The Role of Strategy in War

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Strategy in war is probably as old as war itself. From the Greeks with their Trojan Horse to the Americans in the Gulf War, the use of strategy in war has been a feature of all societies, modern or ancient, and often the same aims, tactics, and techniques appear to be repeated in subtle new ways. As Aeschylus, the great Greek dramatist put it succinctly, and conversely, more than 2,500 years ago, “Truth is the first casualty in war”.

The most extreme condition that a nation or people may face in their lives is war. War requires leaders to adopt any and all means to be successful since it is often a matter of survival of the nation or that society. In battle, it is not enough for a commander to avoid mistakes; he needs to deliberately cause his enemy to make mistakes, and for this, he needs to understand the mindset, as well as the abilities and weaknesses, of the enemy.

Practiced defensively by the attacked and offensively by the attacker, a strategy is a kind of planning intended to manipulate the understanding and actions of the opponent by presenting a false or distorted view of the conditions. This distortion can be social, political or physical.

Modern technology has exponentially increased the scope of the strategy, with a host of advanced techniques specially invented to deceive the enemy. During the first Gulf War, the Americans used technology to great effect, employing decoys, false radio transmissions, and leaflets to deceive the Iraqis into believing that an amphibious assault from the Persian Gulf was imminent, while the actual invasion was planned at a land location hundreds of miles away. The rest, as they say, is history.

The greatest army generals in history have been masters of strategy, and only a naive commander disregards the importance of leveling the playing field or neutralizing the enemy’s strengths, even gaining an edge. No wonder then that Sun Tzu, the celebrated Chinese philosopher, and military strategist, remarked in his widely read book “The Art of War”, “All warfare is based on deception”.