Friday, March 9, 2012

Principles versus Tactics

In order to know what you want to do (or are willing to do) in a given situation, you need to know which aspects of your strategy for doing it are absolutely non-negotiable, and which aspects are subject to flexibility.  Which aspects are you not willing to compromise?  And which aspects will you have to adapt to your abilities, resources, and practicality?  Ask any "sheepdog" about their willingness to step up and help others, and he or she will tell you that there are just certain things in our lives that are non-negotiable. 

One of the important things I have learned in my recent tactical firearms skills training at Makhaira Group is the concept of principles versus tactics.  A principle, as our instructor drilled into us over and over, is something that you are absolutely not willing to negotiate.  It is the “what” of your belief system. Tactics, on the other hand, are the “how” of your strategy to adhere to that belief system, the specifics of which may vary from time to time, but they still enable you to adhere to your principles.  These are the “enabling objectives,” if you will.  

The fact that I must eat to survive is an example of a principle.  But when I go to the cafeteria to eat, I am free to pick and choose what specific items I want to eat at that particular time.  But there is no more appropriate a place to discuss principles and tactics, in my opinion, than in the realm of self-defense and the defense of your family and others.


an accepted or professed rule of action or conduct: a person of good moral principles.
a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived.

fundamental doctrine or tenet; a distinctive ruling opinion

a personal or specific basis of conduct or management: to adhere to one's principles.

sense of the requirements and obligations of right conduct


a plan, procedure, or expedient for promoting a desired end or result.

Here’s an example of a self-defense principle and its accompanying tactics:

Principle:  I will provide multiple layers of protection for my home and family against criminal invasions.

Tactics: An alarm system, a big dog, strong door locking hardware, and firearms in the hands of a proficient home owner, are all things that I might employ to provide my home protection.

Explanation:  The fact that I will protect my home and my family from criminal invasion or attack is not open for discussion.  It is non-negotiable.  And I don’t care what any one else's opinion is about whether or not I should be doing this.  But how I do it is a matter of which tools I wish to employ, and may be based on my personal preferences and/or the opinions and experiences of others.  

Let’s take the above tactics one at a time:  

The alarm system:  What if I don’t want, or can’t afford the alarm hardware and the monthly fees?  What if I am renting and the home owner will not allow me to install an alarm system on the premises? I can get simple alarm-like devices that make a loud noise when a door or window is opened, and mimics an alarm system.  I can post alarm signs in my yard that warn potential intruders that I have an alarm system installed.  The criminals don’t know the difference.  Criminals will select the easiest targets.  If your home offers even a hint of being more difficult to break into, they will move on to an easier target.  That psychological effect in and of itself is yet another tactic that I can employ.

The dog: What if I am allergic to dogs or just don’t want the responsibility?  What if my present dog is a small dog and I don’t want a larger one?  I can still put large dog bowls in plain view.  Anyone who looks in my windows sees a set of large dog bowls, but has no idea whether or not I have a dog, or what kind it is.  I can also get a motion detecting device that lets out a loud dog bark if anyone approaches the house. Again: criminals will select the easiest targets.  If your home offers even a hint of being more difficult to break into, they will move on to an easier target.

Door hardware: Do I use a deadbolt that requires a key on both sides, or one with a key-less knob on the inside? Do I also augment that with a hidden chain lock?  I didn’t say how many or what brand.  You can put 15 deadbolts on each side of your doors if you want.  But honestly, this is one place not to skimp.  Get good locks, install longer screws in the hinges and strike plates, and keep the doors locked at all times.  This is a simple tactic to employ.

Firearms: I may choose to use a shotgun for home defense today, but decide to use an AR-15 tomorrow.  Someone else may choose a handgun for their home defense.  I choose to keep my home defense firearms loaded all the time, but the state you live in may not allow that.  Your tactics for deploying will then be different.  But in choosing that a firearm is part of my tactics, I also know that the choices are virtually unlimited.

There are still other tactics not mentioned here that I can choose, or I may choose not to employ some of the above. But the important thing here is that you know what principles you are not willing to negotiate, and what tactics you select to meet those principles.  Principles helped found our country, and tactics helped win the wars.  Stick to your principles and don’t allow others to force you to compromise.