Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Art of War, Sun Tzu

The translation I read, which is cited below, was done in 1910 by Lionel Giles.  The actual text is 45 pages long and divided into 13 “chapters”.  These chapters contain a total of 389 verses.  The book was far shorter than I had imagined, in light of its fame and impact.  Also it is usually sold in book stores in volumes containing extensive commentary.  

From the 389 “verses” I chose the following 40 without considering commentary or providing specific comments other than the bolded topic phrase before each quote. 

In general, I will note that the advice seems to be equally applicable to leading an army, a nation, a company, a scout camp, or a classroom.  I have double stared (**) the two “verses” I thought most powerful.

I. Laying Plans

1. Importance of war to the state:  1. Sun Tzu said: the art of war is of vital importance to the State.   p. 7

2.  The five constant factors of war: “3. The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.  4. These are : (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven: (3) Earth; (4) The Commander, (5) Method and discipline. 5, 6. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger. 7. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.  8. Earth comprises distance, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances f life and death.   9. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness.  10. By Method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling  of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.” p. 7

3. Deception: “18. All warfare is based on deception.  19. Hence, when ale to attack, we  must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”  p. 8

4. Guerrilla war: “21. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him.  If he is in superior strength, evade him.”  p. 8

II. Waging War

5. On the danger of protracted war:  “2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped.  If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.  3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.  4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity.  Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.  5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.  6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”  p. 10

6. How to motivate men to fight:  “Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards.”  p. 11

7. Prisoners of war:  “17. . . The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept.”  p. 12

8. One must fight of VICTORY:  “19. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.” p. 12

III. Attack by Stratagem

9. Breaking resistance better than winning battles:  “2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”  p. 13 

10. Victory without battle; think Epaminondas, Claudius, Sherman, Patton, and MacArthur:  “6. Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures cities without laying siege to them, he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.”  p. 14

11. Importance of the General:  “11. Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak.”  p. 14

12. Bad ruler brings misfortune – think Obama:  “12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army:- 13. (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey.  This is called hobbling the army.  14. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army.  This causes restlessness in the soldier’s minds.”  15. (3) By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances.  This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.”  p. 14

13. Five essentials for victory:  “17. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.  (2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.  (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.  (4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.  (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.  Victory lies in the knowledge of these five points.”  p. 15

IV. Tactical Dispositions

14. Peace through Strength:  “1. Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.”  p. 16

15. Overwhelming military superiority – the Powel Doctrine:  “14. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.”  p. 17

16. Key tactics:  “16. The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success.”  p. 17  

V. Energy

17. All music for few (five?) notes; all colors from few (five?) primary colors:  “7. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.  8. There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever  been seen.”  pp. 18-19

18. Let nothing be as it seems:  “17. Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline, simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength.  18. Hiding order beneath the cloak of disorder is simply a question of subdivision; concealing courage under a show if timidity presupposes a fund of latent energy; masking strength with weakness is to be effected by tactical dispositions.”  p. 19

VI. Weak Points and Strong

19. Don’t repeat tactics:  “Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulat4d by the infinite variety of circumstances.”  p. 23

VII. Maneuvering

20. Know the area – have a guide:  “13. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country—its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.  14. We shall be unable to turn natural advantage to account unless we make use of local guides.”  p. 26

21. On signaling:  “23. The Book of Army Management says: On the field of battle, the spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution of gongs and drums.  Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough: hence the institution of banners and flags.  24. Gongs and drums, banners and flags, are means where by the ears and eyes of the host may be focused on one particular point.”  p. 27

VIII. Variation in Tactics:

 22. Don’ts:  “3. There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must be not attacked, towns which must not be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.  p. 29

23.  Five Flaws in a General:  “There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general:  (1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction: (2) cowardice, which leads to capture; (3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults; (4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame; (5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.”  p. 30

IX. The Army on the March

24. Where to camp – where not to fight:  “2. Camp in high places, facing the sun.  Do not climb heights in order to fight.  So much for mountain warfare.”  p.31

25. Judging the enemies demeanor:  “38. When envoys are sent with compliments in their mouths ,it is a sign that the enemy wishes for a truce.”   p. 34

26. Don’t underestimate your enemy:  “41. He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.”  p. 34

*27. On discipline:  “42. If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be practically useless.  If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless.  43. Therefore soldiers must be treated in the first instance with humanity but kept under control by means of iron discipline.  This is a certain road to victory.  44. If in training soldiers commands are habitually enforced, the army will be well-disciplined; if not, its discipline will be bad.  45. If a general shows confidence in his men but always insists on his orders being obeyed, the gain will be mutual. ” pp. 34-35

X. Terrain

28. Balance between leaders and followers: “16. When the common soldiers are too strong and their officers too weak, the result is insubordination.  When the officers are too strong and the common soldiers are too weak, the result is collapse.  p. 37

 30. The general must be strong:  “18. When the general is weak and without authority; when his orders are not clear and distinct; when there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men, and the ranks are formed in a slovenly haphazard manner, the result is utter disorganization.”  p. 38

31. On challenging the ruler:  “23. If fighting is sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even though the ruler forbid it; if fighting will not result in victory, then you must not fight even at the ruler’s bidding.”  p. 38

**32. How to treat the crew:  “25. Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.  26. If, however you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must e likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.”  pp.  38-39

XI. The Nine Situations

33. Keep the “army” busy:  “22. Carefully study the well-being of your men, and do not overtax them.  Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength.  Keep your army continually on the move, and devise unfathomable plans.”  P 42

34. Advantage of desperation:  “24. Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear.  If there is no place of refuge, they will stand firm.  If they are in the heart of hostile country, they will show a stubborn front.  If there is no help for it, they will fight hard.” p. 42

35. No Omens:  “26. Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with superstitious doubts. Ten, until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared.”  p. 42

36. The standard of Courage:  “32. The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard of courage which all must reach.”  p. 43

37. Burn the boats:  “38. At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him.  He carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand.  39. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots; like a shepherd driving a flock of sheep, he drives his men this way and that, and nothing know whither he is going.”   Pp. 43-44

38. Give “them” the challenge:  “58. Place your army in deadly peril, and it will survive; plunge it into desperate straits, and it will come off in safety.  59. For it is precisely when a force has fallen into harm’s way that is capable of striking a blow for victory.”  pp. 45-46

XII. The Attack by Fire

39. Plan ahead:  “16. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.”  p. 48

40. Caution:  “17. Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.”  p. 48

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