Divide and conquer, or divide and rule, was a maxim Chinese strategist Sun Tzu stressed in 500 B.C. Sun wrote that the supreme military commander "subjugates other people's armies without engaging in battle, captures other people's fortified cities without attacking them." Defeating an enemy "without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence."
In the 4th century B.C., Macedonia's Philip II (Alexander the Great's father) demonstrated a genius for the type of duplicitous diplomacy that weakens and divides. The authoritarian Philip seeded resentment and aggravated old feuds in rival Greek city-states. Democratic cities were especially susceptible to his mix of threat, lies and blandishments. Autocratic Macedonia leveraged Athens' endless internal political quarrels to splinter resistance.
When feuds escalated to minor wars, the Macedonian army would intervene, with Philip posing as the peacemaker. If he occasionally fell short of Sun Tzu's bloodless pinnacle, his policy cocktails of charm, coercive treachery, lies and military muscle made it difficult for rival Greeks to unite and oppose his expansionist goals.
Athens and Thebes finally allied, but way too late. Ultimately, Philip gained hegemonic control of Greece.
Communist China's long game resembles Phillip II's, except China seeks global hegemony. Substitute propaganda and psychological warfare for lies and coercive treachery and China's shorter games (tactics and operations to achieve its goal) also model Phillip's.
The long game also relies on propaganda. China's dedicated propagandists portray the communist dictatorship as a successful ideological competitor to something called the Liberal International Order (LIO). China's authoritarian governance model works far better than squabbling, quarreling democratic states, and China's decisive, autocrat-directed economic success proves it works.
However, the U.S.-led LIO proves to be an ambiguous, strawman-esque concept, drawing on 20th-century Soviet propaganda that deplored evil democracy. In other words, Beijing's liars feed Cold War communist propaganda to a 21st-century audience.
China's propagandists also contend a strong government recovers lost territory. That line is directed at an internal audience — ethnic Han Chinese nationalists.
Offensive psychological warfare, disinformation operations and agitation propaganda have become media terms for Philip's methods, but "divide and conquer without risking major war" remains the goal.
China employs these and similar subversive methods. Combined with coercive threat, they become gray-area warfare.
Right now, the U.S. and communist China are engaged in very dangerous gray-area warfare. And Beijing is the aggressor.
Information-age digital media — deluged with emotionally and politically manipulative cause celebres, and increasingly controlled by autocratic billionaire elites and authoritarian states — are a key battlefield in this war.
Unfortunately, vital American political institutions are also battlefields, to include the national security and intelligence services and the U.S. military.
According to the Pentagon, psychological warfare (psywar) as a doctrine is "directed solely against enemy audiences."
I pointed out in a recent column that the Department of Defense, by including so-called critical race theory in training programs, risks seeding distrust and discord that undermines unit cohesion and command authority, and, quite simply, damns respect for fellow servicemembers as individual human beings. Stripped of academic poppycock, CRT confines Americans to racial castes — which means it is disgustingly racist. Since CRT insists on division, it is inherently divisive.
Philip II would see the possibilities. No doubt Xi Jinping is enthused. For the record, Philip had slaves and brooked no opposition. Xi has Uighurs, and China is an enslaved nation with a state-controlled media. We might ask a character like Hunter Biden about Beijing's ability to pass cash to influential foreign leaders.
What is to be done?
Bluntly, America needs a counter-psywar strategy that can confront China's and Russia's destructive lies and treat anti-American propaganda like CRT as the faculty club rubbish it is.
The goal is building public awareness of and societal resistance to these psychological warfare assaults designed to shatter us. The Biden administration is in thrall to CRT advocates, so individual Americans and private-sector organizations willing to defend freedom must be the initial actors. Treat this column as my personal contribution.
To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: TheDigitalArtist at Pixabay