Burning The Bridges!!!


Studying wars, military conflicts has turned out to be important not just for armed forces but also for society and individuals, one such strategy is called “Burning the Bridges”

This strategy is quite old, perhaps it came into existence during 55 BC when Julius Caesar ordered his military to build two giant bridges across the Rhine River, these bridges were considered to be masterpieces by the standards of those times. They were mainly built with an intention of displaying the military might, instill the fear in the minds of Germanic tribes and made them submit to Caesar. However, the tribes assembled to resist Caesar, and it is said that Caesar, rather than risk this glorious achievement in a pitched battle with a fierce foe, decided that discretion was the better part of valor. His army returned across to the Rhine and burned both the bridges in order to restore peace.

This is one classic military strategy example, where the strategy and options of the enemies are reduced by burning own bridges(which is a very high level of commitment). In this case opposition knows that you can no longer retreat and hence the options to conquer are very limited or resource intensive to such an extent that they are not feasible.

However, Noble Laureate Thomas Schelling went further, He applied this strategy to individuals, to give an example, we all suffer from split personality and conflicts inside when it comes to certain situations. I’m sure each one of the readers would have experienced this. Lets take my example, It’s always good to burn calories, one “me” wants to get up early in the morning and wants to reach office early, desperately wants to lose some weight, wants to control sugar consumption, contrary to this, the other “me” wants to sleep, eat out, have big servings of chocolate ice cream everyday!!, hates exercise!! etc. Both these selves have their own valid reasons for doing whatever they wish to do.

In this conflict, what decides as to which “me” will win?

Schelling says, Winning in this case clearly depends on commitment of one of the sides, which other cannot match. In my case, where one me wants to sleep a little longer, the other one can retaliate saying, “what about the car that you sold?”, just to ensure that you walk everyday to the office, what about the money you spent in buying an expensive treadmill? So in this example, if i sell my car in order to force myself to walk, I’m burning my bridge (right now I m happy burning calories rather than bridges :-) )

This idea of Burning the Bridges is not new in East though, In Sufi traditions, the first step Murid (the disciple) has to follow the self-discipline taught by Murshid (the teacher) and is expected to “burn his bridges” which take him to world, he withdraws himself from the activities of the world and engages in meditation and remembrance of God. Gandhi ji was called Mahatma because he had left his personal life and committed himself towards the nationwide freedom movement, he is a symbol of Renunciation till date in India. Alexandrian School in Greece in 2nd century AD, under the influence of Indian thought, believed that Man has rational soul and animal soul, animal soul binds him with desires, and controlling these desires help him elevate his rational side, again Burning the bridge played an important role here. Taoism fundamentally believes in interdependence of all dualities. When we say good, we automatically create bad. So, everything has two aspects, one co-producing the other, and calls for a balance of both.

Though the phrase Burning the Bridge or point of no return had its origin in the battle fields, we can find that, it has applications in many fields and disciplines and certainly impacts a larger spectrum of people, more than the people in the battle field.  Most importantly, it has relevance for the people who are at war within in quest for something extraordinary!!


1) Decoding Reality: Universe as Quantum Information, Vlatko Vedral

2) Crossing the Rhine: UNRV History

3) World Religions THM-203, Dayalbagh Educational Institute, PG Diploma in Consciousness Studies

One Response to Burning The Bridges!!!

  1. Hi Anu,

    Check out ‘The Economics of Motivation’ on MyShareCafe.

    I like the way you linked buring of bridges to the spirituality of the seeker.

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