“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” —Sun Tzu, Art of War
Although I am resistant to be like every stereotypical desk warrior and throw Sun Tzu around, I learned something great when I was reading about yesterday’s day in history. The one thing that stuck in my proverbial craw was that Hannibal of Carthage’s loss to Scipio’s Roman Army at the Battle of Zama.
We look past the ancient battles due to their archaic nature. We see folly in lining up to ran at men at another army. Most men think that the rifle belongs on every battlefield and I fault them not. Many battlefield showcased great weapons that turned the war for the winner, but I am focusing on the opposite today. Hannibal learned a great lesson that your greatest weapon can fail you.
The Carthaginians remember the thrill of crossing the Alps using the ancient form of the tank; the elephant. It turned light infantry to heavy. I imagine that it was an impressive sight to see a stampede and the ability to tear the opposing ranks’ flank. Every good general will use what works but as the title says; your greatest weapon may fail you.
I didn’t want to share the intricacies of how the Battle of Zama went down. But the notable part is how Hannibal’s army sent their war elephants (reportedly 80 in number) on a charge to start the battle. The Romans made racket, threw things at the elephants, and opened their ranks to let the elephants run by. Elephants also turned back towards the Carthaginian ranks. The great weapon did not function as originally intended. Elephants did not deliver the victory for Hannibal.
I know that there was more to the battle than this but the sentiment stands. Depending on one trick, tactic, or weapon can fail you. The quote from Sun Tzu was correct, if you don’t know your own limitations, you will fail. Your enemy find them for you.