How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle

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It can often be helpful in the context of non-zero-sum situations, in which both parties suffer even if one has technically succeeded. We have won a battle but lost a war whenever we achieve some minor or even major aim that leads to wider loss. We might win an argument with a partner over a small infraction, only to come across as hostile and damage the relationship. We may achieve a short-term professional goal by working overtime, only to harm our health and reduce our long-term productivity. We might pursue a particular career for the sake of money, but feel unfulfilled and miserable in the process.

Striding into Italy with 25, men and 20 elephants — a new sight for the Romans — Pyrrhus was confident that he could extend his empire. However, the number of lives lost in the process made the victory meaningless. Pyrrhus did not have access to anywhere near enough potential recruits to replenish his army. He had, after all, lost most of his men, including the majority of his friends and commanders.

Meanwhile, the Romans were only temporarily defeated. They could replace their lost soldiers with relative ease.

33 War Strategies That Will Help You Win In Business

Even worse, the two losses had enraged the Romans and made them more willing to continue fighting. The chastened king gathered his remaining troops and sailed back to Greece. Colonial and British troops grappled for control of the strategically advantageous Bunker Hill in Massachusetts. Four days earlier, on June 13th, the colonial army received intelligence that the British were planning to take control of the hills around Boston, which would give them greater authority over the nearby harbor.

About colonial soldiers situated themselves on the hills, while others spread throughout the surrounding area. The British army, realizing this, mounted an attack. The British army succeeded in their aim after the colonial army ran out of ammunition.

Q. When was the Civil War fought?

Yet the Battle of Bunker Hill was anything but a true victory, because the British lost a substantial number of men, including of their officers. This left the British army depleted having sustained casualties , low on resources, and without proper management.

Now go talk about it.

This Pyrrhic victory was unexpected; the British troops had far more experience and outnumbered the colonial army by almost The Battle of Bunker Hill sapped British morale but was somewhat motivating for the colonials, who had sustained less than half the number of casualties. On the second or third advance, however, the attackers carried the redoubt and forced the surviving defenders, mostly exhausted and weaponless, to flee.

If the British had followed this victory with an attack on Dorchester Heights to the South of Boston, it might have been worth the heavy cost. But, presumably, because of their severe losses and the fighting spirit displayed by the rebels, the British commanders abandoned or indefinitely postponed such a plan.

Consequently, after Gen. George Washington took colonial command two weeks later, enough heavy guns and ammunition had been collected that he was able in March to seize and fortify Dorchester Heights and compel the British to evacuate Boston. Coakley writes of the impact of Bunker Hill:. Bunker Hill was a Pyrrhic victory, its strategic effect practically nil since the two armies remained in virtually the same position they had held before. Its consequences, nevertheless, cannot be ignored.

A force of farmers and townsmen, fresh from their fields and shops, with hardly a semblance of orthodox military organization, had met and fought on equal terms with a professional British army.

The French army led by Napoleon sought to invade Russia. Roughly a quarter of a million soldiers fought at the Battle of Borodino, with more than 70, casualties. Although the French army succeeded in forcing the Russians into retreat, their victory was scarcely a triumphant one. Both sides ended up depleted and low on morale without having achieved their respective aims. The Battle of Borodino is considered a Pyrrhic victory because the French army destroyed itself in the process of capturing Moscow. The Russians had no desire to surrender, and the conflict was more costly for the French than for their opponent.

The Battle of Borodino had no clear purpose, as no tactical advantage was gained.


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Infighting broke out and Napoleon eventually lost both the war and his role as leader of France. History has shown again and again that attempting to take over Russia is rarely a good idea. Napoleon was at a serious disadvantage to begin with.

Pyrrhic Victory: Winning the Battle, Losing the War

Bringing supplies in proved nearly impossible, and the French soldiers easily succumbed to cold, starvation, and infectious diseases. Even as they hastened to retreat, the Russian army recovered its lost men quickly and continued to whittle away at the remaining French soldiers. The Russian approach to defeating the French is best described as attrition warfare — a stubborn, unending wearing down. Napoleon might have won the Battle of Borodino, but in the process he lost everything he had built during his time as a leader and his army was crushed.

Something we can note from both Borodino and Bunker Hill is that Pyrrhic victories often serve as propaganda in the long term — for the losing side, not for the victors. As the adage goes, history is written by winners. A Latin saying, ad victorem spolias — to the victor belong the spoils — exemplifies this idea. In the case of Borodino, it became an emblem of patriotism and pride for the Russians. A company has won a Pyrrhic victory when it leverages all available resources to take over another company, only to be ruined by the financial costs and the loss of key employees.

Businesses can also ruin themselves over lawsuits that drain resources, distract managers, and get negative attention in the press. American Apparel is one instance of a company ending up bankrupt, partially as a result of mounting legal fees. It began with a series of sexual harassment lawsuits against founder Dov Charney.

Charney responded by attempting a hostile takeover, as unwilling to surrender control of the company he founded as Czar Alexander was to surrender Moscow to Napoleon. More lawsuits followed as American Apparel shareholders and board members seemingly sued everyone in sight and were sued by suppliers, by more than former employees, and by patent holders. As everyone involved focused on winning their respective battles, the company ended up filing for bankruptcy and losing the war.

Being wrong it okay as long as lessons are learned. An intellectual ought to realize the extent to which the world is shaped by human emotions, emotions uncontrolled by reason; his thinking must have been shallow, and his observation narrow, if he fails to realize that. The most comprehensive financial models and valuation techniques are worthless is the person pulling the levers has no control over their emotional intelligence. This is why your goal as an investor should first and foremost be to increase your emotional intelligence, not simply your knowledge of investing strategies and the financial markets.

Knowledge can become stale, but discipline and perspective tend to work over the long-term.

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There are a number of factors that move the markets: trends, fundamentals, valuation, growth rates, economic activity, etc. None are more important to understand than the element of human nature. The book also contains an excellent historical perspective on the strategies employed by some of the most well-known generals.

WealthOfCommonSense Share on […]. Investors are constantly fighting the last war with poorly timed purchases and […]. Liddell Hart This one focuses on the history of war and battle strategy and the many mistakes that have been made. It also includes many useful lessons from philosophy and human psychology.


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See my prior write-up here. A Wealth of Common Sense is a blog that focuses on wealth management, investments, financial markets and investor psychology. More about me here. Email address:. Every month you'll receive book suggestions--chosen by hand from more than 1, books. You'll also receive an extensive curriculum books, articles, papers, videos in PDF form right away. Here are some of my favorite words of wisdom from the book in bold followed by my comments. Now go talk about it.

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