2083 — the 36 Stratagems

[ by Charles Cameron — analysis of “deceptive means” in 2083 manifesto / borrowings from Chinese 36 Stratagems ]

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I don’t know if anyone has commented on this yet, and a quick search proved inconclusive — but section 3.40 of Anders Breivik‘s 2083 manifesto, “Applying deceptive means in urban guerrilla warfare” (pp. 925-930) contains a number of tricks drawn from the Chinese “Thirty-Six Stratagems” – without, I believe, an acknowledgment. These are:

4. Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west

5. Hide a knife behind a smile

6. Sacrifice the plum tree to preserve the peach tree

7. Take the opportunity to pilfer a goat

8. Do not startle the snake by hitting the grass around it

9. Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul

10. In order to capture, one must let loose

11. Avoid the servant forces and go for the neck of their chiefs

12. Befriend a distant state while attacking a neighbour

13. Replace the beams with rotten timbers

14. Make the host and the guest exchange roles

I imagine there are other readers here more familiar with this material than I, so I’ll just post a few quick notes and express the hope that others will chime in.

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Breivik doesn’t name it as such, but in fact his first “deceptive means” is the Chinese first stratagem, Deceive the heavens to cross the ocean.  Breivik writes:

Always mask your real goals, by using the ruse of a fake goal that everyone takes for granted, until the real goal is achieved. Tactically, this is known as an ‘open feint’; in front of everyone, you point west, when your goal is actually in the east. By the time everyone realised it, you have already achieved your goal.

Compare the closely similar Wikipedia text accompanying this stratagem:

This stratagem means that you can mask your real goals, by using the ruse of a fake goal that everyone takes for granted, until the real goal is achieved. Tactically, this is known as an ‘open feint’; in front of everyone, you point west, when your goal is actually in the east. By the time everyone realised it, you have already achieved your goal.

Breivik uses the variant Do not startle the snake by hitting the grass around it rather than Stomp the grass to scare the snake which is the primary version in Wikipedia — Wikipedia’s source apparently has both.

Borrow a corpse to resurrect the soul is an interesting stratagem:

Take an institution, a technology, a method, or even an ideology that has been forgotten or discarded and appropriate it for your own purpose. Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose or bring to life old ideas, customs, or traditions and reinterpret them to fit your purposes.

Isn’t that what Breivik is doing with the Knights Templar?

And lastly, Avoid the servant forces and go for the neck of their chiefs appears to be Breivik’s variant on the Chinese Defeat the enemy by capturing their chief – his wording perhaps influenced by the Qur’an (sura Muhammad) 47.4 “So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them”.  I imagine that’s a verse he’d have encountered often enough.

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Someone with the appropriate background should do a more thorough job of checking out these particulars, tracking down exactly which text Breivik seems to be borrowing from, etc.  Comments and corrections are welcome.

9 comments on this post.
  1. Cheryl Rofer:

    Hi Charles –
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    The Knights Templar are a bunch that a certain strand of militarists like to grab onto. There may be a connection with Breivik’s masonic sympathies – the connection is often made with the "tempeliesen" of Wolfram’s Parzival.
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    The Templars were active in other places besides the Crusades. I visited one of their castles last week, before the shootings. Or one of the German holy orders of warriors, anyway.

  2. Bryan Alexander:

    I’m reminded of Brian Eno’s strategy deck.  

  3. Charles Cameron:

    Cheryl:
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    Thanks for the Parzifal connection, well worth exploring.  On p. 1408 of his manifesto, Breivik lists "Opera: Wagner, Verdi, Mozart" as a category of favorite music.  Mozart — another Mason (cf his beautiful Maurische Trauermusik, KV. 477, also KV 483, KV 471 —  and even The Magic Flute, of which Goethe wrote "It is enough that the crowd would find pleasure in seeing the spectacle; at the same time, its high significance will not escape the initiates").
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    I expect you’ve seen John Robb‘s post commenting on the Templar group that recently separated out from the Mexcan narco-cartel, La Familia?

  4. Charles Cameron:

    Bryan:
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    When I went to visit John Arquilla at RAND in Santa Monica, there was a framed set of Eno‘s cards in the lobby — the first I’d seen — and I was able to make a quick study of them while waiting to be admitted to the sanctum.

  5. Joseph Fouche:

    There’s a quote about Herr Schucklegruber Hitler that posits that his ideas were the summa theologica of every bad idea produced in Europe over the preceding 50 years. Similarly, Breivik’s exploits remind us of a few things: 1) the Web is an autodidact’s paradise 2) the entire corpus of the works produced by the old European right before WWII is now widely available on the Web 3) the prevailing ideologies of the post-WWII West look increasingly wobbly and 4) more and more people are looking for alternative visions in an age of antiseptic crisis. 
    You can see examples of far more creative autodidactry than Breitvik’s, drawing on much of the same source material, in online personas like "Mencius Moldbug" who’s (so far) has manage to be the first person since (perhaps) Hitler himself to pull off the neat trick of being a Jewish Nazi without suffering dialectal whiplash. Another frequent ZP poster commented to me prior to Breivik’s exploits that something like MM represented the danger of Web autodidact taken to its logical extremes. On a more positive side, you can read thoughtful examinations by John Reilly (johnreilly.info) on the esoteric Fascism of the evil Baron Evola that remind me very much of the work of Charles Cameron of the Clan Cameron.
    The use of the Knights Templar by Breivik is not all that interesting. In this country, if you play History Network bingo on any given day, the Knights Templar would inevitably be drawn as often as Nazis, UFOs, the Holy Grail, Leonardo Da Vinci, and other figures that contemporary Da Vinci Code-fed volk history has fixated on. Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, published in the late 80s before BBSs or the Internet reached critical mass, shows how much of the detritus that populates the netherworld of Western thought could be picked up even by an autodidact of that era (I plead guilty). There’s Knight Templars, Free Masons, and Rosicrucians (oh my!) aplenty. It would have been surprising Breivik hadn’t mentioned the Knight Templars as he prepared for his Adolf Galt moment. 
    The 36 Strategies are the (extremely) poor man’s Sun-tzu. Culled from one stray paperback "discovered" in the 1940s, in the most generous construction, they represent the pop strategy of thousands of years of Chinese history. In a less generous construction, they’re a bad Cliff notes version of Chinese strategy. A Chinese Breivik would probably use Shaolin monks or the Triads instead of Knights Templar with a more ambitious Breivak replacing Phillip the Fair with Ch’ien-lung Ti, T’sao T’sao, or even the First Emperor. The Internet only encourages this by bringing traditional cargo cult cultural fashion down to the new low of cut and paste culture. Unrestricted Warfare, a book written by two PLA colonels, is reminiscent of Mr. Breivik’s ramblings with the added irony that many of the bad Western ideas that Breivik regurgitates have crossed the Bamboo Curtain only to reemerge in a strange and twisted form that the Chinese can now spew back at us. 
    Similarly, the "al-Qaeda derived" ideas that Breivik has supposedly assimilated to fight fire with fire are merely Western ideas that have crossed the membrane of Arab culture through the route of the pop Marxism that dominated the mid-20th century and allowed to back flush. The whole thing is a hall of mirrors. We are only looking back at our own reflection through a glass darkly. It’s the price of Western success since 1415.

  6. Charles Cameron:

    Veuillez agréer, Citoyen Fouché, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués!

  7. Two Comments on a Wingnut « The Committee of Public Safety:

    […] 2083 — the 36 Stratagems There’s a [someone’s] quote about Herr Schucklegruber Hitler that posits that his ideas were the summa theologica of every bad idea produced in Europe over the preceding 50 years [before 1933]. Similarly, Breivik’s exploits remind us of a few things: […]

  8. Cheryl Rofer:

    Hi Charles –
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    I tend to agree with Joseph Fouche that the references to the Knights Templar are not particularly important, but, similarly, not many of the specifics Breivik cites are important, because they are the stereotypical bugaboos or heroes of such thinking. It’s probably impossible to sort out which parts of what he copied Breivik actually thought about.
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    I’m not at all sure that examining his "writings" tells us much beyond that these themes have been pulled into a particular orbit of hating. What might be interesting is why those themes have been found so suitable for that purpose. I deliberately mentioned Wolfram’s Parzival, rather than Wagner’s version, because I think that Wolfram had something very different as his purpose, much more in line with Jens Stoltenberg’s approach.
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    It may be that the open-endedness of these stories allows loading of Breivik’s (and others’) internally-generated hate into them.
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    But I always am intrigued by references to Knights Templar.

  9. Charles Cameron:

    Hi, Cheryl:
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    My apologies for my misreading you on Parzifal / Parsifal.
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    You write:

    I’m not at all sure that examining his "writings" tells us much beyond that these themes have been pulled into a particular orbit of hating. What might be interesting is why those themes have been found so suitable for that purpose.

    I think there are a number of public conversations around Islam, Islamophobia, Christianity, the clash of cultures, etc, where it’s useful to have some clarity on what can and cannot fairly be said about him, and also a number of areas of intel analysis where his writings may provide significant leads.
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    As an example: just as it’s important to know the history of the far enemy and global jihad concepts in studying contemporary jihadism, I think it’s significant to know if Breivik’s manifesto is the first place where Hindutva and Odinist strands are brought together in a "global" Identity-type movement. But I think this deserves a szeparate post, when time permits…