All Wars Begin before the First Battle

By | September 12, 2018

[September 12, 2018]  Today, I’m visiting Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri to witness an Engineer School graduation.  Being here is a good time for me because I’m reminded of what the school’s Sergeant Major once told me.  ‘When studying any conflict,’ he said, ‘remember that all wars begin before the first battle.’

I thought I understood what he meant at the time and that this was a profound observation.  I’d never heard it said like this before but I had read Sun Tzu who postulated that wars are won (or lost) before they begin.1

“All wars begin before the first shot is fired and continue long after the last bullet has done its job.” – First line in the movie There Be Dragons (2011)

 But there is, unsurprisingly, more to it than that.  We know that wars are complex affairs that bridge the political, social, diplomatic, and economic realms of nations.  This was true of World War I as any war; one of the most destructive of all human wars.  After the Entente Powers (those countries opposing the Central Powers) won, the peace was made on the backs of the losers.

This set the stage for an even more destructive war, World War II, and that war ultimately came sooner than anyone could have predicted.  This is why any conditions imposed on the losing side must be as humane and realistic as possible.  If we are to punish the citizens of a losing country, there is always a risk of revenge.  We found this out the hard way when the WWI armistice led to WWII.

I highly recommend you see the movie, There Be Dragons.  It reinforces this point.  The movie is about the horror of the Spanish Civil War that took place from 1936 to 1939 and was a prelude to WWII.  The background to the war is fascinating and should be studied closely to better understand the interplay of democracy, fascism, and communism in modern times.

Good memories here at Fort Leonard Wood and at the U.S. Army Engineer School.


  1. “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” – Sun Tzu, ancient Chinese general
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “All Wars Begin before the First Battle

  1. Drew Dill

    Keep the great articles coming our way. Have a great day, everyone!

  2. Mr. T.J. Asper

    A lesson for the ages. Our senior leaders should be paying attention to this. While I think they do, sometimes it doesn’t seem so. US Presidents have been tied up in small things so much they often have little times to be attentive to the important things. This post today is about that.

  3. Dale Paul Fox

    Drinking my coffee and relaxing before the beginning of a new day. Wow, nice article to start my brain. Ha Ha. Appreciate the thoughtfulness of it.

  4. Scotty Bush

    Great army post, Fort Leonard Wood. Home of the Engineers, Military Police, and oh, something else. Enjoy your time. And thank you, Gen. Satterfield, for another great post of senior leadership lessons.

  5. Danny Burkholder

    As the U.S. is preparing for a huge Category 4 hurricane to hit the East Coast, I wish all those to be affected all the best of luck. My prayers are with them. This emphasizes the point here that things start before the war begins.

  6. Eric Coda

    Hey all, it also has to do with how you treat your enemies once they are defeated. Magnanimous is the word. Thanks all for reading my comments.

  7. Gil Johnson

    🙂 Great. You made my day. Enjoy your time at Ft Leonard Wood, Missouri. Also known as “fort lost in the woods.”

  8. Mark Evans

    Thanks Gen. Satterfield for a great blog post this morning on another overlooked topic in leadership development but at this time, development at the highest levels.

  9. Bill Sanders Jr.

    A strategic lesson that our federal government agencies should both heed and bewarned. Great topic and lesson.

  10. Lynn Pitts

    I wish I too was at Fort Leonard Wood. Great post with some really wonderful people who are very helpful and very professional.

  11. Army Captain

    One of my personal favorite quotes. Thanks. Oh, good movie too.

    1. Jerome Smith

      You too have seen the movie. I watched it AGAIN just the other day. I remember the quote. Nice.

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