1: The German Blitzkrieg (translation: lightning war) was one of the most menacing and terrifying developments in modern warfare.
Having lost World War I in a series of drawn-out trench warfare, the Germans created a new fighting strategy for World War II: They would fight with concentrated mobile divisions. “Like the tip of a spear, columns of panzer tanks rushed into Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France with devastating results and little opposition,” writes Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle Is the Way.
“In most cases, the opposing commanders simply surrendered rather than face what felt like an invincible, indefatigable monster bearing down on them.”
By the end of 1943, Hitler had used his Blitzkrieg strategy to intimidate the Allied opposition and take control of Europe.
The Allies “could see only its power, and their own vulnerability to it. In the weeks and months after the successful invasion of Normandy by Allied forces, they faced it again: a set of massive German counteroffensives,” writes Ryan. “How could they stop it? Would it throw them back to the very beaches they just purchased at such high cost?”
2: Enter General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“Striding into the conference room at headquarters in Malta,” Ryan notes, Ike “made an announcement: He’d have no more of this quivering timidity from his deflated generals. ‘The present situation is to be regarded as opportunity for us and not disaster,’ he commanded. ‘There will be only cheerful faces at this conference table.’
Ike’s confidence was based on the realization that “the Nazi strategy carried its own destruction within itself.”
The Allies would allow the forward wedge of the German army through. Then, they would attack from the sides. The Allied army would encircle the enemy entirely from the rear.
“The invincible, penetrating thrust of the German Panzers wasn’t just impotent but suicidal—a textbook example of why you never leave your flanks exposed,” Ryan notes. “The Nazi attack would send more than fifty thousand Germans rushing headfirst into a net—or a “meat grinder,” as Patton eloquently put it.
The Allies would use this strategy at the Battle of the Falaise Pocket and then The Battle of the Bulge. “The tactical solution had been in front of them the entire time,” Ryan writes. “Only then were the Allies able to see the opportunity inside the obstacle rather than simply the obstacle that threatened them.”
3: The situation the Allies faced is “a textbook example of the role our own perceptions play in the success or failures of those who oppose us,” Ryan observes. What we need is a “mental flip.” We must let go of our tunnel vision focus on the obstacle and instead look for the opportunity within it.
The obstacle is the way.
As Laura Ingalls Wilder put it: “There is good in everything, if only we look for it.”
Yet, as Ryan observes: “We are so bad at looking. We close our eyes to the gift.”
What would we do if we were in Ike’s shoes? With the German army racing toward us. Would we see only impending defeat?
“Everything can be flipped,” Ryan observes. “The benefit is still there below the surface. Now the things that other people avoid, or flinch away from, we’re thankful for.”
Reflection: What is an obstacle I’m facing right now? How might I flip it and find the opportunity within the obstacle?
Action: Journal about it. Do it.