Chainsaw Diplomacy

Paul D. Windsor

"Chainsaw" Al Dunlap was in the news about a year ago for writing an unusual letter to the editor of a prominent U.S. business publication. For those who may not be familiar with American business personalities, Chainsaw Al is the CEO most recently of Sunbeam Corporation and has made his reputation in the U.S. business world as a turnaround specialist. If your company is struggling and being beaten by the competition, Chainsaw Al is the guy you bring in to put the company on the right path again. In addition to being the best at what he does, Chainsaw Al has a well-deserved reputation for engaging in a ruthless no-holds-barred pursuit of any goal he sets for himself or his company.

Chainsaw Al wrote his now infamous letter to the editor to deny rumors that he was preparing to accept an offer to become CEO of another U.S. corporation (Waste Management, Inc.). Such a public denial is not particularly unusual, even if the facts are true. Al Dunlap, however, sincerely wanted to stay at Sunbeam and wanted to publicly reassure Sunbeam stockholders that was the case. Consequently, Mr. Dunlap employed his trademark "Chainsaw" style to ensure that no one would have any doubts about whether he would ever be CEO of Waste Managment, Inc. In his letter to the editor, he publicly branded those executives of Waste Management who claimed to have communicated a job offer to him as liars and trashed the operation of Waste Managment, among other things, calling its Board of Directors (who would have had to approve his hiring) incompetent. All speculation about Chainsaw Al jumping to Waste Management ended abruptly after the publication of that letter.

Amusing story. What does it have to do with Diplomacy?

Virtually every single article ever written about press and diploming (including my own) repeatedly emphasizes the need to be polite, reasonable and respectful in all of your press, even press to your enemies. In the main, I am not suggesting otherwise and don't wish anyone to take what I am about to write as a license to be a jerk. A charming personality is still your best diplomatic weapon in 95% of situations. Just as I outlined in my article "Lawyer/Diplomat," I firmly believe in a rational approach and a polite tone.

There are times, however, when all of your best laid plans have gone astray. There are times when you need most to be heard by someone who is least inclined to listen. These are occasions that call for a more aggressive tone and style. Every once in a great while, the occasion calls for Chainsaw Diplomacy.

What Exactly Is Chainsaw Diplomacy?

Chainsaw Diplomacy is the press equivalent of bareknuckle fighting. It is press that is deliberately designed to be upsetting and unnerving to the recipient. After reading an effective Chainsaw dispatch, a potentate should be trembling. He should be thinking: "My God! I've got a madman on my hands!" Chainsaw press is irrational, demanding and/or intimidating. It should not even admit of the possibility of a reasonable reply. An effective piece of Chainsaw press should leave the recipient 100% certain that the letter writer is going to do exactly as he says. It's fundamental purpose is to deliver a message which cannot be ignored, even by the most suspicious, and usually with all of the subtlety of a black rose valentine.

That being said, let me also state what Chainsaw Diplomacy is not. It is not crude. Foul language has no place in any press, including Chainsaw press. It is not insulting -- threatening perhaps -- but not insulting. Name calling will not serve the purpose of getting your message across. It is not venting your spleen. Chainsaw press may be crafted to appear like an emotional outburst, but it never should be. It is a cool, calculated attempt to acheive by unreasonable statements, threats and demands, that which you were unable to acheive previously through reasonable negotiation.

What Situations Call For Chainsaw Diplomacy?

Chainsaw Diplomacy is called for if, and only if, you have exhausted all conventional means of effectively communicating with another power in the game, and you absolutely must be believed by that power on a specific point or points. Keep uppermost in your mind that the single, utilitarian purpose of press in Diplomacy is to communicate with the recipient. Never send a Chainsaw letter just because it makes you feel better to vent your emotions. Never send a chainsaw letter without knowing what reactions you wish to provoke. Send a Chainsaw letter because, like Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction", you have something you want to say and you will not be ignored.

Examples best serve to illustrate my point.

The Tale of the Truculent Turk

On one occasion in which I was a replacement player, I picked up a four SC Turkey that had units from all three bordering nations sitting adjacent to its home SCs: a Russian fleet in the Black Sea, an Austrian army in Bulgaria and an Italian fleet in Eastern Med. The Sultan had seen better days.

The situation over the rest of the board did not give great cause for optimism either. France had a large lead, as a Franco-German alliance had wiped out England just before I entered the game, but France had gotten all of the English goodies. Germany, however, was still loyal to France and was full out attacking Russia in the North. France had the leisure of maneuvering himself eastward against largely unguarded fronts on both his German and Italian borders. None of the AIRT powers had prospered in four years of warfare between them.

Initially, despite the dire looks of the position, negotiations with my immediate neighbors seemed to go well. Italy, who had previously ineffectively split his forces between attacking Austria and attacking Turkey, purported to agree with the notion that his interests were best served by turning to face France, now that England was gone. Russia had seemingly given up on the game and wasn't communicating with anyone. Austria, who apparently believed in the sincerity of the Italian truce, agreed to throw his weight into a determined A/T attack on Russia to take those centers before the German. The goal was to eliminate Russia and have A/I/T stalemate F/G.

The A/I/T alliance sounded good on paper, but things weren't working out the way I thought they should.

For one thing, though Italy had moved his fleet Eas-Ion, that fleet kept holding in Ion, while his other fleets and armies maneuvered indecisively. Italy's excuse was that he did not want to make France prematurely suspicious. Austria was throwing himself into the battle with Russia, but he would not discuss a split of SCs North of Sevastopol and he stubbornly refused to acknowledge all of my attempts to discuss moving his army away from Bulgaria, which continued to sit there though it could have been useful elsewhere.

For the first year after I joined the game, I made good progress against Russia (thanks to Austria's help), but the provinces to the West and North of me remained uncomfortably cluttered with my "allies" units. I made many attempts to address the situation in press to my allies. When my press was addressed at all (and much of it was ignored), only excuses about not wanting to "anger" F/G were offered up by A/I for their peculiar maneuvers. Naturally, I began to suspect that A/I were pursuing their own agenda to reduce the number of players at the board.

About a year after I joined the game, Russia went abandoned. It wasn't long before the replacement Czar confirmed (via forwarded press) the suspicions that I had not even voiced. Austria was plotting to stab me. Italy's useless maneuvers were largely the result of Austria, like Iago, whispering to Italy (who was playing the perfect Othello) that France and I were plotting against Italy. That accounted for Italy's indecisiveness. Austria was also offering the (patently false) hope to the embattled Czar that Russia would be spared elimination by going along with stabbing me. Russia was offering me an alliance, but he was weak and I wasn't thrilled with that prospect. I wanted to take one last shot at getting Austria and Italy to go along with the A/I/T.

That's when I broke out the chainsaw.

Appropos of nothing, I sent a press addressed to France, Italy and Austria. In it, I informed France that his nefarious plot to convince Austria and Italy that I was out to get them had been uncovered. I accused him of engaging me in conversation soley for the purposes of forwarding doctored press to my allies and other low manipulations and lies. I told France that this was the last press he would recieve from me as that I no longer had time or energy for any other goal in the game than his destruction. Like Chainsaw Al, I very publicly burned that bridge in order to demonstrate my loyalty to my current allies.

The reaction of my two "allies" was quite instructive. Italy was amused. He was also reassured by my gesture and ready to press forward with the A/I/T. Austria, on the other hand, was furious. Further exchanges with Austria went nowhere. I had upset his plan to eliminate me and now he wanted to pout and punish me. My chainsaw press had done exactly what it was supposed to do. It showed me who my real friends were. In the immediate aftermath of the chainsaw press, I arranged a stab of Austria with Russia, Italy joined in the fray, and Austria was quickly eliminated.

Unfortunately, the story does not have a happy ending. France eventually won the game as Germany continued to war uselessly with Russia and allowed himself to be steamrolled by France, while Italy never did regain enough faith in me to allow for joint I/T fleet maneuvers in the Med. I did take some solace in knowing that I had taken the Turkish position from the brink of elimination at the hands of A/I/R to the most powerful of the four Eastern powers in two years and had also seen the Austrian who plotted against me eliminated from the game.

The Fable of the Fulsome Frenchman

I was playing France in a game where I quickly ran out of options. The pre-game Diplomacy had seemed to go well as England quickly agreed to DMZ the Channel and Germany professed no interest in early hostilities (though he also professed no interest in early alliances). Unfortunately, the Spring '01 orders revealed that I had come under direct attack by England and Germany. England had breached his Free Channel bargain, and was sitting in the Channel owing to my order of F Bre-Mid. Germany had also ordered A Mun-Bur, but I was sitting in Bur, having supported myself there. [I had been warned of Germany's hostile intent by Italy, whom I trusted.] The only break I got (apart from Italian friendship) was that Russia had ordered A Mos-StP. The Czar's apparent intent to dominate Scandanavia early would be a welcome lever for me to use in counterbalancing the E/G attack.

After the Spring '01 move report, I immediately sent inquiring dispatches to both England and Germany. In both letters, I tried to reason with each player, offering to be a junior partner in an alliance if they would just turn from their course in the Fall. In each note I was certain to raise the spectre of a Russia in complete control of Scandanavia after 1902 and what dread that held for even a united E/G. Germany responded with a polite letter telling me, in essence, "My course is set." Germany hinted he might spare me somewere down the line, but not for a year or two. Dismayed, I waited for the English response . . . and waited. I sent him a follow-up, "Did you get my first note?" Nothing.

Alright then. Time to look at tactics. The reality is that in order to properly resist the E/G attack, with England already in the Channel in Spring '01, France must build a fleet in Brest. It's also true that when faced with an E/G alliance, France can expect an enemy army to land in Belgium quite quickly. France will very likely lose Burgundy no later than the Fall of '02 unless he builds an army in Paris or Marseilles at the end of '01. Conclusion: if I ever want to stand on my own two feet in this game, I better get two builds in '01. Consequently, I must order F Mid-Por and find some way to convince the Englishman not to capture Brest.

The first option I considered was a ruse: get another power to deliver a message to England that would convince him not to attempt Brest because I was ordering F Mid-Bre. The problem with that strategy was that I only trusted Italy with such a task and neither Italy nor myself could think of any particularly convincing reason why Italy would tell England or Germany that. I wanted a higher probability of success than that. I had to talk to England myself. I re-examined the press I'd sent England to date and was dismayed all over again. I really had made my best rational arguments against attacking me and he hadn't even responded. Would England buy any form of logic calculated to keep him out of Brest? I couldn't think that he would.

That's when I decided to reach for the chainsaw.

The one goal of my chainsaw press was to convince England to do anything other than move or convoy to Brest. I decided that the most straightforward way to do that was to tell England that I was going to cover Brest by ordering F Mid-Bre. England had to be convinced that this was no mere bluff. England would have to be given no choice but to believe what I said.

When I began to compose the letter to England, I completely changed my tone and style. I decided the letter should be angry. England had, first, stabbed me, then ignored me. How dare he! The tone of anger was not bitter, though. It was high-handed, pompous, arrogant, and expansive. I told England that I accepted the fact that I was going to be eliminated in this game and that, as far as I was concerned, his treachery was completely to blame. I very haughtily explained to England that jumping into the Channel was a "beginner's mistake" and that I intended to teach him a lesson by ensuring that he would never profit from his mistake. I then went about explaining to England exactly how I was going to bring him down with me, as that was going to be my version of justice.

The first thing that I told England I was going to do was order F Mid-Bre and A Bur-Bel. This, I informed him, was to ensure that he could not capture these SCs himself. I then pointed out to him that Russia was surely going to bump him out of Norway with his army in St Pete, while Germany was going to sit on Holland and Denmark. I then told England that I had good intelligence that Germany would not support England into Belgium under any circumstances (a half truth, based on Germany's press). "No builds for you this year!" I crowed (actually, I turned that statement into an annoying chant that I repeated several times throughout the letter).

The next thing I told England was that, naturally, I couldn't fight a two-front war. Therefore, I was only going to defend one front: the English front. Burgundy, Paris, and Marseilles would be an open runway for German armies while I defended Picardy, Brest, Gascony and Iberia from all of his attempted incursions. "No builds for you next year eithe,r" I informed him, "unless you can beggar one from Germany." Meanwhile, I informed him, he could watch the Russian build fleets and sail into Edinburgh, unless the German stabbed him first.

This piece of chainsaw press went on at length, about three and a half pages in all. When I sent it, I also sent it to Germany, to reinforce the idea to England that my threats were real. I then ordered F Mid-Por, A Mar-Spa, A Bur Holds and held my breath.

When the move report come out, I discovered that England convoyed his army to Belgium, with German support. Brest was safe and I had two builds for a fleet in Brest and an army in Paris. Germany sent me the following note, almost immediately after the move report came out: "You king-sized liar! Well, where do we go from here?" Germany recognized my chainsaw press as a calculated strategy and was impressed enough to be ready to switch sides, which he eventually did.

What I found out from the German was that until I sent my chainsaw letter, England was set to attempt the convoy to Brest. England's reaction to my letter, however, was full-bore panic. After he got my letter, he immediately told the German that he was convoying to Belgium and demanded to be supported there or the alliance was off. Germany complied, but he wasn't happy in the least with his English ally after that. England, meanwhile, was quite sheepish after the move report. As a result, he was remarkably easy for Germany and me to stab.

This story has a happy ending, as I eventually went on to win the game. I couldn't have done it without my trusty chainsaw.

The Report Regarding the Raving Russian

Sometimes chainsaw press can backfire. I was Russia in a game where a Western Triple formed and I was being quickly hacked to pieces. Conventional methods of breaking up the Triple weren't working, so I broke out the chainsaw and went to work on the German. It looked like it was working, too, until . . .

The Master sent a broadcast, reminding players that impoliteness and intemperate tone had no place in Diplomacy and that he would ensure that anyone violating these mores would face grevious penalties. The Master didn't name names, but the German and I knew who he meant. I quickly apologized to Germany (though he had not asked for one from me) and told him that I did not mean to offend and felt that I was within the boundaries of the game with my press. Germany, for his part, replied that he had taken no offense from our spirited exchange and emphasized that he had not sought intervention from the Master. So, everything was cool.

Unfortunately, the spell was broken. Germany breezily informed me that he was simply going to continue with the Triple and que sera, sera. Total failure.

I tell this story as a cautionary tale. Break out the chainsaw at your own risk. There's no telling who you'll offend, but the penalty for that offense will almost certainly be death (and I am not even speaking of offending the Master). Chainsaw press is truly the last resort of the desperate dipper. I generally save it for when I feel I've got nothing left to lose.

Could Chainsaw Press Ever be an Appropriate Long Term Strategy?

It can. I've seen it happen.

I was an Observer once in a game eventually won by Italy. Interestingly, Italy began the game by ordering A Ven-Pie, A Rom-Ven and threating both France and Austria with attacks in his press. Italy's style throughout the game was to threaten, taunt, or cajole his fellow players. He never had an alliance that we might recognize as such. Yet, he won.

In his EOG, the Italian player stated that his theory about playing Italy was that no one really wants to deal with the Italian in the first few years. France is happy to ignore him as long as he stays out of Piedmont. Austria encourages him to play for a Lepanto, but that's usually just the Archduke's way of saying, "go away for a couple of years, okay?" Turkey is inevitably inclined to think of his interests as hostile to Italy. Everybody wants Italy's pledge of friendship, but no one wants to invite him to the party. Consequently, this player had decided to experiment with playing Italy through extortion. His modus operandi was going to be: stab first and ask for negotiations later.

Strange to say that, on this occasion at least, it worked. Italy, at the point of a sword, wrested some serious concessions from both Austria and France. Italy then proceeded to mercilessly stab Austria. When Turkish fleets threatened Italian shores, Italy demanded, and got, help from France against the Turk based on their earlier negotiations. The threat from Turkey receeded and Italy unhesitatingly stabbed France. And on it went until an eventual Italian victory.

Only with respect to Italy, perhaps, could one make the case for a sustained chainsaw style. From the beginning, the Italian position is viewed as weakest and his negotiation leverage suffers proportionately. The Italian player, therefore, might be tempted by the buzz of the chainsaw sooner, rather than later. Still, anyone who takes that route is more stouthearted than I. I've always used the chainsaw sparingly and reluctantly. I can't imagine how I'd sustain it over the course of a game.

A Final Warning

Chainsaw Al is back in the news again. He was recently fired from his job at Sunbeam. The reason given was that the company did not believe that his tactics as a turnaround artist could lead a company that needed a plan for new growth. In that respect, Chainsaw Al suffered more or less the same fate as the Truculent Turk. His tactic saved the project in the short term, but didn't inspire confidence in the long term.

It's also worth noting that Chainsaw Al is also the target of an investigation into his conduct at Sunbeam, with some allegations of even criminal charges being brought. There's no telling how many enemies a man with a chainsaw has really made or how far they'll go to seek their revenge. Never fire up that chainsaw unless you're prepared to face the consequences.

Paul Windsor


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