From The 48 Laws of Power

OBSERVANCE OF THE LAW

In the mid-1920s, the powerful warlords of Ethiopia were coming to the realization that a young man of the nobility named Haile Selassie, also known as Das Tafari, was outcompeting them all and nearing the point where he could proclaim himself their leader, unifying the country for the first tie in decades. Most of his rivals could not understand how this wispy, quite, mild-mannered man had been able to take control. Yet in 127, Selassie was able to summon the warlords, one at a time, to come to Adis Abeba to declare their loyalty and recognize him as leader.

Some hurried, some hesitated, but only one, Dejazmach Balch of Sidamo, dared defy Selassie totally. A blustery man, Balcha was a great warrior, and he considered the new leader weak and unworthy. He pointedly stayed away from the capital. Finally Selassie, in his gentle but stem way, commanded Balcha to come. The warlord decided to obey, but in doing so he would turn the tables on this pretender to the Ethiopian throne: He would come to Addis Abeba at his own speed, and with an army of 10,000 men, a force large enough to defend himself, perhaps even start a civil war. Stationing this formidable force in a valley three miles from the capital, he waited, as a king would. Selassie have to come to him.

Selassie did indeed send emissaries, asking Balcha to attend an afternoon banquet in his honor. But Balcha, no fool, knew history—he knew that previous kings and lords of Ethiopia had used banquets as a traps. once he was there and full of drinks, Selassie would have him arrested or murdered. To signal his understanding of the situation, he agreed to come to the banquet, but only if he could bring his personal bodyguard–600 of his best soldiers, all armed and ready to defend him and themselves. To Balcha’s surprise, Selassie answered with the utmost politeness that he would be honored to play host to such warriors.

On the way to the banquet, Balcha warned his soldiers no to get drunk and to be on their guard. When they arrived at the palace, Selassie was his charming best. He deferred to Balcha, treated him as if he desperately needed his approval and cooperation. But Balch refused to be charmed, and he warned Selassie that if he did not return to his camp by nightfall, his army had orders to attack the capital. Selassie reacted as if hurt by his mistrust. Over the meal when it came time for the traditional singing of songs in honor of Ethiopia’s leaders, he made a point of allowing only songs honoring the warlord of Sidamo. It seems to Balcha that Selassie was scared, intimidated by this great warrior who could not be outwitted. Sensing the change, Balcha believed that he would be the one to calll the shots in the days to come.

At the end of the afternoon, Balcha and his soldiers began their march back to camp amidst cheers and gun salutes. Looking back to the capital over his shoulder, he planned his strategy-how his own soldiers would march through the capital in triumph within weeks, and Selassie would be put in his place, his place being either prison or death. When Balcha came in sight of his camp, however, he saw that something was terribly wrong. Where before there had been colorful tents stretching as far as the eye could seem now there was nothing, only smoke from doused fires. What devil’s magic was this?

A witness told Balcha what had happened. During the banquet, a large army, commanded by an ally of Selassie’s, had stolen up on Balha’s encampment by a side route he had not seen. This army had not come to fight, however: Knowing that Balcha would have heard a noisy battle and hurried back with his 600-man bodyguard, Selassie had armed his own troops with baskets of gold and cash. They had surrounded Balcha’s army and proceeded to purchase every last one of their weapons. Those who refused were easily intimidated. Within a few hours, Balcha’s entire force had been disarmed and scattered in all directions.

Realizing his danger, Balcha decided to march south with his 600 soldiers to regroup, but the same army had disarmed his soldiers blocked his way. The other way was to march on the capital, but Selassie had set a large army defend it. Like a chess player, he had predicted Balcha’s moves, and had checkmated him. For the first time in his life, Balcha surrendered. To repent his sins of pride and ambition, he agreed to enter a monastery.

Interpretation

Throughout Selassie’s long reign, no one could quite figure him out. Ethiopians like their leaders fierce, but Selassie, who wore the front of a gentle, peace-loving man, lasted longer than any of them. Never angry or impatient, he lured his victims with sweet smiles, lulling them with charm and obsequiousness before he attacked. In the case of Balcha, Selassie played on the man’s wariness, his suspicion that banquet was a trap-which in fact it was, but not the one he expected. Selassie’s way of allaying Balcha’s fears-letting him bring bodyguard to the banquet, giving him top billing there, making him feel in control-created a thick smoke screen, concealing the real action three miles away.

Remember: The paranoid and wary are often the easiest to deceive. Win their trust in one area and you have a smoke screen that blinds their view in another, letting you creep up and level with them with a devastating blow. A helpful or apparently honest gesture, or one that implies the other person’s superiority-these are perfect diversionary devices.

Properly set ups the smoke screen is a weapon of great power. It enabled the gentle Selassie to totally destroy his enemy, without firing a single bullet.

Do not underestimate the power of Tafari. He creeps
like a mouse but he has jaws like a lion.
Bacha of Sidamo’s last words before entering the monastery

Robert Greene & Joost Elffers

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