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Strategy Versus Tactics

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"All branches of military art are closely associated with one another: Tactics make the steps from which an Operational leap is formed; Strategy points out the path."
Aleksandr Svechin, Strategy and Operational Art (1927)

To get what you want from a war, you need to know exactly what you want and how to get it, including whether a war is a good/the best way to get what you want in the first place! But many people aren't well-informed about how it all works out.

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  • Grand-Strategic - level at which War, Economics, Diplomacy, and Politics overlap and the ends of any potential wars are decided. Grand Strategy encompasses all wars and strategies a state is involved in, and the mobilisation of all resources of a state for the creation and maintenance of military forces.note  This is a level at which there are lots of meetings with loads of politicans, civil servants, senior military figures, and diplomats. There are oodles of graphs and statistics, and the maps are world and continental ones.
  • Strategic - level at which goals/"means" (to "ends" dictated by Grand Strategy) are determined and military forces are committed and supplied to carry them out. Still has a little to do with economics, diplomacy and politics — but only within the context of the war and its goals. note  This is a level at which there are regular meetings between senior military figures (and some civilians and/or foreigners) with some statistics and regional (and some provincial) maps, perhaps with a big arrow or two on them.
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  • Operation/Campaign - level at which a goal of the war is singled out and made the focus of a plan of action to be undertaken by a military force with the units assigned to it by the higher-ups. This plan is enacted in an 'Operation' or 'Campaign' of limited duration in which the forces manoeuvre and engage the enemy, often with the aim of encircling parts of their force and destroying these or forcing their surrender - weakening the enemy force for subsequent operations/campaigns and thereby making it easier to (eventually) achieve the Strategic Goalnote  This is a level at which there are loads of meetings of medium-level commanders with buckets of statistics and schedules and regional+provincial+local maps with some little red arrows on them.
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  • Tactical - level at which military units fight enemy ones in various skirmishes/firefights/engagements/battles in accordance with an Operational/Campaign plan, making best use of the personnel and equipment allocated to them under the plan.note  This is a level at which low-level commanders exchange messages or meet handfuls of others in hastily-prepared bunkers to pore over a schedule, a provincial map with a big red arrow, and a fistful of local maps marked with the occasional scribble here and there.
  • Combat Theory - The lowest level possible. This is how the individual fights. The type of weapons and armor they use, the way they use their equipment and the environment in a firefight, the kind of training that they have received, and the actual techniques they use in combat. This includes long-range weaponry like rockets and sniper rifles, medium and short range firefights, bayonet and "knife fight range" techniques, and marital arts and ground fighting. How well the individual fights in combat and is protected by personal gear is the first step to making any progress in a war. After all, if your soldiers can't fight effectively, then tactics and strategy will be useless.

Or, according to 19th/20th century Anglo-American understandings of warfare:

  • Strategy is the goal you want to achieve in the long-term; the "What" you want to accomplish.
  • Tactics is the methods used to try to achieve short-term goals that are supposed to help achieve the overall strategical goal; the "How" you use to accomplish it.

English-language scholarship was slow to accept the existence of the other levels of warfare, only recognizing them fifty years after both were conceived of in their totality (the 1920s). This was largely because the small scale and scope of Anglo-American military operations in wartime and their highly unusual glut of logistical resources allowed British Commonwealth and US forces to improvise ad hoc campaigns which were generally passable despite the lack of intellectual and planning framework for them. Military studies of "Strategy" were largely or even entirely subsumed into the realm of "Politics" and therefore only had vague and limited military connotations, leaving military theory to a heavy focus upon Tactics.

Interestingly, "Operations/Campaigns" actually failed to jump the German-English and Russian-English language barriers until the concept itself was recognized. German theorists under von Schlieffen developed the first, tentative beginnings of the Operation ("Operativ") in the early 1900s and the concept of "Operational Art" was only fully realised by Soviet theorists including Isserson & Triandfillov in the late 1920s. Ignoring the actual concepts being proposed in those texts, all contemporary and subsequent US translations of these texts translated the term "Operation" as "Strategy". Curiously, and to their credit, the British actually managed to develop a flawed but semi-coherent concept of Operations as 'Minor Strategy' from their World War I experiences... until US theory came to dominate the NATO military theory in the 1950s.

Focusing only on the short-term often ends up screwing you over in the long-term. In storytelling this is sometimes ignored or glossed over; the immediate result is all that matters. Then there are the stories about how tough it can be to stick to the strategy when it might be simpler and more gratifying to do the thing that looks more honorable or piles up more meaningless victories. As long as there is a polarity of this sort, the story will be able to mine some good conflict.

The trope often takes the form of An Aesop along the lines of "he won the battle but lost the war" (or the other way around). Related to Won the War, Lost the Peace (which is a strategic victory, but a grand-strategic defeat). Also, compare Hollywood Tactics which shows unrealistic battle plans that, logically, should fail but don't. Strategy itself is often dealt with by The Strategist who may or may not also be proficient in tactical thinking. See also We Win... Because You Didn't.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Goku is a master fighter and one of the best. He succeeds by overcoming his limits and learning about his enemies on the fly during combat. However, several times he needs help from people like Kami, King Kai, and Vegeta when it comes to figuring out about bringing back the dead, defeating enemies that are stronger than him, and returning things to normal after everything is all said and done. In fact, at one point, Goku's goal was to have Gohan go SSJ 2 and defeat Cell, but he didn't take in consideration Gohan's mental limits or the effect it would have on his son. Piccolo calls him out on it. This action almost doomed the planet and got Goku killed when Gohan berserked and started toying with Cell. They got better as time went on... well, besides in Dragon Ball Super and especially Dragon Ball GT, where Goku gets worse.
  • Code Geass has the tactician versus strategist conflict at its very core. The Magnificent Bastard Lelouch is plotting the downfall of Britannia, but is frequently foiled at individual engagements by the ace pilot, Suzaku. Lelouch mentions the conflict by name during his first internal meltdown, expressing anger that the ace pilot made him lose the battle and thus made him delay the next steps of his larger strategy. Note that Suzaku himself is no great tactician, he's simply so skilled a warrior (and his mech so powerful) that his presence at a battle upsets considerations of mere tactics.
  • As the author of Ravages of Time said himself, the manhua is all about strategy vs. strategy. Plans are often years, if not decades, in the making, with the levels I Know You Know I Know going into the dozens because each faction has genius-level strategists.
  • By the strategy-tactics divide explained above, Taichi Yagami is a tactician, while his rival turned evil, Neo Saiba, is a strategist. Taichi is much better at discerning immediate strengths and weaknesses as well as coming up with quick plans to defuse the immediate situation while Neo is better at long term planning and backup plans. In the larger V-Tamer 01 conflict, Lord HolyAngemon is the strategist while Leo is the tactician. They can successfully beat stronger monsters in engagements through superior tactics but are ultimately losing the war with Demon because he doesn't have as many vulnerable areas to protect(that is, Lord HolyAngemon actually cares about the future stability of the continent, Demon hates the very concept of future stability and wants perpetual war to spread to as many areas as possible).
  • At one point in Soul Hunter, Choukoumei point out that this is the difference between him and Taikoubou, and break the fourth wall to tell the readers to look-up the difference between the two if they don't know it. Taikobou is looking for a way to end the war with as little casualties as possible, to free the human world of the influence of sennins (the superpowered individual in this setting), so he favors strategy over tactic. Choukoumei has little interest in the reasons or resolution of the war in itself, and is only in it for a good fight, so he favor tactics.

    Comic Books 
  • Nightwing is a masterful tactician, but not much for long term planning or politics. In the DC Universe, he's considered THE Leader archetype, when it comes to uniting any heroic army (no matter how large). This is often contrasted with Superman, who is very politically savvy and diplomatic, but is more comfortable inspiring than commanding. In the end, Nightwing really looks up to Superman—following his example more than Batman's—and Superman often steps aside to let Nightwing take command when needed.

    Film 
  • The Resistance plotline in The Last Jedi has this as the conflict between Poe Dameron and Admiral Holdo. Poe is able to pull off short-term tactical victories against impossible odds but racking up devastating losses in lives and ships that the Resistance simply can't sustain, while Holdo's main strategic goal is to simply ensure the Resistance survives to fight another day. Neither side communicates this very well to the other, and Hilarity Ensues (but not really).

    Literature 
  • Robb Stark in A Song of Ice and Fire is a brilliant tactician who is able to score sound victories against overwhelming Lannister forces. However, his strategic decisions are not nearly as good, and several characters comment that it is probably due to his youth (neatly deconstructing the Young Conqueror trope). On the other hand, Robb's nemesis Tywin Lannister concentrates on keeping Robb from winning a decisive battle, and despite losing battles he is constantly strengthening his family's position by creating alliances and thus placing himself in a better position to win the entire war. Sure enough, some of Robb's disgruntled followers leave him in a weakened position, and some others reach out to Tywin, and that's the end of Robb Stark.
    Robb: I've won every battle, but somehow I'm losing the war.
  • At Mindouas in the first volume of the Belisarius Series, the title character is rebuked for putting tactics before strategy in fighting a successful but seemingly needless battle with the Persians. In reality the reason was that he needed to gain an armistice as quickly as possible because a new enemy was looming on the horizon.
    • Belisarius' strategy was was a complex one of encouraging insurgency in his enemies' home empire and using the navy of his Axumite allies to strike on his enemies' flanks. His favorite tactics were to get to a key position before his enemy and bait him into attacking while he had a counterattack waiting on the flank. This worked many times either because the enemy commander absolutely had to attack, or because the enemy commander was Too Dumb to Live.
  • David Weber is well-known for including (usually very detailed) strategy and tactics in his novels. The Honorverse Companion House Of Steel includes an essay co-written by Weber and US Naval Analyst Christopher Weuve on building a military which goes into great detail about everything mentioned in this trope's description.
  • Over the course of the New Jedi Order, New Republic (later Galactic Alliance) fleets relied heavily on both superior strategy and superior tactics wherever possible, countering the invaders' immense numbers and fanatical devotion.
    • On the Alliance side, the "old school" generals such as Garm bel Iblis and Wedge Antilles, having started their careers in La Résistance, were masterful tacticians but relatively lackluster strategists; newer generals like Traest Kre'fey were less effective tacticians but had the eye for strategy that would eventually bring the war to an end. (Admiral Ackbar, being The Strategist who eventually put the Alliance on top during the war's difficult fourth year, was an exception to this trend.)
    • On the Vong side, Tsavong Lah had a brilliant strategy for bringing the Republic to its knees, but his limited tactical skills meant that it was immensely expensive in terms of men and materiel (and he was eventually Out-Gambitted by the Alliance), whereas his successor Nas Choka was less of a visionary strategist, but a much better tactician who countered many of the developments that had let the Republic win up to that point.
    • This was a running theme through the Legends canon; the various opponents of the Republic (Mandalorians, Vong, the various incarnations of the Sith Empire) would be better at tactics, and on an individual level, be better in combat than their Republic/Jedi counterpart. However, they tended to fight for the sake of fighting, which made their concept of strategy and logistics incredibly primitive compared to the Republic who wasn't as good at tactics, but was set up for a long-view, strategic approach. If the opponent struck hard and fast, they had a chance of crippling the Republic, but if the Republic got some breathing room and time to plan, then the enemy would end up on the wrong end of everything the Republic could throw at them and be overrun.
  • Also from Star Wars Legends, Grand Admiral Thrawn succeeds in putting the New Republic nearly on the ropes despite being at a resource disadvantage because he is a master of both small-scale tactics and large-scale strategy, and unlike many other Legends villains, he doesn't forget the grand scale in favor of small victories, making him a very difficult opponent. It also helped that his story took place very early in the canon; in his first book the New Republic leadership were so used to facing Vader and Palpatine's style of straightforward berserker attacks and simple ambushes that an Imperial commander using guile in his plans and reacting to a losing battle with an orderly retreat completely blindsided them.
  • The human Alethi and Parshendi in The Stormlight Archive solidly contrast each other in this regard. The physically stronger Parshendi are much more powerful and maneuverable than the human Alethi soldiers, who have to rely on regimented and tight formations and drilled coordination in the field. The Alethi tend to win through using long-term strategies, superior logistics, and disciplined soldiers to gradually wear down the Parshendi through a multi-year war of attrition. At the same time, the refusal of the Alethi high princes to work together means there's little strategic plan to trap and destroy the Parshendi armies.
  • One of the reasons why the immortal badass Corwin from The Chronicles of Amber is such a big fanboy of his older brother Benedict, is because he considers Benedict a true master of both strategy and tactics, which is why, when he's not in self-exile, Benedict is the unquestioned commander of the armed forces of a family that likes to think of themselves as gods.
  • In 1632, Mike Stearns' strength as a general isn't tactics, but logistics. The supply system he builds and his foresight in asking for specialized items allows his division to march faster, fight more effectively and operate in worse conditions than any other in the region.
  • In the Starfire novels, there are two types of drives: military drives, which are very powerful and take up a small hull volume but must be periodically shut down for maintenance, and commercial drives, which are bulkier and slower but have far more endurance. Most warships accept no substitutes for military drives; however, the Bugs use commercial drives for their fleets, making their ships less capable and survivable but allowing them to more easily gather and deploy the crushingly huge attritional fleets they favor.
  • Battle School training in Ender's Game is supposed to turn a student into a brilliant strategist, yet practically every exercise they do is aimed to spaceship-like maneuvers in a zero-G environment. Logically this should train the student into a superb tactician/pilot, but it tells nothing of the strategic/operational scale of things. No logistics are involved into keeping a fleet battleworthy over light-years. No diplomacy or espionage, which are impossible in-universe anyway since the enemy is a telepathic Hive Mind.
    • Justified because the Human forces were launched before the students/commanders were even born, and have been traveling at relativistic speeds to the enemy home worlds for decades with no hope of reinforcements. The students are being trained to improvise tactics with the forces they have against unknown opposition. All the strategic decisions have already been made.
  • In military science fiction Victoria, protagonist John Rumford expounds on these themes at length as he designs the Confederation's strategy against the Federals. Rumford emphasizes heavily that tactics and operations should serve strategy rather than the other way around, and also comments at length on how the military aspect is merely a part, and not always even the most important one, of the bigger grand-strategic picture. Especially much does he emphasize the moral level of warfare, as described by John Boyd. Though Rumford is as much a tactician as a strategist, and is shown to direct several of the critical individual battles. His doctrine on this level depends on high-risk maneuver warfare, mission-type tactics and independent initiative, and he explicitly acknowledges his indebtedness to German thinkers like von Clausewitz and Moltke for his ideas.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This can often be seen in competetive Reality Shows. If you focus on tactics and try to survive each round at any cost, you might sabotage your chances in the finals. On the other hand, being strategic and focusing too much on the endgame could keep you from getting there in the first place.
    • In Survivor, Russell Hantz exemplifies the "too tactical" side. He did anything he could to backstab his tribemates and make it to the finals in two separate seasons, but once he was there he had to face juries of evicted players that hated him and would never vote for him to win.
    • On season 25 of The Amazing Race married couple Adam & Bethany were in first place headed towards the mat in leg 2. Before checking in, they were given the option to check the surrounding grounds for the express pass which lets you skip a task. Bethany (on whom the movie Soul Surfer is based) is quite the Disabled Badass and a world class athlete but only has one arm. They did not hesitate to risk their first place to go get it because they figured she would inevitably come across some sort of task she could not physically do and it was a much better strategic move than coming in first. Jim & Misti (another married couple) who were in second didn’t even bother to go look for it. Jim said that they’d have been idiots to pass up something of such strategic value and he knew they weren’t idiots. They did come in first anyway but that’s only because the second and third teams had to do the challenge twice.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • In Professional Wrestling, the tag team of Pretty Boy Doug Somers and "Playboy" Buddy Rose are versed in different fields. In more than one promo, Rose claimed that they were unbeatable in part because he was a master of strategy and Somers was a master tactician.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This concept has a special meaning in the context of wargaming. It means "how big of a scenario does your game represent" and has a number of aspects including the number of forces a counter represents (usually bigger in a strategic game) and the details accounted for (usually there is more detail in a tactical game).
  • in the BattleTech universe, Khan Lincoln Osis of Clan Smoke Jaguar was noted as being an excellent tactician but poor strategist. This meant that when the Inner Sphere got together to take out a Clan, their ability to focus on the big picture and plan for winning over a large series of engagements instead of simply planning for the next battle meant that the Jaguars were unable to match the Inner Sphere and became the first faction in the game that was completely wiped out, as Osis had neglected the Jaguars' infrastructure to the point that they simply couldn't fight a large-scale war at all.
    • The Clans themselves were an example of this during the Inner Sphere invasion: As Clan military doctrine had focused around winning individual battles as cleanly and quickly as possible to reach a tactical objective for centuries, they proved unable to think in large-scale, operational terms. The Clan Invasion had crawled to a halt by the time the Inner Sphere suggested they settle it on Turkayyid (which became another example of this trope as the Clans proved unable to cooperate against ComStar's unified defense strategy). Only Clan Wolf and Clan Star Adder was able to see the invasion in strategical terms, and the Star Adders' realistic bid for an invasion force was denied by the other Clans.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • It's often said that the Space Marines win battles while the Imperial Guard win wars. Space Marines are made far superior to any human by virtue of their augmentations and equipment, but they're costly to make and limited in number so they're limited to crucial defence and strike actions often deep behind enemy lines, and once they've won they are moved on to the next deployment. Their status as effectively walking, talking humanoid living weapons also mean they often relate poorly to the Imperial citizens they're charged with protecting. Imperial Guardsmen on the other hand are much easier to raise and replace in large quantities, and combined with their considerable arsenal of fighting vehicles (many of them being actually superior to their counterparts among the Space Marines) mean they're not only better for capturing a large swathe of territory but better for holding it afterwards.
    • The rivalry between the Ultramarines (Tactics) and Alpha Legion (Strategy) could be seen as this. The Ultramarines Primarch Roboute Guilliman literally wrote the book on how to be a Space Marine, the Codex Astartes, and so they operate according to (most of) its guidelines. To the Ultramaries, war is a science and information is key to victory. The Alpha Legion couldn't be any more different: they only go to war directly when the deck has already long since been stacked in their favour, and when they do go, anything goes. Sabotage, infiltration, exploiting traitors, using non-Astartes assets, False Flags, Dressing as the Enemy, you name it. Individual squads are encouraged to take initiative or break with laid-out combat doctrine if a greater strategic objective can be obtained; if they succeed then that is good, and if they haven't then they've still helped in the long run by throwing the enemy off. During the Horus Heresy, the Alpha Legion antagonised the Ultramarines greatly because while they had the clear advantage in logistics and sheer skill, their rigid tactics could not compete with the Alpha's pure unorthodoxy. That said, the Ultramarine method was better for the Grand Strategy of the Great Crusade; when the war for a planet was won by the Ultramarines it could usually be brought into the Imperial fold as a productive world fairly seemlessly by adapting the existing political infrastructure, while the Alpha Legion tended to leave that infrastructure in tatters and the planet in chaos.
  • In the World of Darkness, the divide is especially prevalent in matters concerning Werewolves, Mages, and Hunters.
    • The ongoing war between the Forsaken and Pure is primarily in favor of the Pure due to their strategic prowess; the Forsaken hold themselves back to try and remain loyal to their oath to Luna, where the Pure have been doing anything possible to achieve victory. It's been working too. The Pure now outnumber the Forsaken 3-to-1, and control large swathes of the United States.
    • For Mages and Hunters, the difference comes down to tiers. Tier 1 (Cabals and Cells) is typically the tactical level; nightly operations are planned and carried out. Tier 2 (Consiliums and Compacts) takes over the Operational level; this implies operations over a wide area, involving some coordination between Tier 1 groups but still retaining some focus on tactical acts. Tier 3 (Orders and Conspiracies) is heavily strategic, invovling backroom dealmaking and political manipulations to achieve the called for ends.

    Video Games 
  • A general example: in many multiplayer games with an objective more complex than wiping out the opposing team, players frequently get caught up in repeatedly killing the enemy without regard for whether this serves the actual objective of the current game round.
    • A particularly notable example is League of Legends thanks to its incredibly developed Professional Gaming scene. The best teams in the game aren't always determined by the individual skill of their players at the game's mechanics, but rather by the team's ability to capitalise on opportunities to take objectives and stay one step ahead of their opponents, a skill often known as "map rotation". A lot of upset victories have come from a team with far less kills than their opponents simply running rings around them on the map, and a good shot-caller is even more valuable than a good mechanical player.
  • In Dead Space, specifically, Dead Space 2, Nolan Stross comes up with a good long-term goal and got Isaac back on track by telling him necessary details. However, he only ever talks about destroying the Marker and fails tactical thinking when he fails to get it together and fight back due to the Marker driving him slowly insane and letting his guilt consume him. If it wasn't for Isaac's and Ellie's tactical thinking, the plan would have failed miserably.
  • Pick an RTS game, any RTS game. You have general goals (objectives and missions) which you have solid tactics to win.
    • The difference between "Macro" and "Micro" with Macro being Strategy, focused on advancing the tech tree, building bigger armies, more resource collection and building an army that counters the enemy while Micro consists of micro-managing your army to gain an advantage in individual battles. The best examples of each being Command and Conquer, a heavily macro and spam-and-counter based game and the X-craft series, with an Arbitrary Headcount Limit and much simpler damage typing rewards simply picking the "Counters everything somewhat" unit and dancing around with them.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir and Arl Eamon Guerrin are the tactician and the strategist, respectively. Loghain is an excellent general in the field, but his abrasive personality and tendency to treat the nobility as if they were soldiers makes him come off as a tyrant and leaves him with few allies where it matters most, and the country is fragmented in the face of the Blight. Eamon, in contrast, is well-spoken, courteous, and diplomatic, but nothing is spoken of his skill as a general. The Warden's quests for him in Denerim before the Landsmeet are focused on acquiring political support for Alistair's campaign for the throne, and Eamon is mainly concerned with ending the civil war as quickly as possible to deal with the Blight, which demonstrates his ability to see the big picture.
  • Colonel Mael Radec in Killzone is regarded as a gifted tactical genius, yet a "merely competent" strategist.
  • In Paradox Development Studio's Grand Strategy Games, the focus is on the Strategy side, as the outcome of battles and even wars are often predictable once they begin. What matters is your preexisting ability to mobilise and supply your troops, and an outnumbered or unprepared army often doesn't stand a chance.
  • In The Elder Scrolls, the Great War set between The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim boiled down to this when the Aldmeri Dominion invaded the Empire. The Dominion caught the Empire by surprise and cut off many southern cities, and achieved initial goals and many tactical victories. Then, seeing the Empire vulnerable, they overextended themselves and tried to capture the Imperial City. The Emperor, thinking long-term, chose to withdrew from the City with most of his forces and left a single Legion to defend it, and the Dominion occupied it after a protected siege. However, with their forces stretched out, exhausted, and fewer in number than the Imperial forces, the Dominion armies were vulnerable when the Empire regrouped and gathered fresh reinforcements from surrounding provinces untouched by the invasion. The Empire launched a massive, well-coordinated maneuver with three fresh armies to surround the Imperial City, cut off the main Dominion army, and crush it, ending the war.

    Web Comics 
  • In Erfworld, Stanley the Tool is a genius when it comes to battle. He is an expert fighter (quite possibly the most powerful individual fighter in the world, especially witb his trademark dwagonriders blitzes) and he rose from the rank of piker to Overlord of his side. However, he is not a strategist and, though he had success in the short-term, he failed to have a definitive grand strategy and he was very close to being killed by his enemies. That is until Parson was summoned.

    Web Original 
  • In the cartooning competition Strip Search, Amy originally tried applying some basic reality-show tactics, but the stress of the competition started getting to her after a surprise ruling by the judges. Tavis helped console her and pointed out that trying to win could be getting in the way of some of the real benefits of the show; the opportunity for the artists to hone their craft and make professional contacts with one another. She took the advice to heart and changed her strategy to simply being as good a artist as possible.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Sokka is The Strategist, while Zuko is the tactician. Sokka is heavily organised and is able to come up with detailed and effective strategies, while Zuko's plans generally involve him infiltrating a location alone, then responding to the situation on the ground as needed until he reaches the objective. That said, Zuko has a fatal flaw as a tactician: he'll come up with a clever way to get in and achieve his immediate objective, but not how to get out afterwards or exploit whatever gains he made.
    • Princess Azula representing a near perfect mix of the two is one of the big reasons she's so dangerous. She's willing to sacrifice battles for a greater end goal (Strategist), but also able to play a mean game of Xanatos Speed Chess decision-making when needed (Tactician). Her perfectly orchestrated, nearly single-handed coup of Ba Sing Se in the Book 2 finale showed off her skill in balancing the two out, that she puts Grand Admiral Thrawn to shame.
  • Speaking of Grand Admiral Thrawn, just as in his Star Wars Legends incarnation, in Star Wars Rebels he focuses on the strategic as much or more than the tactical. At the end of season 3 his having to follow idiotic higher orders against his better judgement coupled with the stupidity of one of his underlings helps explain why he doesn't defeat the heroes outright. In season four Governor Price proves to be the opposite, so laser-focused on the current engagement that she's willing to do more damage to her own facility than a major Rebel attack managed to kill one man (a Jedi, but still). This ultimately ruins Thrawn's long-term plans, costs the Empire the system, and arguably hands the Rebels the entire war.

    Real Life 
  • In The Punic Wars, Hannibal was an amazing tactician who defeated Roman armies with ease and slaughtered their forces. The Romans were unable to compete with his brilliance, but they didn't give up. You see, Hannibal had sacrificed his siege equipment to avoid a large battle. Without them, Hannibal was unable to breach the thick walls of major Roman cities. The Romans simply began a war of attrition and cut off Carthage's supply lines to Hannibal using sea vessels that Hannibal could not counter (the last Punic war ended with an agreement that said Carthage had to give up its fleet). Hannibal rushed to his country's aid, but was defeated at the Battle of Zama. He is now one of the best examples when discussing the importance of strategic thinking used in conjunction with tactical thinking.
    • Another factor that made the Carthaginians lose is that they counted on Rome's allies to defect after suffering so many defeats. Rome's policy of extending citizenship to (the elites of) their allies and refraining from demanding tribute made their allies very loyal and thus Hannibal didn't find many friends during his 15-year long pillaging of Italy. In general, while Rome could be very brutal, its willingness to grant outsiders political rights was a long-term strategy that made their empire possible.
    • Given Rome's advantages in manpower, superior land troops and naval supremacy, Carthage's defeat was only a matter of time right from the start. Hannibal's best chance was to bring war to Roman homeland and win battles over battles until Rome is brought to its knee, or rather before Carthage itself gets exhausted. He almost achieved that - a string of defeats costing as much as one fifth of total adult male population should have broken any other civilization. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to even the strategical imbalance.
  • In The American Revolution the British could usually win engagements by their greater tactical skill. However the Americans figured out that they could win strategically just by continuing to exist until the British got tired of it.
    • The Battle of Valcour Island is seen as a tactical defeat but a great strategic victory for the Americans. The fleet assembled by Benedict Arnold for the fight was destroyed without inflicting much damage on the British fleet, but just by fighting the battle Arnold delayed the British advance until late enough in the year that snow was beginning to fall. The British decided not to continue that year, which gave the Americans time to regroup for the Saratoga campaign and may have saved the entire war.
    • The British had done it to the Americans the previous year when the Americans under Montgomery had advanced up Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River in order to reach Montreal and then march on to Quebec City. Although the American campaign succeeded in reaching the walls of Quebec, defeating and capturing all the fortified positions along the way, their victory at Fort Saint-Jean, which took a siege of 45 days, meant they arrived at Quebec in December instead of mid-October, and with only 15% of the force they started out with. The eventual attack on Quebec failed.
  • The idea of Thermopylae was to delay the Persian army's advance into Greece for as long as possible, until the city states could raise their own levies, but because the battle only lasted 3 days, it was a strategic defeat for the Greeks who had intended to hold out for longer. However, an unintended consequence of the early loss was that the Greek fleet retreated from the simultaneous sea battle of Artemisium instead of fighting to the death (because their strategy depended on holding both points). This led to the Persian fleet growing overconfident, overextending themselves, and suffering a devastating defeat against the surviving Greek fleet at the Battle of Salamis weeks later. This ultimately cost the Persians the war by forcing their fleet to withdraw to Persia and destroying their army's supply lines, effectively showing just how well long-term planning and war go together (i.e. not at all).
  • In their war with Sparta, the Thebans showed a mastery of both strategy and tactics. At the Battle of Leuctra, they overweighted one side of their phalanx to collapse the Spartan host. Their strategy however was to remain in Spartan territory long enough for the Helots to run away. With most city-states, the agricultural economy couldn't be destroyed by raiding simply because destroying crops is even harder than farming them. But the Spartans' agriculture, based on slave Helots kept in line by the other citizens, could be ruined simply by taking the workers away.
  • In World War II the opening stages sometimes seem like a series of opportunistic attacks and desperate reactions called strategy after the fact, or not as the case may be. To some degree this is true; it is harder to develop strategy than it sounds, and the combatants were feeling each other out. As it developed the main German strategy seems to have been to expand their territory eastward. Britain's strategy was to survive and annoy Germany. Russia's was to wear Germany out by attrition until it could start attacking and roll over her (once nicknamed "the steamroller"), allowing Germany the initiative until the middle of the war. When America entered, the main strategy of the Allies was to concentrate on Germany (the "Europe First" grand strategy); as Germany and Japan were too far away to effectively help each othernote , all the Allies could get a chunk of Germany; and Germany had more resources, which meant if they ended up only able to subjugate one, they could afford to think about Japan later, but not vice-versa. Meanwhile, Mussolini concentrated on tactical victories early in North Africa, trying to seize routes between Axis-friendly colonies and local states, but neglected to think about the kind of long-term, well-buffered logistics and training needed to keep the distrusting Royal and Party forces working together, well-fed, and in solid morale. When the Vichy French and Royal Marina navies started taking heavy losses, the Italians couldn't defend themselves, and the Allies rolled through their positions after some early hitches. Eventually, the Germans took over Mediterranean defense, and even that wasn't enough: the Allies could outspend them three-to-one, and had regained control of the entire Med within a year and a half after that.
  • Because countries can seldom change their geographical position and usually don't want to change their culture (at least not too much), this often means that both strategy and tactics will take on recognizable similarities through several wars. Especially strategy as tactics is affected more acutely by technology changes. However tactics is also affected by environment; for instance, a mountain country will want more snipers, whether they use old time Pushtun jezails (a local specialty type of musket with a long barrel) or modern sniper rifles, and a flat desert country will want more cavalry-type for mobility, shock, and pursuit, whether mounted on horses and camels, or driving tanks.
    • Germany, which is a valley country with a well organized system of cities and cultivated land, as well as (usually) the largest population in Europe outside of Russia, concentrated from the nineteenth century onward on the strategy of winning enough victories to scare any enemy into making a favorable peace. This worked as long as they had an enemy like themselves who was willing to make peace, which in turn assumed German leadership willing to demand no more than a tolerable adjustment of political hegemony (I.E. someone like Otto von Bismarck or Wilhelm I)note . It did not work with Adolf Hitler who in Eastern Europe wanted his foes to become a Slave Race and was often fighting in unfavorable terrain (the Soviets made peace offers in 1941 along the lines of the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, but Hitler rejected all of them because he wanted nothing but total annihilation of the USSR as part of his plans to expand German territory eastwards). In effect German strategy was the same as its tactics, or rather the same as its operations. However its tactics and operations were extremely well developed and when used by a leader with common sense against a state like an Habsburgs, who were beset on multiple sides and more concerned about a peace that would maintain them as as the resident Feudal Overlord of Austria than about fighting for total victory.
    • British military strategy from the days of Elizabeth I to World War II was truly imperial in scope. Superior financial resources, naval power and extensive contacts with allies and vassals abroad made it possible for the British to use the whole world as a battlefield. In wars involving their European rivals, they would financially support an ally on the continent while using the Royal Navy to cut off trade or seize overseas colonies, which in turn increased their imperial possessions or otherwise provided valuable bargaining chips at the Peace Conference. Lack of numbers and incompetent leadership tended to plague British forces in their struggles on land, though this was often mitigated by their superior logistics capabilities and the use of native auxiliaries. In a way Britain is a curious example of an empire that habitually uses Hit And Run Strategy against other empires on a global scale. However, the limitations of this approach became apparent during WW2. The fall of France in 1940 deprived the British of their chief ally, which meant that for a time, they were forced to confront Germany and Italy alone. This went From Bad to Worse after Japan entered the war: Britain's geographically-extensive assets then became liabilities, especially as the Imperial Japanese Navy was more than a match for its British counterpart.
    • The Byzantine Empire habitually refused battle, knowing they had only so many soldiers, and instead raided their enemy's foraging parties, used their castles (including Constantinople) to take shelter in, and bought off the clients of invading princes with their large supply of money and fabled skill at conspiracy. Byzantine tactics were fairly sophisticated for the era depending on a part-professional, part-feudal army that still retained Roman traditions. It involved heavy use of technology and a scientific study of war, both of which were uncommon at the time though less rare than many think. On land they were famous for their cataphracts, heavy Horse Archer / lancer cavalry. At sea they were famous for their "Greek Fire" Naphtha grenades and flame throwers.
    • A classic example is Russia, a nation which spans half the globe. Due to its enormous landmass, invaders need to be incredibly well-stocked as they push deeper and deeper into Russian territory. Meanwhile, Russians simply withdraw ahead of advancing invaders, destroying any infrastructure that will be useful to the oncoming armies, waiting for them to become weak and vulnerable to counterattack, especially during the brutal winters. While it worked flawlessly against Napoleon, this strategy only half-worked against the Wehrmacht. Unable to simply surrender the Ukraine, the Baltic states, or Leningrad due to their new industrial and supply importance, millions of Russian troops were killed or forced to surrender. Though Operation Barbarossa failed to decisively defeat the Russians in a single campaign, the Germans remained in control of much of Western Russia for the next two years. During the Cold War, Russian strategy shifted to having satellite states in Eastern Europe that were well-armed and would take the blows any invader from the West would send. Russian tactics could be very mixed. They are often stereotyped as We Have Reserves, but while Russia has seldom been shy about using this, they have tended to be more sophisticated than all that. They have often had armies of extremely mixed quality, some being quite crude tactically and led by incompetent officers, and others as good as the best any other country can field. However though they had weaknesses they had strengths including a large supply of manpower that grew up in harsh conditions. The flip side is that, despite the enormous landmass, the majority of the population is concentrated in the western, or European, area of the country, and they are not as easy to move as armies. In both The Napoleonic Wars and World War II Russia was forced to resort to guerilla warfare on a large scale while building up its forces, and the enemies long supply lines made them very vulnerable to partisans. Russia also had a large supply of cavalry dating from the steppe warfare traditions, and while it was very weak at sea its navy has a strong heritage of riverine and coastwise combined operations with the Army which was noticeable in the Turkish wars and in World War II. The tactics of the Red Army in World War II could be odd by Western European standards, but they were often very ingenious making clever use of nature and elaborate deception operations. By the last stages of the war they had enough tanks to engage in blitzkriegs in the German style and while these weren't usually carried out with the German smoothness they had their own touches like support from aforesaid guerillas and fresh-water vessels and a large supply of horse cavalry which they maintained long after the other allies had phased it out.
    • When not in periods of isolationism, the United States has been protected by the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, making strikes on the mainland logistically difficult. The only times in its history that it's been under a full-scale invasion since independence were the War of 1812, where the British invaded using their Canadian and Caribbean colonies as bases (an advantage literally nobody else who has ever seriously threatened the security of the United States has ever had), and its own Civil War. However these barriers also mean that foreign engagements mean sending forces tremendous distances. This has resulted in the US military focusing heavily on logistics, the ability to get things where they need to be. A great example being the famous "Left Hook" during the 1991 Gulf War, where the Iraqis were led to expect a massed amphibious operation in Kuwait, only to be met by a land invasion from Saudi Arabia. The "carrier strike group" is the ultimate expression of this mindset. An American supercarrier with an escort consisting of a cruisers, destroyers, and submarines can bring the military power of the United States to almost anywhere in the world, able to defend the position while raining down missiles and deploying an extensive airforce. Combined with a tremendous economy and a vast pool of technological resources this has made the United States the world's defacto superpower. Ironically the biggest problem the US has faced recently is guerrilla forces that drag out conflicts by avoiding direct confrontation, exactly the strategy that won the United States its independence. The problem is not so much the guerilla tactics as it is that the only real counter is devastating large areas of land. Perfectly possible for the US, but the American culture frowns greatly on that. Fortunately, eyes in the sky and skill of ambushed soldiers to butcher their attackers makes guerilla warfare relatively ineffective against American forces. Attackers take far greater casualties than the Americans and cannot sustain such operations indefinitely. Eventually, the guerillas run out of people whereas the Americans graduate more recruits per-year than the guerillas kill. However, the US does tend to run out of political will to fight certain wars indefinitely, especially if the goals are unclear and no progress appears to be made. This is ironically sometimes strengthened by the same wide seas that render it so difficult to assault (a common refrain if an overseas (i.e. nearly every single one) war drags on too long is "why are we wasting troops in places so far away from America?"). After all, if you can't see how people suffer under dictorial regimes and how your aid is helping the civilians there, then how can you feel empathy for them?
    • An example of a tactical victory and a strategic loss is the Battle of the Glorious First of June, between the British and the French in 1794. The French harvest in 1793 had been bad, and the French government feared a popular uprising because of it. To avert this, in the spring of 1794, they bought over a hundred shiploads of grain from the United States, and sent a fleet of warships to escort the convoy of grain ships. Of course, the French couldn't buy such a large amount of grain without the British hearing about it. So the Admiralty sent the Channel Fleet under Lord Howe to intercept the convoy. The cheerful French Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse, commanding the French escorts, after a few preliminary brushes with the British fleet, joined battle with Howe on June 1st (13 Prairial in the French Revolutionary calendar). Howe won a great victory, taking or sinking seven French ships and damaging 13 more, with none of his ships taken or sunk. HOWEVER, the grain convoy, which was the centerpiece of the whole affair, made it into Brest, losing only one ship, and that to bad weather. The French people were fed, the government was saved and Howe screwed the pooch. Howe was given the Order of the Garter, more for propaganda reasons than anything else, and his retirement from active command was accepted. (Admittedly, he was 68.)
    • Much like Britain, Japan is an island nation that is dependent on foreign trade. Unlike Britain, it did not even have enough resources to help kickstart its economy when it moved to industrialization. One of the main reasons for its empire building in the early half of the 20th Century was to help make Japan less dependent on foreign trade. Tactically, Japan was one of the first nations to fully demonstrate the capability of aircraft carriers. Even then, Japan still failed to appreciate their importance since they pretty much threw strategic planning out of the window. Admiral Yamamoto used his carriers as support ships for his battleships rather than as the lead offensive weapon, as the Americans were forced to do after Pearl Harbor. He and the Imperial Staff envisioned that the final decisive battle would employ the mighty Yamato. Then came Midway, and the Japanese offensive was crushed.
  • The difference between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons is thus: unlike the former, the latter are never meant to be launched. Tactical nuclear weapons are designed to annihilate concentrations of enemy forces or hardened military installations in the context of Ground-Air-Sea Operations, aiding other forces in accomplishing strategic goals. Strategic nuclear weapons are designed to accomplish strategic goals by themselves, in destroying hardened military installations and igniting firestorms to destroy enemy cities. Both can give politicians significant leverage in diplomatic negotiations — and where they are paired with "Second Strike Capability" (retaliation), they can deter wars with other nuclear powers due to Mutually Assured Destruction.
    • As time has gone on, however, it has become more and more clear that the concept of tactical nuclear weapons is fundamentally flawed; all nuclear weapons are strategic because the decision to use nuclear weapons is made at the level of grand strategy, and by extremely senior political leaders rather than anyone who would be managing a battle.
      • Of course, the USA didn't come around to this view until the 1980s Cold War. The United States maintained a tactical First Strike policy against Warsaw PACT (WP) conventional forces in the early-mid Cold War, and in the late Cold War decided to only execute a tactical First Strike when it began losing to WP conventional forces. The USA maintained that using nuclear weapons against WP conventional forces and WP cities (Warsaw, Prague, Lwow, etc) through which supplies and reinforcements would travel constituted "tactical" use. However, they were wrong because tactical First Strike use of Nuclear Weapons will almost always lead to (tactical) Second Strike at the very least. At this point no study has ever seriously suggested that the party to execute the First Strike, will refrain from executing a Third. Or the party of the Second, a Fourth. And so on and so forth until there's basically no difference between these "limited" exchanges and a "full" nuclear war.
    • Just as importantly, nuclear weapons have the effect of limiting the strategic options and flexibility of a nation in possession of them. This is due to the fact that a nuclear state has to be very careful with its strategic choices to avoid escalation, regardless of whether or not the other state or non-state actor has them. Some would contend it's actually more troublesome if the other party doesn't have any as they can simply be stubborn, intractable, and frustrating enough to outlast the nuclear state's attempts at winning. They know full well that if the nuclear state uses even one nuclear weapon, they instantly lose the moral argument and look as irresponsible as they do untrustworthy.
    • Effectively, a sufficiently-sized nuclear arsenal can be seen as the concept of Grand Strategy imposed, overwhelmingly and instantly: no matter its battlefield or strategic losses, a nuclear power retains the option of nullifying these results, declaring all players losers, and ending the game (and incidentally, all human life). There is a very good reason why no nuclear power has ever gone to war against another one.
  • The American Civil War saw a conflict between a master strategist and a master tactician when Ulysses S. Grant fought Robert E. Lee. Lee was by far the superior tactician, and would typically come out on top of any one engagement. Grant, however, had a clearer view of the big picture, and understood that every battle they fought left Lee's position more and more untenable: the South, with its smaller pool of manpower and lack of developed industry, could only afford to bleed for so long, while the North, with its giant population and burgeoning industrial economy, could pour men and money into the war effort for a lot longer so long as the political will remained to pursue the war. So long as the Union could achieve a banner victory in the field every now and then to shore up popular support for Lincoln and the Republicans, Grant could focus on simply wearing Lee down. As a result Lee won most of the battles, but Grant ultimately won the war (Case in point: the Overland campaign was a series of battles over the course of a month and a half. Most battles were inconclusive or Confederate victories; at the end of the campaign, the Confederates had retreated almost a hundred miles). That said, Lee was aware enough of grand strategy to know that political will was the North's key weakness: his invasions of the North and willingness to continue engaging Grant and his commanders despite heavy losses were informed by the knowledge that the more depressing the news that the Northern public got from the front, the more likely it was that Lincoln would be voted out of office and replaced by a peace candidate who would come to terms with the Confederacy; this almost worked, but when W. T. Sherman conquered Atlanta in early September 1864, the Union had exactly the kind of banner victory needed to boost morale- and thus Lincoln and the war- all the way to Election Day in November.
  • In The Vietnam War the Tet Offensive was a textbook example of a tactical disaster which was still a strategic victory. The attack failed all of its objectives, and the Viet Cong were essentially ended as an independent force. However the news broadcasts of the battles shattered the Americans' already faltering political will, leading to American troop withdrawal and ultimately a Northern victory.
  • Pyrrhus of Epirus, second cousin of Alexander the Great, was well-known for winning many of his battle against Rome. The problem was, though, that the amount of casualties he was suffering was weakening his army too much. It was clear to him that if he kept losing as many fighting men as he was, then it would be impossible for him to carry out his grand strategy and win the war. Thus, the term Pyrrhic Victory was coined is his "honor". Though this is slightly unfair to him as even though he had to abandon Rome and Sicily, that period of time was a large free-for-all. Sicily at the time was being riled up by the Carthaginians and the Punic War was only a few years away. The fact that Epirus survived conflicts with Rome, Carthage, and Sparta during his rein speaks wonders for his ability to lead. In fact, Hannibal himself admired him as the second best military commander of the age just behind Alexander the Great. Of course, Hannibal himself was a brilliant tactician, but an awful grand strategist, so that can be taken with a just a bit of salt. As such, he was probably within the top ten commanders of that time period.

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