B.H. Liddell Hart Quotes

“The practical value of history is to throw the film of the past through the material projector of the present on to the screen of the future.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

 

“Loyalty is a noble quality, so long as it is not blind and does not exclude the higher loyalty to truth and decency.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

 

“Among men who rise to fame and leadership two types are recognizable-those who are born with a belief in themselves and those in whom it is a slow growth dependent on actual achievement. To men of the last type their own success is a constant surprise, and its fruits the more delicious, yet to be tested cautiously with a haunting sense of doubt whether it is not all a dream. In that doubt lies true modesty, not the sham of insincere self-depreciation but the modesty of “moderation,” in the Greek sense. It”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

 

“If you wish for peace, understand war.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

 

“But time and surprise are the two most vital elements in war.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

“Mechanized warfare still left room for human qualities to play an important part in the issue. ‘Automatic warfare’ cancels them out, except in a passive form. Archidamus is at last being justified. Courage, skill and patriotism become shrinking assets. The most virile nation might not be able to withstand another, inferior to it in all natural qualities, if the latter had some decisively superior technical appliance.
(…)The advent of ‘automatic warfare’ should make plain the absurdity of warfare as a means of deciding nations’ claims to superiority. It blows away romantic vapourings about the heroic virtues of war, utilized by aggressive and ambitious leaders to generate a military spirit among their people. They can no longer claim that war is any test of a people’s fitness, or even of its national strength. Science has undermined the foundations of nationalism, at the very time when the spirit of nationalism is most rampant.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“For whoever habitually suppresses the truth in the interests of tact will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

“In 1870, came the victory of the short-service troops of Prussia over the long-service troops of France, where conscription had but recently been reintroduced in a partial form and as a supplementary measure. That obvious contrast carried more weight into the world than all the other factors which tilted the scales against France. As a result, universal peace-time conscription was adopted by almost all countries as the basis of their military system. This ensured that wars would grow bigger in scale, longer in duration, and worse in effects. While conscription appeared democratic, it provided autocrats, hereditary or revolutionary, with more effective and comprehensive means of imposing their will, both in peace and war. Once the rulp of compulsory service in arms was established for the young men of a nation, it was an obvious and easy transition to the servitude of the whole population. Totalitarian tyranny is the twin of total warfare—which might aptly be termed a reversion to tribal warfare on a larger scale.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

 

“The legitimate object of war is a more perfect peace”-this sentence”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

 

“No man of action has more completely attained the point of view of the scientific historian, who observes the movements of mankind with the same detachment as a bacteriologist observes bacilli under a microscope and yet with a sympathy that springs from his own common manhood. In”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“Keep strong, if possible. In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience. Never corner an opponent, and always assist him to save his face. Put yourself in his shoes—so as to see things through his eyes. Avoid self-righteousness like the devil—nothing is so self-blinding.”― Basil Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“Epaminondas himself fell in the moment of victory, and in his death contributed not the least of his lessons to subsequent generations-by an exceptionally dramatic and convincing proof that an army and a state succumb quickest to paralysis of the brain.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“The principle of compulsory service, embodied in the system of conscription, lias been the means by which modem dictators and military gangs have shackled their people after a coup d’état, and bound them to their own aggressive purposes. In view of the great service that conscription has rendered to tyranny and war, it is fundamentally shortsighted for any liberty-loving and peace-desiring peoples to maintain it as an imagined safeguard, lest they become the victims of the monster they have helped to preserve.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

 

“While many lessons can be found in Frederick’s campaigns, the main one would appear to be that his indirectness was too direct. To express this in another way, he regarded the indirect approach as a matter of pure manoeuvre with mobility, instead of a combination of manoeuvre with mobility and surprise. Thus, despite all his brilliance, his economy of force broke down.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

“Belisarius had developed a new-style tactical instrument with which he knew that he might count on beating much superior numbers, provided that he could induce his opponents to attack him under conditions that suited his tactics. For that purpose his lack of numbers, when not too marked, was an asset, especially when coupled with an audaciously direct strategic offensive. His strategy was thus more psychological than logistical. He knew how to provoke the barbarian armies of the West into indulging their natural instinct for direct assault; with the more subtle and skillful Persians he was able at first to take advantage of their feeling of superiority to the Byzantines, and later, when they learnt respect for him, he exploited their wariness as a means of outmanoeuvring them psychologically.

He was a master of the art of converting his weakness into strength; and the opponent’s strength into a weakness. His tactics, too, had the essential characteristic of the indirect approach-that of getting the opponent off balance, so that a joint becomes exposed and can be dislocated.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

“To move along the line of natural expectation consolidates the opponent’s balance and thus increases his resisting power. In war, as in wrestling, the attempt to throw the opponent without loosening his foothold and upsetting his balance results in self-exhaustion, increasing in disproportionate ratio to the effective strain put upon him. Success by such a method only becomes possible through an immense margin of superior strength in some form-and, even so, tends to lose decisiveness. In most campaigns the dislocation of the enemy’s psychological and physical balance has been the vital prelude to a successful attempt at his overthrow.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“From Bourcet he learnt the principle of calculated dispersion to induce the enemy to disperse their own concentration preparatory to the swift reuniting of his own forces. Also, the value of a ‘plan with several branches’, and of operating in a line which threatened alternative objectives. Moreover, the very plan which Napoleon executed in his first campaign was based on one that Bourcet had designed half a century earlier.

Form Guibert he acquired an idea of the supreme value of mobility and fluidity of force, and of the potentialities inherent in the new distribution of an army in self-contained divisions. Guibert had defined the Napoleonic method when he wrote, a generation earlier: ‘The art is to extend forces without exposing them, to embrace the enemy without being disunited, to link up the moves or the attacks to take the enemy in flank without exposing one’s own flank.’ And Guibert’s prescription for the rear attack, as the means of upsetting the enemy’s balance, became Napoleon’s practice. To the same source can be traced Napoleon’s method of concentrating his mobile artillery to shatter, and make a breach at, a key point in the enemy’s front. Moreover, it was the practical reforms achieved by Guibert in the French army shortly before the Revolution which fashioned the instrument that Napoleon applied. Above all, it was Guibert’s vision of a coming revolution in warfare, carried out by a man who would arise from a revolutionary state, that kindled the youthful Napoleon’s imagination and ambition.

While Napoleon added little to the ideas he had imbibed, he gave them fulfilment. Without his dynamic application the new mobility might have remained merely a theory. Because his education coincided with his instincts, and because these in turn were given scope by his circumstances, he was able to exploit the full possibilities of the new ‘divisional’ system. In developing the wider range of strategic combinations thus possible Napoleon made his chief contribution to strategy.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

“Thus an excess of directness and a want of art, in the second phase, robbed Caesar of his chance of ending the war in one campaign, and condemned him to four more years of obstinate warfare all round the Mediterranean basin.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“In his earlier campaigns his logistical strategy was direct and devoid of subtlety. The cause would appear to be, first, that in the youthful Alexander, bred to kingship and triumph, there was more of the Homeric hero than in the other great captains of history; and, still more perhaps, that he had such justifiable confidence in the superiority of his instrument and his own battle handling of it that he felt no need to dislocate preparatorily his adversaries’ strategic balance. His lessons for posterity lie at the two poles-grand strategy and tactics.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

“Then, in 333 B.C., he turned south through the Cilician ‘Gates’ on the direct route towards Syria, where Darius III was concentrating to oppose him. Here, through the failure of his intelligence service and his own assumption that the Persians would await him in the plains, Alexander was strategically out-manoeuvred. While Alexander made a direct approach, Darius made an indirect-and, moving up the higher reaches of the Euphrates, came through the Amanic Gates onto Alexander’s rear. He, who had been so careful to secure his chain of bases, now found himself cut off from them. But, turning back, he extricated himself at the battle of Issus by the superiority of his tactics as well as of his tactical instrument-no Great Captain applied this unexpectedness of indirectness more in his tactics.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“Instead of making any further attempt to press the siege, Caesar devoted his energies to the creation of an artificial ford which enabled him to command both banks of the river Sicoris, on which Ilerda stood. This threatened tightening of his grip on their sources of supply induced Pompey’s lieutenants to retire, while there was time. Caesar allowed them to slip away unpressed, but sent his Gallic cavalry to get on their rear and delay their march..Then, rather than assault the bridge held by the enemy’s rear-guard, he took the risk of leading his legions through the deep ford, which was regarded as only traversable by cavalry and, marching in a wide circuit during the night, placed himself across the enemy’s line of retreat. Even then he did not attempt battle, but was content to head off each attempt of the enemy to take a fresh line of retreat-using his cavalry to harass and delay them while his legions marched wide. Firmly holding in check the eagerness of his own men for battle, he at the same time encouraged fraternization with the men of the other side, who were growing more and m ore weary, hungry and depressed. Finally, when he had shepherded them back in the direction Ilerda, and forced them to take up a position devoid of water, they capitulated.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“Alexander’s succeeding campaigns, until he reached the borders of India, were militarily a ‘mopping up’ of the Persian empire, while politically the consolidation of his own. He forced the Uxian defile and the Persian ‘Gates’ by an indirect approach, and when he was confronted on the Hydaspes by Porus, he produced a masterpiece of indirectness which showed the ripening of his own strategical powers. By laying in stores of corn, and by distributing his army widely along the western bank, he mystified his opponent as to his intentions. Repeated noisy marches and counter-marches of Alexander’s cavalry first kept Porus on tenterhooks, and then, through repetition, dulled his reaction. Having thus fixed Porus to a definite and static position, Alexander left the bulk of his army opposite it, and himself with a picked force made a night crossing eighteen miles upstream. By the surprise of this indirect approach he dislocated the mental and moral balance of Porus, as well as the moral and physical balance of this army. In the ensuing battle Alexander, with a fraction of his own army, was enabled to defeat almost the whole of his enemy’s. If this preliminary dislocation had not occurred there would have been no justification, either in theory or in fact, for Alexander’s exposure of an isolated fraction to the risk of defeat in detail.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“Thus through the folly of a single hot-headed general, whose offensive spirit was not balanced by judgment, the Empire suffered a blow from which it never recovered-although it had sufficient power of endurance to survive, in a diminished form, for a further four hundred years.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“The principles of war are the same as those of a siege. Fire must be concentrated on one point, and as soon as the breach is made, the equilibrium is broken and the rest is nothing.’
Subsequent military theory has put the accent on the first clause instead of on the last: in particular, on the words ‘one point’ instead of on the word ‘equilibrium’. The former is but a physical metaphor, whereas the latter expresses the actual psychological result which ensures ‘that the rest is nothing’. His own emphasis can be traced in the strategic course of his campaigns.

The word ‘point’ even, has been the source of much confusion, and more controversy. One school has argued that Napoleon meant that the concentrated blow must be aimed at the enemy’s strongest point, on the ground that this, and this only, ensures decisive results. For if the enemy’s main resistance be broken, its rupture will involve that of any lesser opposition. This argument ignores the factor of cost, and the fact that the victor may be too exhausted to exploit his success-so that even a weaker opponent may acquire a relatively higher resisting power than the original. The other school-better imbued with the idea of economy of force, but only in the limited sense of first costs-has contended that the offensive should be aimed at the enemy’s weakest point. But where a point is obviously weak this is usually because it is remote from any vital artery or nerve centre, or because it is deliberately weak to draw the assailant into a trap.

Here, again illumination comes from the actual campaign in which Bonaparte put this maxim into execution. It clearly suggests that what he really meant was not ‘point’, but ‘joint’-and that at this stage of his career he was too firmly imbued with the idea of economy of force to waste his limited strength in battering at the enemy’s strong point. A joint, however, is both vital and vulnerable.

It was at this time too, that Bonaparte used another phrase that has subsequently been quoted to justify the most foolhardy concentrations of effort against the main armed forces of the enemy. ‘Austria is our most determined enemy….Austria overthrown, Spain and Italy fall of themselves. We must not disperse our attacks but concentrate them.’ But the full text of the memorandum containing this phrase shows that he was arguing, not in support of the direct attack upon Austria, but for using the army on the frontier of Piedmont for an indirect approach to Austria.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“It was a strategic victory as bloodless for the defeated as for the victor-and the less men slain on the other side, the more potential adherents and recruits for Caesar. Despite the substitution of manoeuvre for direct assaults upon his enemy the campaign had cost him only six weeks of his time.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

“It would seem that Caesar’s recurrent and deep-rooted fault was his concentration in pursuing the objective immediately in front of his eyes to the neglect of his wider object. Strategically he was an alternating Jekyll and Hyde.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“When the campaign had opened the scales were heavily weighted and steeply tilted on the side of Antigonus. Rarely has the balance of fortune so dramatically changed. It would seem clear that Antigonus’s balance had been upset by the indirect approach which Cassander planned. This dislocated the mental balance of Antigonus, the moral balance of his troops and his subjects, and the physical balance of his military dispositions.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

“For Caesar met failure each time he relied on the direct, and retrieved it each time he resorted to the indirect.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

“One direct approach had, by its vain cost, done much to undo the aggregate advantage which indirect approaches alone had built up. And it is not the least significant feature that the issue was finally settled, in the reverse way, by yet another example of the indirect approach.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

“The historian’s rightful task is to distil experience as a medicinal warning for the future generations, not to distil a drug.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

 

“Too sane also, to anticipate the World War habit of digging in and clinging on to a depressed and depressing foothold under the enemy’s “command.”
When”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

“Looking back on the stages by which various fresh ideas gained acceptance, it can be seen that the process was eased when they could be presented, not as something radically new, but as the revival in modern terms of a time-honoured principle or practice that had been forgotten. This required not deception, but care to trace the connection-since ‘there is nothing new under the sun’. A notable example was the way that the opposition to mechanization was diminished by showing that the mobile armoured vehicle-the fast-moving tank-was fundamentally the heir of the armoured horseman, and thus the natural means of reviving the decisive role which cavalry had played in past ages.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

“In the middle of the sixth century there was, however, a period when the Roman dominion was revived in the West-from the East. During Justinian’s reign in Constantinople, his generals reconquered Africa, Italy, and southern Spain. That achievement, associated mainly with the name of Belisarius, is the more remarkable because of two features-first, the extraordinarily slender resources with which Belisarius undertook these far-reaching campaigns; second, his consistent use of the tactical defensive. There is no parallel in history for such a series of conquests by abstention from attack. They are the more remarkable since they were carried out by an army that was based on the mobile arm-and mainly compose of cavalry. Belisarius had no lack of audacity, but his tactics were to allow-or tempt-the other side to do the attacking. IF that choice was, in part, imposed on him by his numerical weakness, it was also a matter of subtle calculation, both tactical and psychological.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“Ostensibly it would seem that the further apart these enemy forces, the easier it must be to achieve a decisive success. In terms of time, space, and number, this is undoubtedly true. But once more the moral element intrudes. When the enemy forces are widely separated each is self-contained and tends to be consolidated by pressure. When they are close together they tend to coalesce and ‘become members one of another’, mutually dependent in mind, morale, and matter. The minds of the commanders affect each other, moral impressions are quickly transfused, and even the movements of each force easily hinder or disorganized those of others. Thus while the antagonist has less time and space for his action, the dislocating results of it take effect more quickly and easily. Further, when forces are close together the enemy’s mere divergence from his approach to one of them may become an unexpected, and therefore truly indirect approach to another. In contrast, when forces are widely separated there is more time to prepare to meet, or avoid, the second blow of the army which is exploiting its central position.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

 

“Frederick consistently used his central position to concentrate against one fraction of the enemy, and he always employed tactics of indirect approach. Thereby he gained many victories. But his tactical indirect approach was geometrical rather than psychological-unprepared by the subtler forms of surprise favoured by Scipio-and for all their executive skill, these manoeuvres were narrow. The opponent might be unable to meet the following blow, owing to the inflexibility of his mind or his formations, but the blow itself did not fall unexpectedly.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

“Decisive results come sooner from sudden shocks than from long- drawn pressure. Shocks throw the opponent off his balance. Pressure allows him time to adjust himself to it. That military lesson is closely linked with the general experience of history that human beings have an almost infinite power of accommo-‘ dation, to degradation of living conditions, so long as the process is gradual.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

 

“But Polybius brought out the basic lesson in his reflection-‘for as a ship, if you deprive it of its steersman, falls with all its crew into the hands of the enemy; so, with an army in war, if you outwit or out-manoeuvere its general, the whole will often fall into your hands’.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

 

“The strategy of Fabius was not merely an evasion of battle to gain time, but calculated for its effect on the morale of the enemy-and, still more, for its effect on their potential allies. It was thus primarily a matter of war-policy, or grand strategy. Fabius recognized Hannibal’s military superiority too well to risk a military decision. While seeking to avoid this, he aimed by military pin-pricks to wear down the invaders’ endurance and, coincidentally, prevent their strength being recruited from the Italian cities or their Carthaginian base. The key condition of the strategy by which this grand strategy was carried out was that the Roman army should keep always to the hills, so as to nullify Hannibal’s decisive superiority in cavalry. Thus this phase became a duel between the Hannibalic and the Fabian forms of the indirect approach.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

“Hovering in the enemy’s neighbourhood, cutting off stragglers and foraging parties, preventing them from gaining any permanent base, Fabius remained an elusive shadow on the horizon, dimming the glamour of Hannibal’s triumphal progress. Thus Fabius, by his immunity from defeat, thwarted the effect of Hannibal’s previous victories upon the minds of Rome’s Italian allies and checked them from changing sides. This guerrilla type of campaign also revived the spirit of the Roman troops while depressing the Carthaginians who, having ventured so far from home, were the more conscious of the necessity of gaining an early decision.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

“The history of ancient Greece showed that, in a democracy, emotion dominates reason to a greater extent than in any other political system, thus giving freer rein to the passions which sweep a state into war and prevent it getting out—at any point short of the exhaustion and destruction of one or other of the opposing sides. Democracy is a system which puts a brake on preparation for war, aggressive or defensive, but it is not one that conduces to the limitation of warfare or the prospects of a good peace. No political system more easily becomes out of control when passions are aroused. These defects have been multiplied in modern democracies, since their great extension of size and their vast electorate produce a much larger volume of emotional pressure.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

“For there is nothing more intolerable to mankind than suspense; when a thing is once decided, men can but endure whatever out of the catalogue of evils it is their misfortune to undergo.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

“But Quebec is an illuminating example of the truth that a decision is produced even more by the mental and moral dislocation of the command than by the physical dislocation of its forces.”― Basil Henry Liddell Hart

 

“… throughout the ages, effective results in war have rarely been attained unless the
approach has had such indirectness as to ensure the opponent’s unreadyness to meet it.
The indirectness has usually been physical, and always psychological.”― Liddell Hart

 

“Scipio asked Hannibal, “Whom he thought the greatest captain?” The latter answered,
“Alexander . . . because with a small force he defeated armies whose numbers were beyond reckoning, and because he had overrun the remotest regions, merely to visit which was a thing above human aspirations.”
Scipio then asked, “ To whom he gave the second place ? ” and Hannibal replied,
“To Pyrrhus, for he first taught the method of encamping, and besides, no one ever showed such exquisite judgment in choosing his ground and disposing his posts; while he also possessed the art of conciliating mankind to himself to such a degree that the natives of Italy wished him, though a foreign prince, to hold the sovereignty among them, rather than the Roman people. . . .”
On Scipio proceeding to ask, “Whom he esteemed the third? ”
Hannibal replied, “Myself, beyond doubt.”
On this Scipio laughed, and added, “What would you have said if you had conquered me? ”
“Then I would have placed Hannibal not only before Alexander and Pyrrhus, but before all other commanders.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

“Universal peace-time conscription was adopted by almost all countries as the basis of their military system. This ensured that wars would grow bigger in scale, longer in duration, and worse in effects. While conscription appeared democratic, it provided autocrats, hereditary or revolutionary, with more effective and comprehensive means of imposing their will, both in peace and war. Once the rule of compulsory service in arms was established for the young men of a nation, it was an obvious and easy transition to the servitude of the whole population. Totalitarian tyranny is the twin of total warfare —which might aptly be termed a reversion to tribal warfare on a larger scale.”― Liddell Hart

 

“the statesman will soon find himself thwarted in some way or other, will deduce from this opposition a menace first to his plans, then to national prestige, and finally to the existence of the state itself — and so, regarding his country as the party attacked, will engage in a war of defence.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

“The vital influences are to be detected not in the formal documents compiled by rulers, ministers, and generals but in their marginal notes and verbal asides. Here are revealed their instinctive prejudices, lack of interest in truth for its own sake, and indifference to the exactness of statement and reception which is a safeguard against dangerous misunderstanding. I”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

“We must face the fact that international relations are governed by interests and not by moral principles.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

“Man seems to come into the this world with an inalterable belief that he knows best and that he can make others think as he does by force. (How else do we explain why leading men in government madly propose the use of nuclear weapons against the people of another nation because of a trade dispute?) Nations delight in having a militaristic leader represent them and thrive on enforcing their will on lesser powers with a view to the glory and plunder that will follow victory. Peoples are never so united as in the early days of war nor so determined to overcome once they see that a greater effort and more sacrifices will be demanded of them before success is won. All very noble and all fantasy. Has any war in the history of the world followed such a pattern? None on the Ship of Fools ever asks.”― B.H. Liddell Hart

 

“The destruction of the enemy’s armed forces is but a means–and not necessarily an inevitable or infallible one–to the attainment of the real objective. The object of war is not to destroy the enemy’s tanks but to destroy his will.”― Liddell Hart

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