The indirect approach. The notion of never attacking an enemy head on, and instead, looking for the path that is least expected and offers the least resistance. Or to put it succinctly: “the longest way round is the shortest way home.”
The difference between tactics, strategy and grand strategy and how to handle each one. The power of flexibility, mobility and opening up multiple paths of forward progress. The four components of an education: action, reflection, influence and study. That a captain can influence generals.
B.H. Liddell Hart was a military historian and strategist. He had the ear of some of the most influential military personalities in the early 20th century. His ideas recognised the power of a mobilised army and informed the German Blitzkreig. He wrote biographies and histories and theoretical papers.
Liddell Hart was a master.
But of all the things I’ve learnt from his work, there’s two things that stand out.
The first is the rigour and intellectual courage with which he approached his work. The guy was relentless in his research and his determination to understand.
The second is perhaps best illustrated by a passage. In the preface or introduction to many of his works, he lays out his intentions. Here’s an example from his History of the First World War:
“This book may at least lay claim one merit, and one contrast to most war ‘histories’. I have as little desire to hide its imperfections as to hide the imperfections of any who are portrayed in its pages. Hence in writing it my pursuit of the truth has not been interrupted by recourse to the pot of hypocritical varnish that is miscalled ‘good taste’. In my judgement of values it is more important to provide material for a true verdict than to gloss over disturbing facts so that individual reputations may be preserved at the price of another holocaust of lives. Taking a long view of history, I cannot regard the repute of a few embodied handfuls of dust as worth more than the fate of a nation and a generation.
On the other hand, I have equally little desire to exaggerate the imperfections of individuals for the sake of a popular effect, or to shift on to them the weight of folly and error which should be borne by the people as a whole.”
In that way, he’s set the bar for the integrity and honesty I aspire to in my own writing and life.