The White Flag Principle

How to lose a War (and Why)

Shimon Tzabar
The White Flag Principle

Sun Tzu, military philosopher and author of The Art of War, had it wrong: the best way to win is (usually) to lose. Employing historical documents, charts, drawings, diagrams, and formulas, satirical historian, Shimon Tzabar, provides a concise analysis of military history from a wholly new perspective. Arguing that, in the long term, winning is for losers, his brilliant book – both serious and hilarious – is a step-by-step practical guide to Successful Military Disaster (“It is hardly necessary to point out that a contiguous enemy is always preferable to a non-contiguous one”). Tzabar makes the case for peace as a discreetly pragmatic means to political victory.

Featuring observations on war from the Battle of Arbela in 331 BC and fully updated from its first edition (of 1972) to America’s recent interventionist jaunt in Afghanistan, and speculations on the future of the war on terror, THE WHITE FLAG PRINCIPLE bears comparison to the fierce satire of Jonathan Swift, or even Jerome K. Jerome.

‘Tzabar’s black humour is reminiscent of Heller’s CATCH 22 and Brecht’s MOTHER COURAGE, a delightful world of inverted but forceful logic.’ Biblio

‘A book that you read smiling except when you’re laughing out loud.’ Le Monde

‘Sun Tzu suggested ‘When at the zenith of strength, feign weakness’, but he did not develop this idea with Tzabar’s gleeful enthusiasm. It will annoy people who think ‘It matters not who won or lost. But how you played the game’. Tzabar, a former terrorist, is clear: victory’s not all it’s cracked up to be – winning is for losers. History is on his side. You cannot rely on inefficiency (your enemy, heaven forbid, might be even more hopeless), so he provides that practical advice on coming second. In case the worst happens, there’s a chapter on ‘How to recover from an accidental victory’: for the best case scenario, there’s a chapter on surrendering. Other chapters concentrate on the run-up to war: how to manage a bad foreign policy and ruin a flourishing economy; how to splinter a united society; building your army up for defeat; and – importantly – tactics. If you find von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu dry, try this book. This is as good a time as any to develop an interest in military strategy.’ Fortean Times

‘This paradoxical and unexpected theory [that defeat is more advantageous than victory] is presented by an English humorist – for this is indeed humour – who upholds it with that inimitable seriousness that has made famous Jerome K. Jerome, G.K. Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw and many others.A book as unusual as it is good, and that you finish in agreement with the editor’s claim that Mr. Tzabar is definitely a man with whom you cannot be bored. Much has been written about and in favour of victory. We lacked a reasoned and well-researched ode to Defeat. With this book, this gap has been opportunely filled.’ Pierre Viansson-Ponté in Le Monde.

‘If there is such a thing as a delightful book about war, here it is. The entire thing is an extremely effective antidote to von Clausewitz. For those of us who have lamented ‘Where is Jonathan Swift, now that we need him most,’ he’s here. Mr. Tzabar manages to convince the reader of the sanity of absurdity. The book is seriously uproarious. It is also true. Personally, I consider The White Flag Principle one of the most entertaining and important books to have come across my path in quite some time.’ Professional Publication for Libraries (USA).


Previous published by but all rights reverted:

  • Four Walls Eight Windows USA
  • Ullstein Germany
  • Høst and Søn Denmark
  • Basilico Japan
  • Lagoudera Greece
  • Podium NL
  • Am Oved Israel
  • Siglo XXI Spain

Material: several different editions (179pp in original English edition).