Sun Tzu’s Art of War

27 May

I finally got around to reading Sun Tzu’s (soon-tsu) “Art of War”. It had been on my to-do list for quite some time. I was very impressed with his general strategy. It was very compassionate and full of empathy and concern for your fellow man, even the enemy. Here are some quick basic facts about this historic book for those of you unfamiliar with it:

Sun Tzu's Art of War on bamboo

Basic facts about Sun Tzu’s Art of War

  • Written during the 6th century BC
  • Sun Tzu was about 30 when he wrote it
  • Sun is a honorary title, meaning Master.
  • First english translation was not published until 1905
  • First accurate, complete copy of the ‘Art of War’ was not discovered until the 1970’s

Summary of what the ‘Art of War’ says

  • There are five factors in combat, whoever has the most advantages in these five factors is sure to win –

    • The Way – Who has the most compelling cause?
    • Heaven – Weather / General environment
    • Ground – Terrain
    • General – Leadership
    • Law – Discipline
  • There are Five Faults that lead to the capture or defeat of a General –
    • A general who is moral can be shamed
    • A general who is cowardly can be captured
    • A general who is quick-tempered can be insulted
    • A general who is reckless will be destroyed
    • A general who is concerned will not expose his men to danger
  • There are only two types of attack
    • Conventional attacks – always start a battle with this
    • Unconventional attacks – always end a battle with thus
  • In order of best to worst, it is best to –
    • Attack the enemies plans
    • Attack the enemies alliances
    • Attack the enemies Armies
    • The worst is to attack a walled city
  • Your goal in battle is NOT to destroy the enemy and his cities, your goal in battle is to render the enemy harmless.
  • It is always better to convert the enemy soldiers and people to your side than to destroy them
  • You must always, always, always have and use spies, especially double spies. You must treat your spies better than anyone else, even generals and high officials.
  • Never do battle on the enemies territory (one of the five factors, ground) without local guides. Even with local guides your enemy will have an enormous advantage. It is better to draw the enemy out by attacking anything he values the most. It is always better to do battle on the ground you choose than on the ground the enemy chooses.
  • Always be Formless. Never let the enemy see your full strength. If you are strong appear weak. If you are brave appear cowardly. If you are far appear near. If you are near appear far.
  • It is the height of excellence to win a battle without actually resorting to armed conflict with death and destruction. "the angry will be calm again, the sad will be happy again, but the dead cannot be brought back to live and that which is destroyed can never return the way it once was"
  • You should place your men as much as possible in high danger during an armed battle, men faced with certain death fight the hardest and bravest. This is why one of the five faults that leads to defeat in a General is concern.

Judging by all of this, it is easy to see why, for example, Hitler lost World War II. Hitler did the mistake of attacking a walled city, Russia/Stalingrad, on the enemy ground. Russia had the advantage in Ground, Heaven (winter weather they were used to and prepared for), The Way (they were defending their homeland and their families), and Law (very strict discipline) . Germany only had the advantage only in General, as they had experienced officers.

Sun Tzu basically advocated doing everything possible to make sure the enemy soldiers lost the will to fight. German soldiers freezing to death in the harsh Russian winter to take a country they personally, had little interest in defeating and occupying certainly made for Soldiers less willing to fight than their Russian enemy.

All of this is directly opposite to the idea I always had in my head that the best way to win a war is brute merciless force. Sure, you can win this way, but Sun Tzu felt it was far better in terms of financial and human cost to end a war with as little bloodshed as possible.

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7 Responses to “Sun Tzu’s Art of War”

  1. son_of_ottie May 27, 2008 at 3:55 pm #

    Sorry to change the topic for a moment but HOW did your AUDITION go?!?!

    • bboyneko May 27, 2008 at 6:37 pm #

      Good, they auditioned me for a verizon ad on the spot, and accepted me into Taylor Royall. We’ll see how everything goes from here 🙂

      • son_of_ottie May 27, 2008 at 6:51 pm #

        Awesome! Congratulations.

  2. dazz May 27, 2008 at 4:35 pm #

    Having a vastly outnumbering supply of troops being forced to advance or be shot from behind by their own CO’s probably helped, too.

    • bboyneko May 27, 2008 at 6:36 pm #

      Yes, remember what Sun Tzu said, soldiers fight bravest and hardest when they are in grave danger. When it’s fight or die, no option to flee. yay russia!

  3. miakaxevolved May 27, 2008 at 9:31 pm #

    I just got this book today 🙂 I’m eager to read it!

  4. asharak May 28, 2008 at 12:18 am #

    Agreed. I have a copy of this book myself.

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