Take The Initiative And Do The Unexpected


Your enemies are slothful, satisfied, and unwilling to tolerate pain and discomfort.  They wish to be comfortable, to enjoy their privileges, and to spend their days in leisure.

They would rather hate on you than do any work to improve themselves.

They are cozy in their little domains.  You, on the other hand, are willing to head out into the wasteland:

Your enemies are afraid of the wasteland.  But you embrace it.  You have conquered your fear of it.  You are willing to do what is necessary, unlike them.  And this is why you will triumph, and they will not.  Take the initiative, and keep moving.

Several examples illustrate this point.

An Athenian general named Iphicrates was fighting a Spartan counterpart near the town of Abydus in the Hellespont.  He was trying to extricate himself from a hostile area infested by enemy patrols.  On one side, he was blocked by mountains, and on the other side he was blocked by the sea.  Iphicrates’s situation was not good.

But he was patient, and cunning.  

He knew that the Spartans believed his situation to be untenable, and that they were hoping to let time reduce him to a state of capitulation.

To break out of his predicament, he had to take the initiative.  He picked a very cold day to make his move.  He chose some of his best men, and formed them into a unit.  He had them rubbed down with oil, so that they would be protected from the cold and the seawater.  He also ordered them to drink some wine, so that they would be warmed by the alcohol.

He told them to move quickly along the places bounded by the sea.  The places that could not be passed on land were to be passed by swimming through the water.  They did this methodically, over a sustained period.  In this way he was able to infiltrate a few units of his army through the region, right under the unsuspecting noses of the Spartans.[1]

He then mounted a surprise attack on their rear.  And he overwhelmed them.  

This took place in 389 B.C.

When Alexander was trying to cross the river Indus, he found himself blocked by Indian armies.  He made use of repeated feints to cause the enemy to spread out his forces along a wide part of the river.  And when he felt that they were thus weakened, he effected a fast crossing at once place.

The city of Vicksburg was seen by many in the Confederate south to be an impregnable fortress.  It was believed to be impossible to take by siege.  But Ulysses S. Grant was not an ordinary general.  He moved his forces right past the blazing guns of the city, and then landed his army.

He then cut loose from his base of operations.  His personal baggage consisted of nothing but a toothbrush.  And then by an adroit series of maneuvers, he moved his army into a position where the city could be cut off from its supply lines.  The starving city surrendered.

Do what is not expected, and hit them hard.  

In ancient times, defenders of harbors would often extend a heavy chain across the mouth of the harbor.  This would prevent ships from coming in or out.

The Roman consul Gaius Duellius was caught by such a trap in 260 B.C.  His forces were docked at the port of Syracuse, and the defenders tried to trap him by chaining the harbor shut.  But he had other ideas.

He ordered his ships to be arranged in a side-by-side line.  He then had all his men and the cargoes moved to the stern of the ships, so that their prows were raised up high in the air.  The ships were unstable, but still operable.

He then had his navigators head toward the chain at full speed.  The prows, high in the air, went over the chains; and when this happened, he had all his men rush to the prows of the ships, so that they would press down on the chains.

The boats in this way cleared through the chains.[2]

Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal was once trapped in Spain in 211 B.C.  He entered into negotiations with his Roman counterpart Claudius Nero, and told Claudius that he would leave Spain if he were allowed to.

But he dragged out the negotiations deliberately.  While he delayed at the conference table, he had his forces leave Spain at night in small groups by way of narrow mountain passes.  In this way, the Romans could not detect his movements.

And this was how he extricated his army from a seemingly impossible situation.

When your back is up against the wall and things look grim, take the initiative and do what the other side does not expect.

Do what is unorthodox, bold, and unusual.  

Initiative by itself creates tempo, and this is what is needed for your success.


[1] Frontinus I.4.7.  Delegit firmissimos quosque, quibus oleo ac mero calefactis praecepit, ipsam oram maris legerent, abruptiora tranarent, atque ita custodes angustiarum inopinatos oppressit a tergo.

[2] Frontinus I.5.6.

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