Shots of Wit

A regular posting of witticisms, aphorisms, and general musings by Clifford Cohen.

Winning the battle…

Sometimes, if your opponent is determined to win the battle, let him win the wrong battle.

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The relevance of this advice is borne out in history. Two clear examples that illustrate variants of this aphorism in action are:

…the French invasion of Russia under Napoleon, in which Napoleon managed to take Moscow…at the expense of his army.

…the Battle of Hastings, in which the army of the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson unwittingly fell prey to a simple tactic employed by the army of Duke William II of Normandy: during the battle, the solders of Duke William II pretended to be routed, whereupon the soldiers of King Harold chased them. When the pursuing soldiers were separated from the rest of their army, the “fleeing soldiers” cut down their pursuers. The success of this tactic contributed to the defeat of King Harold.

One obviously need not look simply to the battlefield for applications of this strategy. It is potentially relevant in most every sphere of life where competition or conflict might occur—work, sports, politics. Because the saying advocates the use of subterfuge as a means to an end, I have always considered its message to be somewhat “unseemly”. Nevertheless, there are times when the tactic is not only effective, but completely necessary.

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