A better state of peace

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Younghusband shares a gem of a story from B. H. Liddell Hart’s Strategy:

Poised outside of the newly re-enforced capital of Sparta, the Theban general Epaminondas knew that beginning a siege against the city would only wear down his troops who had already campaigned deep into Spartan territory during the mid-winter of 370BC. His force was a collection of Arcadian peoples and included a large number of Helots — the Spartan underclass — among other “disaffected elements”. Epaminondas decided on a new tack. Rather than conquering the Spartans, he would contain them.
At Mount Ithome, the natural citadel of Messenia, he founded a city as the capital of a new Messenian state, established there all the insurgent elelments that had joined him, and used the booty he had gained during the invasion as an endowment for the new state. This was to be a check and counterpoise to Sparta in southern Greece. By its secure establisment she lost half her territory and more than half her serfs. Through Epiminondas’s foundation of Megalopolis, in Arcadia, as a further check, Sparta was hemmed in both politically and by a chain of fortresses, so that the economic roots of her military supremacy were severed.

Epaminondas’s strategy successfully dislocated the power base of Sparta after just a few months campaigning, and no victories in the field. After all, the object of war is not to destroy your opponent’s military force, but to “obtain a better state of peace — even if only from your own point of view.”

Liddell Hart also has “a knack for writing pithy little axioms about strategy”:

“To strike with strong effect, one must strike at weakness.” (pp. 212)

“The true purpose of strategy is to diminish the possibility of resistance.” (pp. 213)

“While strategy is the opposite of morality, as it is largely concerned with the art of deception, grand strategy tends to coincide with morality” (pp. 220)

“The object in war is a better state of peace — even if only from your own point of view.” (pp. 338)

“It is wiser to run the risks of war for the sake of preserving peace than to run risks of exhaustion in war for the sake of finishing with victory…” (pp. 357)

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