9 Battlefield Geniuses and What They Can Teach You About Warfare

Sun Tzu (544 BCE-496 BCE)

The Experience: A Chinese general who probably lived in the 4th century BCE, very little is known about Sun Tzu&'s wartime exploits - but he wrote The Art of War, the best war strategy book ever.

The Lessons: The Art of War&'s advice on maneuvering large armies and varying tactics has been used by everyone from Mao Zedong to Napoleon.

Quote to Carry with You into Battle: "If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in 100 battles."

Simón Bolivar (1783-1830)

The Experience: The George Washington of South America, el libertador fought for the independence of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and the not-coincidentally-named Bolivia. But Bolivar proved to be a better general than a politician: Internal strife forced him out of all leadership roles in his newly independent nations shortly before his death in 1830.

The Lessons: It&'s easier to conquer land than it is to rule it.

Quote to Carry with You into Battle: "The art of victory is learned in defeat."

Alexander the Great (356 BCE-323 BCE)

The Experience: Probably the greatest general ever, Alexander&'s empire stretched from his native Greece to the Nile to the Punjab. That&'s a particularly remarkable accomplishment when you consider that he died at 32.

The Lessons: Be nice to your own army, and be really, really mean to everyone else. (When Alexander&'s second-in-command and possible lover Hephaestion died, for instance, Alexander reportedly had Hephaestion&'s attending physician crucified for malpractice.)

Quote to Carry into Battle: "I would not fear a pack of lions led by a sheep, but I would always fear a flock of sheep led by a lion."

Genghis Khan (1162-1227)

The Experience: Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire, which at its height included China, most of the former Soviet Union, and a fair bit of central Europe. An adherent of the "raping and pillaging" school of warfare, Genghis Khan really enjoyed killing.

The Lessons: Superior tactics can beat superior firepower. Genghis was famous for his faked retreats and for finding ways to force his enemies to fight on two fronts.

Quote to Carry into Battle, Which We Swear Is Not Made Up: "The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters." (Yikes.)

Julius Caesar (100 BCE-44 BCE)

The Experience: A god to the Romans (literally), just one of Caesar&'s wars resulted in, according to a Roman historian, 800 conquered cities, 3 million enemy dead, and 1 million new slaves. He came and saw and conquered, indeed. Unfortunately for Caesar, he was later assassinated by a guy named Brutus, as in "Et tu, Brute."

The Lessons: Beware the Ides of March. Also, beware disloyal and power-hungry underlings.

Quote to Carry into Battle: Upon crossing the river Rubicon to begin the Roman Civil War of 49 BCE, Caesar coined the phrase, "The die is cast." Not a bad line to use in any ominous situation.

Nelson Mandela (1918- )

The Experience: Although he won the Nobel Peace Prize and is generally seen as an example of pacifist civil disobedience, Mandela was the head of the African National Congress&'s Spear of the Nation, a group that planned guerilla warfare attacks and sabotage against the Apartheid government.

The Lessons: This is one case where the pen was actually mightier than the sword. Mandela&'s writings from prison did much more to end apartheid than Spear of the Nation ever accomplished.

Quote to Carry into Battle: During his trial in 1963, Mandela said, "I planned [sabotage] as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation. Without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle."

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885)

The Experience: Upon taking control of the better equipped but poorly led Union army in 1864, Grant outmaneuvered Robert E. Lee and finally brought an and to the Civil War. He then went on to become one of America&'s worst, and drunkest, presidents.

The Lessons: With a lot more troops, a lot more natural resources, better weapons, and more money, you will generally win.

Quote to Carry into Battle: "The art of war is simple enough. Find out where you enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving."

Geronimo (1829-1909)

The Experience: Despite the fact his name means, "One who yawns," Geronimo&'s life was a heckuva ride: He led the last Apache army to surrender to the United States, battling for three decades, until he and his last 38 followers were finally captured in 1886.

The Lessons: With fewer troops, fewer natural resources, lesser weapons, and less money, you will generally lose.

Quote to Carry into Battle: "[God] created all tribes of men and certainly had a righteous purpose in creating each."

Napoleon (1769-1821)

The Experience: Known as the little corporal, Bonaparte became famous by mowing down protestors on the streets of Paris with high-powered artillery. He went on to become emperor of France and generally a huge fan of himself.

The Lesson: Never Invade Russia in the wintertime. This is one of those lessons that despots have learned over and over again (see also Hitler).

Quote to Carry into Battle: "&'Impossible&' is not a word in French." (This is technically untrue. The French word for impossible is impossible.)

From mental_floss' book Genius Instruction Manual, published in Neatorama with permission.

Want to dazzle crowds with your wondrous knowledge from Shakespeare to surgery to string theory? Well, start reading already! The Genius Instruction Manual is a foolproof finishing school for polishing your brain.

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You mention Mandela as an example of "pacifist civil disobedience". But did Gandhi or Dr. King ever douse people with gasoline and burn them to death? Mandela committed those atrocities against black rivals, by the way, not against whites.
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"It always strikes me as odd that Napoleon has a reputation as a great general. Genius, he may have been, but as a charismatic leader, not as a general. His defeats were embarrassing."

So was Robert E Lee's defeats and the same with the Romans being defeated against Hannibal. You should read up on the battles he won. Every battle he accomplished, opposing leaders and generals could not figure out how he did it. He made monkeys out of them.

"Attila the Hun- He conquered much of eastern Rome, from the city of Rome to the edge of middle Asia. He was called the “Scourage of God” for a reason. He absolutely demolished superior numbers of Roman soldiers with little more then nomatic horsemen and fantastic tactics. A list that doesn’t feature either of these two historic figures seems a bit thin to me."

Attila was a great general, but, he suffered the worst loss in history; the pope told him that if he kept on invading he would go to hell, and he believed it. I mean, at least British Kings thought they were above the Pope for crying out loud and as good if not equal to Jesus.

Kahn was the greatest, hands down. He never lost a war. Subudei, his number one General lost maybe one battle out of something around 80+ battles. Kahn took the simplest and oldest ideology of survival and applied it to warfare; hunting. Most of the time he wouldn't engage in hand to hand combat, but order his army to fire arrows until the opponent advanced, then retreat, and continue to fire arrows (read up on how he crushed the Europeans). He trained his army to fight on horse, use bows and arrows on horse while riding, and fight on the ground. His army was the fastest moving in the world traveling up to 120 km a day, which wouldn't have been seen up until world war 2 or at least the use of steam engines. Khan also knew how primitive his culture was; when he defeated an empire, he would use their resources which he knew his culture couldn't produce; one great example is the Chinese engineers to develop siege weapons to annihilate the middle east. The reason why the empire fell apart is because it was split into many nations, and like many siblings and relatives, decided to fight it out with each other.

Had Ogedei lived a few more years, Europe would've been annihilated as well. The Mongol warriors made fools of the Teutonic Knights, yet surprisingly the European nations didn't learn; for centuries after you would still see a class system of archers, footman, knights, etc.

In the end, there will be no number one general, it's all a mater of perception, taste, and also, who we think kicked the most ass, and whose ass the hardest.
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T.E. Lawrence. Belisarius. Shaka. Clausewitz. Gustav II Adolf. Wellington.

You're always gonna miss somebody's favorite. And every one has pros and cons.

Of course, you could always make another list of military leaders left off the first list. And then another list, and another. . . .
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Get your facts straight about Bolivar !! As #15 said, he did NOT "liberated" those countries and also did not ever put a foot in Panama ! Some more research besides Wikipedia is needed (sigh)
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