We might feel like we have a pretty good handle on the concepts of aggression and warfare. “War is disruption.” That’s not a complicated statement, but it is a statement about the strategy of waging war. It is not a statement about the tactics of war. It is a statement of what or why. It is not a statement of how. A statement of what we are doing is very different from a statement of how we are doing it.
To illustrate the difference between strategy and tactic, lets look at an example from every day life: a trip to the grocery store. At the grocery store, there are at least 2 parties with the same strategy, to get our money.
The first party will be the producers of all the things in the store. Let’s say we went there just to get a gallon of milk. So, the milk producer’s strategy is to get our money, but their tactic is to trade their milk for it.
The second party that wants our money is the store. Their tactic is to facilitate the trade between ourself and the milk producer. We pay them for that service by paying retail.
Now, where I live, that is about the end of that particular scenario as milk is exempt from sales tax, but if we change it up a bit, another party with the strategy of getting our money enters the scenario. Let’s say that I went to buy light bulbs, rather than milk. And, light bulbs are taxable, so the third party, the government, gets a percentage of the purchase. We could make all kinds of fancy analysis that declares the government’s tactic to be a trade or a non-transaction because the government is actually taking our money on our behalf or some other round-about reasoning, but on the surface, at least, it is pretty straight forward. The government just takes our money. If we try to stop them, they will disrupt us.
A fourth party that we might encounter outside of a retail establishment that could help shed more light on the subject is a panhandler (or little girl selling cookies or a Salvation Army volunteer). Their tactic is probably to elicit sympathy from us, i.e. to make us WANT to give them our money.
So, if we’re keeping count, that’s 1 strategy and 4 possible tactics to achieve it . . . and we might classify those tactics as cooperation, cooperation, parasitism, and communication, respectively. The overall strategy of acquiring another’s resources (our money) would, of course, be parasitic, thus, parasitism by cooperation, parasitism by cooperation, plain ‘ole parasitism, and parasitism by communication.
If we take the dynamic above and apply it to the strategy of disruption, we can see that there are actually a lot of ways that war can be waged. We can disrupt by communication, which might be propaganda. We can disrupt by cooperation, which might be a good description of what sabotage is. We can disrupt by parasitism, which is described by Sun Tzu in the passage : “One cartload of the enemy’s provisions is equivalent to twenty of one’s own, and likewise a single picul of his provender is equivalent to twenty from one’s own store.” We can disrupt by being efficient, i.e. we can pursue a victory by attrition. We can enhance our disruptiveness by discovering more about our opponent, either by reconnaissance or espionage, etc., etc., etc.
And, so, it seems to be that strategies can be subordinated into other strategies. Disruption can be used to communicate. Communication can be used to disrupt. Cooperation can be used to become more resilient. Resilience can be employed cooperatively. Adaptation can be used to discover. Discovery can be used to adapt.
With regard to war, generally, we are free to outright disrupt our opponent, thus “general” warfare. If there is no rule or other limitation against disrupting our opponent’s wheels from rolling, guns from firing, heart from beating, then that is probably the fastest route to victory. But even in the event of there being no other constraining force, our opponent himself will probably seek to constrain us. If and how he does that, along with any other externally imposed conditions determines the exact rules and limitations of the special type of war we must wage:
On a battlefield, we can use nearly any means we have available (although, commanders will probably intentionally limit what is available to prevent every minor firefight from going fully nuclear).
In a boxing ring, we can only punch our opponent in the upper, front part of their body.
In human mating, we can often poison our opponent with drugs, especially alcohol, to the point of incapacitation, but only with their consent.
In marketing, we can put up a bigger, flashier billboard that sucks all the attention away from an opponents smaller, blander billboard.
In politics, opponents often try to disrupt eachother by giving or leading constituents to false information about the other person, by deception.
These are very specialized circumstances where we must wage very special types of disruption. I would call them “games”, circumstances where an opponent must be neutralized, but where the options for neutralizing them are limited, and may even prohibit outright disruption. In games, the negation of an opponent’s victory condition is our ultimate goal, i.e. our strategy is disruption, but our tactics are usually not disruption.