Sun Tzu - The Art of War

Topics: Battle, Military strategy, Sun Tzu Pages: 5 (1720 words) Published: October 25, 2002
Sun Tzu - The Art of War

A mysterious Chinese warrior philosopher compiled this book over 2,000 years ago. It was translated into English by an author named, Thomas Cleary, who holds a PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University. He is the translator of various works in Buddhist, Taoist, and I Ching studies.

It is still the most prestigious and influential book today for study by politicians and military strategists everywhere. The main theme of this book is to "To Win Without Fighting Is Best." It gets a large part of its background from the Taoist philosophy. Sun-Tzu concentrates on the political side with a set of guidelines on the operational level for the general to follow. Where the operational level is concerned, Sun-Tzu puts forth many principles on the operational and political level.

The Art of War spans about 13 chapters, taking up less than a hundred pages in its English translation. Sun-Tzu is a book of principles and maxims. When comparing the relative strengths of the offense and defensive positions, Sun-Tzu maintains that the defensive is the stronger position: "It is easier to hold ground than take it. It follows that the defense is easier than the attack, assuming both sides have equal means." Sun-Tzu also maintains this in his principles of what to attack: "worst of all is to besiege their city fortifications" and "For undefeatability, defend." It's understood that the defender has a greater incentive to fight then an army far from its own borders. It also states that the actual war itself must be left in the hands of the military leaders rather then the political leaders. As Sun-Tzu comments: "So a lord may harm the armies in three ways... By not knowing the armies' affairs yet interfering with the armies policies; the armies' warriors will be leery." Policy, of course, will not extend its influence to operational details. Political considerations do not determine the posting of guards or the employment of patrols. But they are more influential in the planning of war, of the campaign, and often of the battle.

Superiority of numbers admittedly is the most important factor in the outcome of an engagement... It thus follows that as many troops as possible should be brought into the engagement at the decisive point. Sun-Tzu as well cautions the general: "ten to one, beset them; five to one, attack them; double, divide them; equal, be able to battle against them; fewer, be able to evade them; weaker, be able to avoid them." So we see that war in its basest form, the battle, changes very little from one age to the next (although to remove much of the human element from it, as in the present, raises another question).

The main idea that pervades the work of Sun-Tzu on the political realm is the concept of deception and the dislike of actual war. This is clearly influenced by one of China's greatest philosophers, and a contemporary of Sun-Tzu's, Confucius. "Then achieving victory in every battle is not absolute perfection: neutralizing an adversary's forces without battle is absolute perfection." This is Sun-Tzu's basic concept of war. In the backdrop of the Warring States period of the Zhou period, this made sense. He maintained the maxim of knowing yourself and your enemy. He used a variety of tricks to keep the enemy off balance. These included everything from the diplomatic to the psychological. However, the greatest weapon in Sun-Tzu's arsenal was that of deception. Throughout his work, it seems that everything revolved around deception. He even goes on to devote an entire chapter to the use of spies. To Sun-Tzu, intelligence was the most important element that a political leader could posses if he could implement it wisely.

In ancient China, the long drawn out wars that were fought in the modern day could not have happened. A given state could not risk a protracted war for fear of attack from another state. Each state was usually wholly independent of itself and...
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