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Ruse of War: 6 Sneaky But Brilliant Strategies

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War can be tricky—especially when done correctly. It's called Ruse of War, the act of clever tactic or deception on the battlefield. Think Trojan Horse, but less ridiculous. (“After a 10-year siege, the Greeks have given up and disappeared and look—they felt so bad they totally left us a present!”)

Here are six commanders who were dealt bad hands, but bluffed and ended up flush. Some of the more ancient accounts are, of course, tough to verify. But even if time has padded these stories into legends, it doesn’t make the tactical strategies any less astounding.

1. Persians Without Noses, a Threat Still Poses.

Around 500 years BC, Darius the Great was sweeping through Asia and Africa, conquering everything. He was spread thin, so revolts popped up everywhere. Darius and his armies were able to stamp them all down, except one: Babylon. Babylon was so well barricaded that Darius, though he sat outside with his armies for a year and a half, couldn’t get in. Enter Persian noble Zopyrus, and his brilliant, disgusting plan to take Babylon.

One morning the Babylonians rose to see the high ranking Persian at their gates, soaked in his own blood, whipped, with his ears and nose hacked off. He screamed that Darius had done this to him for failing to capture their city, and that now his rage was so great he wished to defect and help Babylon defeat the brutal Darius.

And … they totally bought it. Zopyrus had cut off his own nose and ears and arranged his own whipping, all with Darius’ knowledge. Zopyrus Rhinotmetus (no-nose) quickly rose in the ranks of the Babylonian army, and just as quickly weakened the city's defenses. Darius soon recaptured the city, and reportedly festooned Zopyrus with great titles and wealth.

2. The Most Awesome Tea-Partier Ever

In the 3rd century, China was a mess. There were three different kingdoms—the Shu, Wei, and Wu—fighting to gain control over all of China. Chu-ko Liang was a valuable, high ranking official of the Shu people. One of his many responsibilities was to protect the city of Hsi from the oncoming Wei invasion. But he didn’t have enough soldiers to match the Wei onslaught, nor was Hsi fortified enough to wait out a siege. So, Liang got clever.

He opened all the gates of his city. He sent his best soldiers high into the mountains, out of sight. He ordered the people of his town to carry on as normal. Then, as the scouts for the Wei army approached, he climbed to the ramparts of the wall, burned some incense, had tea and played his lute. The Wei knew Liang was no idiot, in fact he had a reputation for being quite slippery. They suspected a trap, and went around the city, leaving it unharmed. As they skirted the town, they walked into the ambush Liang had previously set in the mountains, and were defeated.

3. Cowards at Cowpens

Militia men of the American Revolution weren’t trained soldiers. They were farmers and family men called to take up arms against the British. They were renowned for, well … not knowing what they were doing and running away a lot. At the Battle of Cowpens, Colonel Dan Morgan used this inglorious reputation to kick some Redcoat pantaloons.

Morgan’s regiments weren’t made up only of hapless militia men. He also had trained soldiers and riflemen. Taking position on and around a small hill at the border of South and North Carolina, Morgan put a line of trained shooters in front of a ragtag line of militia men. The British began a front assault, and were driven back by the sharpshooters, who then got up and ran behind the hill. The British charged again, this time against the scraggly militia men. The militia men appeared extremely weak when they each only fired two rounds, turned and ran. Bolstered by the retreat of the ill-trained American cowards, the British charged. Their line lost its cohesion on the hill, and they ran straight into the waiting fire of all the rest of Morgan’s men, including the ones that had gone around the back of the British. The British premature belief that they were winning led to them being completely enveloped by enemy fire, with over 900 Redcoats killed or captured.

4. “A SWORD FOR THE LORD!”

To defend their homeland, Gideon the Israelite raised a volunteer army of 32,000 to battle the Midianites (interlopers who were trying to move into Israelite turf) according to the Biblical account. But he only needed 10,000. Actually, the most powerful part of his ruse required significantly less. Gideon had 300 of his soldiers surround the Midianite’s valley encampment on three sides, every side but the east (that’s where he put the other 9700, waiting in ambush). He equipped them with hundreds of horns (the kind individual armies sounded before charging), torches, and incendiary pots. Then late at night, all at once, he had the 300 blow the war trumpets, light the torches, hurl the pots into the encampment and scream, “'A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” The Midianites had no idea how many violent religious zealots were descending on them, but if the horns were any indication, it was all of them. They panicked and ran to the only side of the valley without torches and terror, the east. There they were promptly slaughtered by soldiers, who were waiting with their swords for the Lord and Gideon. 

5. Bore Them to Death

Philip II of Macedon had conquered enough ground by 338 BC to establish the state of Macedonia. Many parts of the newly conquered kingdom didn’t like being conquered, particularly Athens and Thebes, which raised 50,000 rebels to fight off Philip’s 32,000 trained soldiers at the Battle of Chaeronea. Philip was outnumbered, but his men were professionals, and the rebels were angry countrymen spoiling for a fight.

The first thing Philip did was nothing. He took an interminable time to set up his lines for the battle as the rebels waited for him to make the first move. Meanwhile they stood, their bloodlust cooling as their skin baked in the sun. Then the battle began. The rebels had staked out a highly desirable position that Philip needed to remove them from. So he sent his men into battle, and then had them retreat almost immediately, as if unable to bear the rebel attack. The rebels chased them back to their “line,” not noticing that line was slowly moving, and so were they. Soon they were drawn completely away from the high ground they’d occupied. Philip kept doing this until the rebels were exhausted, bereft of spirit, and in open air. His trained soldiers then quickly stopped playing with their food and killed half the rebel army.

6. “P’ang Chuan Dies Under This Tree.”

Meanwhile in 4th century BC China,  the Han dynasty was under attack. The King of Ch’i sent an army westward to help the Han army resist the Wei. It wasn’t considered that much of a help. The Ch’i had a reputation for being total whiny pantywaists and for desertion, weakness, and all around lameness. When the commander of the Wei army, P’ang Chuang, heard they were coming, he went home for a vacation.

This unit of Ch’i was a little different, though. Marching with them as an advisor was Sun Pin, a descendant of Sun-Tzu. You might have heard of Sun-Tzu—he wrote a little book called The Art of War, the oldest, and arguably the most brilliant, military treatise in the world. Like Dan Morgan, Sun Pin knew that a bad reputation can be a good thing. The Wei believed the Ch’i army was full of weaklings who got sick or died or deserted. So Sun Pin gratified that belief. Each night the army marched, they lit fewer and fewer campfires. When the Wei saw that the Ch’i had lost half their pathetic army, they smugly settled on a quick direct attack, using only light infantry.

The legend goes, when the Ch’i set up their ambush, the spring for their trap was a message written on a tree: “P’ang Chuan Dies Under This Tree.” P’ang Chuan was called to the tree in the dark, and lit a torch to read it. This triggered a hailstorm of arrows from the Ch’i, an onslaught that the Wei were not prepared to handle. P’ang Chuan slit his own throat under the tree in his defeat. 

This article was sourced mainly from Duncan & Nofi's Book, Victory and Deceit.

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Weird
The Long, Strange Story of Buffalo Bill's Corpse
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You probably know William Frederick Cody, a.k.a. Buffalo Bill, as the long-haired Wild West icon who turned the frontier experience into rip-roarin’ entertainment. But the story of Buffalo Bill’s body and its many burials is almost as outrageous as the man himself.

When Cody died of kidney failure in January 1917, his body ended up on a mountain outside of Denver, Colorado—a counterintuitive choice given his close ties to the town in Wyoming that bore his last name. Cody, Wyoming was founded in the 1890s with help from Buffalo Bill, who employed many of its residents and was responsible for its tourism business. It might seem natural that he’d be buried in the place he’d invested so much in, but he wasn’t. And that’s where the controversy began.

Though Cody spent much of his time in the town named after him, he also loved Colorado. After leaving his family in Kansas when he was just 11 to work with wagon trains throughout the West, he headed to Colorado for the first time as a 13-year-old wannabe gold prospector. During his short time in the area, he chased the glittery fortunes promised by Colorado’s 1859 gold rush. Even after leaving the territory, his traveling vaudeville show, which brought a glamorous taste of Wild West life to people all over the United States, took him back often. Later in life, he frequently visited Denver, where his sister lived. He died there, too—after telling his wife he wanted to be buried on Lookout Mountain.

The mountain, located in Golden, Colorado, has a commanding view of the Great Plains, where Buffalo Bill experienced many of his Wild West adventures. It was also a place to contemplate the giant herds of buffalo that once roamed the West, and from whom Cody took his nickname. (Denver still maintains a small herd of buffalo—direct descendants of original American bison—near the mountain.)

But weather almost thwarted Cody’s burial plans. Since he died in January, the road to Lookout Mountain was impassable and his preferred burial site frozen solid. For a while, his body lay in state in the Colorado Capitol building. Governors and famous friends eulogized Cody in an elaborate funeral service. Then his body was placed in a carriage that moved solemnly through the streets of Denver, where thousands showed up to say goodbye. Afterwards, his body was kept in cold storage at a Denver mortuary while his family waited for the weather to change.

Meanwhile, Colorado and Wyoming started a heated feud over one of America’s most famous men. Wyoming claimed that Cody should be buried there, citing an early draft of his will that said he intended to be buried near Cody. Colorado cried foul, since Cody’s last will left the burial location up to his widow, who chose Lookout Mountain. Rumors even began to circulate that a delegation from Wyoming had stolen Cody’s body from the mortuary and replaced it with that of a local vagrant.

In part to stop the rumor mill, Cody was finally buried in an open casket on Lookout Mountain in June 1917. Twenty-five thousand people went to the mountaintop to bid him farewell before he was interred. To prevent theft, the bronze casket was sealed in another, tamper-proof case, then enclosed in concrete and iron.

Pennies on Buffalo Bill's grave
V.T. Polywoda, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Yet his rocky grave was anything but safe. In the 1920s, Cody’s niece, Mary Jester Allen, began to claim that Denver had conspired to tamper with Cody’s will. In response, Cody’s foster son, Johnny Baker, disinterred the body and had it reburied at the same site under tons of concrete to prevent potential theft [PDF]. (Allen also founded a museum in Wyoming to compete with a Colorado-based museum founded by Baker.)

The saga wasn’t over yet. In 1948, the Cody, Wyoming American Legion offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could disinter the body and return it to Wyoming. In response, the Colorado National Guard stationed officers to keep watch over the grave.

Since then, the tussle over the remains has calmed down. Despite a few ripples—like a jokey debate in the Wyoming legislature about stealing the body in 2006—Buffalo Bill still remains in the grave. If you believe the official story, that is. In Cody, Wyoming, rumor has it that he never made it into that cement-covered tomb after all—proponents claim he was buried on Cedar Mountain, where he originally asked to be interred.

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15 Riveting Facts About Alan Turing
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More than six decades after his death, Alan Turing’s life remains a point of fascination, even for people who have no interest in his groundbreaking work in computer science. He has been the subject of a play and an opera, and referenced in multiple novels and numerous musical albums. The Benedict Cumberbatch film about his life, The Imitation Game, received eight Oscar nominations. But just who was he in real life? Here are 15 facts you should know about Alan Turing.

1. HE’S THE FATHER OF MODERN COMPUTER SCIENCE.

Turing essentially pioneered the idea of computer memory. In 1936, Turing published a seminal paper called “On Computable Numbers” [PDF], which The Washington Post has called “the founding document of the computer age.” In the philosophical article, he hypothesized that one day, we could build machines that could compute any problem that a human could, using 0s and 1s. Turing proposed single-task machines called Turing machines that would be capable of solving just one type of math problem, but a “universal computer” would be able to tackle any kind of problem thrown at it by storing instructional code in the computer’s memory. Turing’s ideas about memory storage and using a single machine to carry out all tasks laid the foundation for what would become the digital computer.

In 1945, while working for the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, he came up with the Automatic Computing Machine, the first digital computer with stored programs. Previous computers didn’t have electric memory storage, and had to be manually rewired to switch between different programs.

2. HE PLAYED A HUGE ROLE IN WINNING WORLD WAR II.

Turing began working at Bletchley Park, Britain’s secret headquarters for its codebreakers during World War II, in 1939. By one estimate, his work there may have cut the war short by up to two years. He’s credited with saving millions of lives.

Turing immediately got to work designing a codebreaking machine called the Bombe (an update of a previous Polish machine) with the help of his colleague Gordon Welchman. The Bombe shortened the steps required in decoding, and 200 of them were built for British use over the course of the war. They allowed codebreakers to decipher up to 4000 messages a day.

His greatest achievement was cracking the Enigma, a mechanical device used by the German army to encode secure messages. It proved nearly impossible to decrypt without the correct cipher, which the German forces changed every day. Turing worked to decipher German naval communications at a point when German U-boats were sinking ships carrying vital supplies across the Atlantic between Allied nations. In 1941, Turing and his team managed to decode the German Enigma messages, helping to steer Allied ships away from the German submarine attacks. In 1942, he traveled to the U.S. to help the Americans with their own codebreaking work.

3. HE BROKE THE RULES TO WRITE TO CHURCHILL.

Early on, Bletchley Park’s operations were hampered by a lack of resources, but pleas for better staffing were ignored by government officials. So, Alan Turing and several other codebreakers at Bletchley Park went over their heads to write directly to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. One of the codebreakers from Bletchley Park delivered the letter by hand in October 1941.

“Our reason for writing to you direct is that for months we have done everything that we possibly can through the normal channels, and that we despair of any early improvement without your intervention,” they wrote to Churchill [PDF]. “No doubt in the long run these particular requirements will be met, but meanwhile still more precious months will have been wasted, and as our needs are continually expanding we see little hope of ever being adequately staffed.”

In response, Churchill immediately fired off a missive to his chief of staff: “Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this had been done.”

4. HE HAD SOME ODD HABITS.

Like many geniuses, Turing was not without his eccentricities. He wore a gas mask while riding his bike to combat his allergies. Instead of fixing his bike’s faulty chain, he learned exactly when to dismount to secure it in place before it slipped off. He was known around Bletchley Park for chaining his tea mug to a radiator to prevent it from being taken by other staffers.

5. HE RODE HIS BIKE 60 MILES TO GET TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.

Though he was considered an average student, Turing was dedicated enough to his schooling that when a general strike prevented him from taking the train to his first day at his new elite boarding school, the 14-year-old rode his bike the 62 miles instead.

6. HE TRIED OUT FOR THE OLYMPICS.

Turing started running as a schoolboy and continued throughout his life, regularly running the 31 miles between Cambridge and Ely while he was a fellow at King’s College. During World War II, he occasionally ran the 40 miles between London and Bletchley Park for meetings.

He almost became an Olympic athlete, too. He came in fifth place at a qualifying marathon for the 1948 Olympics with a 2-hour, 46-minute finish (11 minutes slower than the 1948 Olympic marathon winner). However, a leg injury held back his athletic ambitions that year.

Afterward, he continued running for the Walton Athletic Club, though, and served as its vice president. ”I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard,” he once told the club’s secretary. “It's the only way I can get some release."

7. HE WAS PROSECUTED FOR BEING GAY.

In 1952, Turing was arrested after reporting a burglary in his home. In the course of the investigation, the police discovered Turing’s relationship with another man, Arnold Murray. Homosexual relationships were illegal in the UK at the time, and he was charged with “gross indecency.” He pled guilty on the advice of his lawyer, and opted to undergo chemical castration instead of serving time in jail.

8. THE GOVERNMENT ONLY RECENTLY APOLOGIZED FOR HIS CONVICTION …

In 2009, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a public apology to Turing on behalf of the British government. “Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly,” Brown said. "This recognition of Alan's status as one of Britain's most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue." Acknowledging Britain’s debt to Turing for his vital contributions to the war effort, he announced, “on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better."

His conviction was not actually pardoned, though, until 2013, when he received a rare royal pardon from the Queen of England.

9. … AND NAMED A LAW AFTER HIM.

Turing was only one of the many men who suffered after being prosecuted for their homosexuality under 19th-century British indecency laws. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the UK in 1967, but the previous convictions were never overturned. Turing’s Law, which went into effect in 2017, posthumously pardoned men who had been convicted for having consensual gay sex before the repeal. According to one of the activists who campaigned for the mass pardons, around 15,000 of the 65,000 gay men convicted under the outdated law are still alive.

10. HE POISONED HIMSELF … MAYBE.

There is still a bit of mystery surrounding Turing’s death at the age of 41. Turing died of cyanide poisoning, in what is widely believed to have been a suicide. Turing’s life had been turned upside down by his arrest. He lost his job and his security clearance. By order of the court, he had to take hormones intended to “cure” his homosexuality, which caused him to grow breasts and made him impotent. But not everyone is convinced that he died by suicide.

In 2012, Jack Copeland, a Turing scholar, argued that the evidence used to declare Turing’s death a suicide in 1954 would not be sufficient to close the case today. The half-eaten apple by his bedside, thought to be the source of his poisoning, was never tested for cyanide. There was still a to-do list on his desk, and his friends told the coroner at the time that he had seemed in good spirits. Turing’s mother, in fact, maintained that he probably accidentally poisoned himself while experimenting with the chemical in his home laboratory. (He was known to taste chemicals while identifying them, and could be careless with safety precautions.)

That line of inquiry is far more tame than some others, including one author’s theory that he was murdered by the FBI to cover up information that would have been damaging to the U.S.

11. HIS FULL GENIUS WASN’T KNOWN IN HIS LIFETIME.

Alan Turing was a well-respected mathematician in his time, but his contemporaries didn’t know the full extent of his contributions to the world. Turing’s work breaking the Enigma machine remained classified long after his death, meaning that his contributions to the war effort and to mathematics were only partially known to the public during his lifetime. It wasn’t until the 1970s that his instrumental role in the Allies' World War II victory became public with the declassification of the Enigma story. The actual techniques Turing used to decrypt the messages weren’t declassified until 2013, when two of his papers from Bletchley Park were released to the British National Archives.

12. THE TURING TEST IS STILL USED TO MEASURE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE …

Can a machine fool a human into thinking they are chatting with another person? That’s the crux of the Turing test, an idea developed by Turing in 1950 regarding how to measure artificial intelligence. Turing argued in his paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” [PDF] that the idea of machines “thinking” is not a useful way to evaluate artificial intelligence. Instead, Turing suggests “the imitation game,” a way to assess how successfully a machine can imitate human behavior. The best measure of artificial intelligence, then, is whether or not a computer can convince a person that it is human.

13. … BUT SOME CONSIDER IT TO BE AN OUTDATED IDEA.

As technology has progressed, some feel the Turing test is no longer a useful way to measure artificial intelligence. It’s cool to think about computers being able to talk just like a person, but new technology is opening up avenues for computers to express intelligence in other, more useful ways. A robot’s intelligence isn’t necessarily defined by whether it can fake being human—self-driving cars or programs that can mimic sounds based on images might not pass the Turing test, but they certainly have intelligence.

14. HE CREATED THE FIRST COMPUTER CHESS PROGRAM.

Inspired by the chess champions he worked with at Bletchley Park, Alan Turing created an algorithm for an early version of computer chess—although at that time, there was no computer to try it out on. Created with paper and pencil, the Turochamp program was designed to think two moves ahead, picking out the best moves possible. In 2012, Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov played against Turing’s algorithm, beating it in 16 moves. “I would compare it to an early caryou might laugh at them but it is still an incredible achievement," Kasparov said in a statement after the match-up.

15. THERE IS ALAN TURING MONOPOLY.

In 2012, Monopoly came out with an Alan Turing edition to celebrate the centennial of his birth. Turing had enjoyed playing Monopoly during his life, and the Turing-themed Monopoly edition was designed based on a hand-drawn board created in 1950 by his friend William Newman. Instead of hotels and houses, it featured huts and blocks inspired by Bletchley Park, and included never-before-published photos of Turing. (It’s hard to find, but there are still a few copies of the game on Amazon.)

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