with Edward IV.

False Alliances. Murray Bowen, a psychiatrist, used his clinical knowledge to resolve a personal family situation. He wrote a series of letters to family members, showing concern, but exposing various situations of gossip in the family. In that process, he created a degree of autonomy that gave him the power to control the situation and help his siblings create healthy family relationships.

#28 GIVE YOUR RIVALS "ENOUGH ROPE TO HANG THEMSELVES": THE ONE-UPMANSHIP STRATEGY

Give your opponent's the space to make mistakes, give them tasks they can not complete, and damage their reputation. Hide your involvement and keep your innocence.

  • Historical Examples:

Tsukahara Bokuden, a famous samurai, was challenged by a young ambidextrous samurai. Bokuden accepted the challenge but focused the young samurai's attention on the "unfair" use of his left arm. In the fight, Bokuden attacked his right. Later, in 1605, the swordsman Genzaemon was challenged by Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi was late, and this made Gonzaemon furious, causing him to make wrong moves.

Bob Dole of Kansas challenged George H. W. Bush for the Republican nomination in 1988. Lee Atwater, the Bush strategist, knowing Dole's temper, has spread rumors about his wife, Elizabeth Dole. Dole's anger surfaced in the media, hurting him badly.

#29 TAKE SMALL BITES: THE FAIT ACCOMPLI STRATEGY

Advance little by little, often unnoticed by your rivals. When they notice your growth, it may be too late.

  • Historical Examples:

Fragmented achievement. On the fall of France to the Germans in World War II, Charles de Gaulle received permission from Winston Churchill to broadcast to the French military by the BBC. The transmission was carried out with great public support. He continued to expand his small support, leading forces in Central Africa, building the French Resistance of Jean Moulin.

#30 PENETRATE THEIR MINDS: THE COMMUNICATION STRATEGY

Fight with words that will keep your opponent busy, make him think and try to interpret what you mean. Use actions other than words when necessary to make an impression.

  • Historical Examples:

Visceral communication. In filming "The 39 Steps" in 1935, Alfred Hitchcock handcuffed actors Madeleine Carroll and Robert Donat, and pretended to have lost the key, leaving them handcuffed for hours. The move was to make them understand the script better. Hitchcock promoted his indirect communication with attitudes contrary to the situation - working in the actors' minds.

The Genius. Nicolau Maquiavel worked in the second chancellery of Florence. As Florence entered and left Medici's control between 1494 and 1512, Machiavelli was removed from his work. To keep in touch with the government of Florence, he wrote a play "The Prince" and involved his friend Francesco Vettori to show it to the Medici. He later wrote "Discourses on the First Decade of Livy." These unpublished works disrupted Machiavelli to return to his charge. After his death, the manuscripts were published in numerous languages. Eventually, his work allowed many cultures to have enormous communication power.

#31 DESTROY FROM WITHIN: THE INNER FRONT STRATEGY

Infiltrate your opponent's field. Once there, you don't have to attack or show your intentions. Take control slowly.

  • Historical Examples:

The invisible enemy. Adolf Hitler appointed Wilhelm Canaris to organize the Abwehr (the German intelligence group) in late 1933. Hitler trusted him. During his tenure, he advised against the invasion of the United Kingdom, contrary to the alliance with Francisco Franco of Spain to use Gibraltar, and assured Hitler that Pietro Badoglio of Italy would not surrender in 1943. Later, it was discovered that he was working to subvert Hitler.

Friendly occupation. In 1929, André Breton, creator of the Surrealist Manifesto, wanted the movement to have more life. He believed that Salvador Dali could help with this. But Dali's affinity with Hitler and Lenin disrupted. Dalí traveled to New York, where he had a successful career and became a synonym of surrealism.

#32 DOMINATE WHILE SEEMING TO SUBMIT: THE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE STRATEGY

Fight your opponent without aggression. His aggressive acts will benefit you and give you the support of others.

  • Historical Examples:

The guilt weapon. To protest against the salt tax established by the British Raj, Mahatma Gandhi made a 200-mile march to the ocean. The governor-general of India, Lord Edward Irwin, was relieved by the attitude that seemed insignificant. Lord Edward Irwin did nothing to stop the march, but it attracted thousands of people. Irwin had limited options since he had not acted before to stop the march. Gandhi chose his protest wisely.

Passive Power. Czar Alexander, I wanted to reform the monarchies of Europe. He used the revolts in Spain and Naples in 1820 to request a meeting with the monarchs and talk about the problems. Austrian Prince Metternich used this meeting to move the Tsar into a position of support for the "old guard rule" over any form of liberalization.

#33 SPREAD UNCERTAINTY AND PANIC THROUGH TERROR ACTS: THE CHAIN ​​REACTION STRATEGY

The goal is chaos and the creation of a lack of trust. What was once secure is now uncertain.

  • Historical Examples:

The anatomy of panic. In 1092, the death of Nizam al-Mulk was first seen as a reprisal for the attempt to suppress the growth of the Nizari Ismaili sect. The Nizari, a secret group, had developed a new method of revolt, in which the assassins arose from a calm crowd and killed their targets with a dagger.

Final Notes

The author extracted these 33 war strategies from real and historical situations. We can learn a lot from these stories, and use these strategies in real-life situations. Seek to know your resources and your enemies so you can identify which strategy fits best on occasion. Learning from the mistakes of the past and adapting to circumstances will help you achieve the expected success and win your battles.

12min Tip

One cannot speak of war strategies without citing one of the greatest classics on the subject. Enjoy to check out the classic "The Art of War" here at 12min.

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