July 15, 2017 –  Strategy and Life

The focus of studies at all of America’s mid-level and senior service schools, or “war colleges”, is strategy.  The studies in strategy at all the war colleges begins with the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. The first question asked by most students is what does a 2500-year-old Greek historian know about modern strategy?  The answer is, quite a bit. The fundamentals of strategy haven’t’ changed a lot in 2500 years. We still call an inevitable conflict between a rising power and an established one (like Germany and Britain in the early 20th century) a Thucydides trap.

The basics of life haven’t changed in 2500 years as well. Thucydides wrote, “We secure our friends not by accepting favors but by doing them.” To add to yesterday’s post on friendship, Thucydides urges his readers to invest in friendships to make them stronger. He also understood human nature, which really hasn’t changed either. He wrote, ““Most people, in fact, will not take the trouble in finding out the truth, but are much more inclined to accept the first story they hear.” Sound familiar?

You can learn a lot by reading Thucydides – and not just about strategy. What you will learn is not to be surprised by behavior and think that the crazy we are experiencing now is new – it’s not. I leave you with two more quotes from Thucydides to ponder. First, ““It is a general rule of human nature that people despise those who treat them well, and look up to those who make no concessions.” And finally, “Love of power, operating through greed and through personal ambition, was the cause of all these evils…here they were deterred neither by the claims of justice nor by the interests of the state; their one standard was the pleasure of their own party at that particular moment, and so, either by means of condemning their enemies on an illegal vote or by violently usurping power over them, they were always ready to satisfy the hatreds of the hour. Thus, neither side had any use for conscientious motives; more interest was shown in those who could produce attractive arguments to justify some disgraceful action. As for the citizens who held moderate views, they were destroyed by both the extreme parties, either for not taking part in the struggle or in envy at the possibility that they might survive.”

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