Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Strategy of the Famous (Strategia Famoso di Scipione)

I've been thinking about strategy lately. Some people think of strategy as being the best and most foolproof way to pick lottery numbers, others think in terms of winning methods for sports teams, or how to get to the last level on some video game? Maybe some think about exactly how many apple-tinis bought for a lady at a bar will tip the scales in his favor.

What kind of strategy do you guys think about?

Um, me, well I've been pondering military history, and how lessons of the past could apply in modern times. This past week, I'd read a biography on one of the great military minds of all time. The book was 'Scipio Africanus' by Hart who drew heavily on the ancient biographers Polybius and Livy.

Written back in 1929, it covered the battles at a detailed level and known life of the one general who put Rome on the path to greatness, Scipio. He's even mentioned in the Italian national anthem because of the legendary battlefield antics, both tactical and strategic.

He was a master of keeping strategic intention hidden from the enemy, and also of adapting to the situation. For example in Carthage when facing off against Hannibal who had numerical superiority and war elephants charging forward to tear up the lines, Scipio had instructed soldiers to blast trumpets to panick the advancing elephants. This caused many to run back and kill the enemy.

As a conqueror of Spain and Africa, Scipio used near perfect economy of force to get the job done and win a lasting peace. He always had the 'grand strategy' big picture in mind. Unfortunately in Rome, the politicians were usually more of a problem-creating force than a help (they broke treaties that Scipio gained with all the great battles). Come to think of it, politicians tend to mess things up generally speaking anyway.

The recent US controversy about Gen. McChrystal resigning might have had a deeper root of pure successful strategy being hindered by politicians. There you have a general that is somewhat successful and getting things done, but something caused a lapse in respect of the chain of command. People in positions like that don't just shoot off thier mouth to mock leaders unless something else is going on. In my opinion, McChrystal should have respected the position if he didn't respect the man, but we'll never know now.

If we are actually in wars (not some stupid police action), we should be in to win them. Not just lip service to winning, but kill them all and let someone sort them out kind of war. The kind of war that Scipio would fight, having clear objectives in his grand strategy, not a war by committee.


  1. You're too smart for me. The strategy I think about it how I'm going to bring up an event I'd like attend to my husband who has social anxiety. Oh wait...that might be manipulation.

  2. Given that I write historical (and historical-based) stories which usually feature at least one big fight, but usually several battles overall, I think about military strategy, as well.

    Before Scipio, there was Odysseus, who was most favored by Athena for his brilliant tactical mind on the battlefield.

    Also: "Unfortunately in Rome, the politicians were usually more of a problem-creating force than a help."

    If you need further proof of this, ask Great Caesar's Ghost why his corpse whistles while he walks.

  3. Very interesting post. I bet he was pissed off at Rome's officals ruining all his hard work.

  4. Nikki,
    Oh, it's all strategy. I'll bet you are quite the tactician at event attendance.

    Yes, those crazy politicians with their 'sicas'.
    By the way, did I get the recommend on this book from your blog? I saw it on someone's currently reading list and was intrigued.

    Thanks, I think I can relate because in the past politicians in business sometimes ruined my efforts.

  5. No, not from my blog. I've been reading all sorts of Greeky stuff lately.

    However, I've now got a new book to look for at the library!

    It might have been at Roman Times. She's had a lot of reviews of books up there lately.

  6. Two things: Wars are when TWO armies are fighting. And you're right: If you're going to wage war against a nation, you should be in it to win. None of this goddamn pussyfooting around exhibited by us in Arabic countries.

    But we're the greatest country ever, EVER. So sayeth the ignorant.

  7. What are you talking about?! That IS St. Maarten.

    I got us some very cheap tickets to SF for a long weekend. $33 each way! I have too many wants this year. To move, get a new car...Also considering tagging along on a trip to Belize with my parents in April or going to Basel to visit a friend sometime next year. Basically I'm trying to hoard vacation time and St. Maarten didn't fit in.

    But I still want to go. Where is the best place to stay? Orient beach is where we were looking.

  8. I'm always pondering the strategy of medieval queens, trying to avoid their mistakes and imitate their successes.

  9. Between you and The Jules, I feel as though I've gone back to class. Though a more interesting and enjoyable class where I'm not inclined to drool all over my desk or sneak pot brownies.

    Every day of my life is filled with strategic thoughts of some kind - as a parent, employee, and a woman. Choosing just one is hard.

  10. But wasn't part of the problem that Roman politicians also tried to be generals too? Crassus may have been fine at makig a mint, but was rather squished by the Parthians. I suspect he was a war by committee man at heart.

  11. Jennifer,
    You'd make a good general I think.

    I like the French side because of the nightlife and better cuisine. Based on your posting history, I can only assume you guys would like that better also. Check out the Grand Case area, and also any beach houses for rent around 'Happy Bay'.

    That's right, sometimes history forgets the women were the grand strategizers...

    Sorry, I need to dial back the pedantic occasionally. It's just that this stuff is pretty interesting to me.

    Madame DeFarge,
    Crassus descended from a long line of debaters, I think you are right. Those Parthians and their superior archery...

  12. My strategies are far more mundane than those of the military persuasion - how to circumvent writer's block (don't ask!), how to manage anxiety (still working on that one!) and how to organize clutter.

  13. "Maybe some think about exactly how many apple-tinis bought for a lady at a bar will tip the scales in his favor."

    I can't believe you, with your intelligence and wit, are somehow able to find a causal link between buying apple-tinis for a chick and winning the lottery. Or "winning the lottery" for that matter.

    Does it work?

    I mean, does it help you win the lottery? Presumably you do some analysis on the apple-tini-induced nonsense that floods out of the consumer and use that to generate a sequence of numbers. Right?

  14. Lidian,
    You are fighting a three front battle, call for reinforcements!

    I'm working on that computer program today!