Professional Development Bookshelf:
Reviews of books
that teach us about our craft By Maj. John H. Alderman IV Public Affairs Office Georgia Department of Defense
his is a dangerous book. At some point in their careers, leaders are expected to make (or attempt!) the transition from tactician to strategist. We’re expected to see a larger picture, to be able to think past the next milestone, to act thoughtfully within a larger set of principles and patterns that set the conditions for overall success. Robert Greene’s premise for The 33 Strategies of War is that the rules of society prepare us for peace and (by definition) civility --- not for war. Therefore, we must push ourselves to understand, develop, and deploy strategies to succeed, whether on the battlefield or in the boardroom. The book’s impeccable design makes it eminently accessible. Greene introduces each strategy with a precise summary followed by a detailed historical example. The example is interpreted and applied; then, Greene summarizes its importance and implications. Additionally, Greene uses pre-installed marginalia (think small sidebars) on nearly every page to add resources, examples, and relevant quotations. His identification and arrangement of strategies seems pretty sound. Taken too literally, or linearly, they can appear contradictory because of course they are. It would be easy to say that these strategies should be like Hawkeye’s quiver --- each a perfect solution to a different problem. However, I’d argue that each is more like a color on a palette, meant to be blended together on the canvas that makes up the strategy for a given situation.
But why is Greene’s book so dangerous? Greene provides strategies without regard to their ethics. “Learn to inflict guilt as a moral weapon,” he writes. The strategies do not describe what one should do. And there’s the rub. Strategy without ethics can lead to the worst abuses of warfare. Giving this book to someone without a strong positive sense of values and ethics is like giving them keys to an armory. Then again, even ethical leaders need to understand questionable tactics because they may be used against the organization’s interest. Any trained public affairs officer could tell you of the danger of the enemy using guilt as a moral weapon, and help you devise strategies to counter it. Long before 300 made the Spartans so popular, one of my instructors at North Georgia College encouraged us to follow an Athenian, not a Spartan, model of Soldiering. He meant that Spartans exemplified only tactical knowledge of war, while Athenians (exposed to literature, art and philosophy) developed a broader view that ultimately made them better leaders. In this book, Greene makes a similar admonishment: “Worship Athena, not Ares.” Ares was the god of war; Athena, of warfare. That’s what this book is about. The point of strategy is not to be more destructive, but to be more rational in one’s destruction. To have a longer view when engaging in any conflict. To win wisely and with only the destruction necessary for success. The 33 Strategies of War can help you achieve that goal, and in the process achieve Greene’s ideal of a “Strategic Warrior” who approaches life in a completely different way. October 2012 | 14
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