THE ART OF WAR
Probably 6th century B.C.E.
Sun Tzu's Art of War is still studied in military academies around the world, including the US military academies (USMA, USNA, and USAFA), and it is taught in business schools and law schools as a manual on how to get ahead of the competition. While scholars argue about when Sun Tzu lived (or whether he was using an older text, or even whether someone named Sun Tzu existed), the ipact that the wrok has had in undeniable. The work is both amilitary treatise and a philosophical argument about the nature of humanity. Unlike previous strategists, "Sun-Tzu had no patience with the protracted games generals seemed to enjoy playing with each other. Once hostilities had erupted, one's priority was to defeat the enemy, not indulge oneself in chivalry which could only prolong the conflict and cost more lives." (Mark)
In Confucian thinking, everyone has an assigned place in society, with strict expectations for behavior that could potentially limit creative/unusual responses. Sun Tzu's approach to warfare is Daoist in nature, rather than Confucian "by adapting oneself to one's situation, rather than rigidly holding fast to how one thinks things should be, one is able to recognize the fluidity of conditions and act upon them decisively." (Mark)
It is therefore Sun Tzu's skill as a Daoist philosopher that guides the work and provides the reader with an insightful view of human nature.
Written by Laura J. Getty
THE ART OF WAR
License: Public Domain
Sun Tzu, Translated by Lionel Giles
Ssu-ma Ch'ien gives the following biography of Sun Tzu:
Sun Tzu Wu was a native of the Ch'i State. His ART OF WAR brought him to the notice of Ho Lu, King of Wu. Ho Lu said to him: "I have carefully perused your 13 chapters. May I submit your theory of managing soldiers to a slight test?"
Sun Tzu replied: "You may."
Ho Lu asked: "May the test be applied to women?"
The answer was again in the affirmative, aso arrangements were made to bring 180 ladies out of the palace. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies, and placed one of the King's favorite concubines at the head of each. He then bade them all take spears in their hands, and addressed them thus: "I presume you know the difference between front and back, right hand and left hand?"
The girls replied: "Yes."
Sun Tzu went on: "When I say 'Eyes front,' you must look straight ahead. When I say 'Left turn,' you must face towards your left hand. When I say 'Right turn,' you must face towards your right hand. When I say 'About turn,' you must face right round towards your back."
Again the girls assented. The words of command having been thus explained, he set up the halberds and battle-axes in order to begin the drill. Then, to the sound of drums, he gave the order "Right turn." But the girls only burst out laughing. Sun Tzu said: "If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame."
So he started drilling them again, and this time gave the order "Left turn," whereupon the girls once more burst into fits of laughter. Sun Tzu: "If words of comman are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if he orders ARE clear, and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers."
So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies to be beheaded. Now the king of Wu was watching the scene from the top of a raised pavilion; and when he saw that his favorite concubines were about to be executed, he was greatly alarmed and hurriedly sent down the following message: "We are now quite satisfied as to our general's ability to handle troops. If We are bereft of these two concubines, our meat and drink will lose their savor. It is our wish that they shall not beheaded."
Sun Tzu replied: "Having once received His Majesty's commission to be the general of his forces, there are certain commands of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity, I am unable to accept."
Accordingly, he had the two leaders beheaded, and straightway installed the pair next in order as leaders in their place. When this had been done, the drum was sounded for the drill once more; and the girls went through all the evolutions, turning to the right or to the left, marching ahead or wheeling back, kneeling or standing, with perfect accuracy and precision, not venturing to utter a sound. Then Sun Tzu sent a messenger to the King saying: "Your soldiers, Sire, are now properly drilled and disciplined, and ready for your majesty's inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign may desire; bid them go through fire and water, and they will not disobey."
But the King replied: "Let our general cease drilling and return to camp. As for us, We have no wish to come down and inspect the troops."
Thereupon Sun Tzu said: "The King is only fond of words, and cannot translate them into deeds."
After that, Ho Lu saw that Sun Tzu was one who knew how to handle an army, and finally appointed him general. In the west, he defeated the Ch'u State and forced his way into Ying, the capital; to the north he put fear into the States of Ch'i and Chin, and spread his fame abroad amongst the feudal princes. And Sun Tzu shared in the might of the King.
I. Laying Plans
- Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State.
- It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.
- 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.
- These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and Discipline.
- 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.
- HEAVEN signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.
- EARTH comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes, the chances of life and death.
- The COMMANDER stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity; benevolence, courage, and strictness.
- 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.
- These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fall.
- Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:—
- (1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law? (2) Which of the two generals has most ability? (3) With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth? (4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced? (5) Which army is stronger? (6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained? (7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?
- By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory oir defeat.
- The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer:—let such a one be retained in command! The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat:—let such a one be dismissed!
- While heading the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.
- According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one's plans.
- All warfare is based on deception.
- Hence, when able 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.
- Hold out baits that entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
- If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.
- If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
- If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them.
- Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
- These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.
- Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.
II. Waging War
- Sun Tzu said: In the operations of war, where there are in the field a thousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots, and a hundred thousand mail-clad soldiers with provisions enough to carry them a thousand LI the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor, will reach the total of a thousand onces of silver per day. Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.
- 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.
- Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.
- 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 aver the consequences that must ensue.
- Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.
- There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.
- It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.
- The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his supply-wagons loaded more than twice.
- Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy. Thus the army will have food enough for its needs.
- Poverty of the State exchequer causes an army to be maintained by contributions from a distance. Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished.
- On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes prices to go up; and high prices cause the people's substance to be drained away.
- When their substance is drained away, the peasantry will be afflicted by heavy exactions.
- With this loss of substance and exhaustion of strength, the homes of the people will be stripped bare, and three-tenths of their income will be dissipated
- while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.
- Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to twenty of one's own, and likewise a single PICUL of his provender is equivalent to twenty from one's own store.
- 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.
- Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more chariots have been taken, those should be rewarded who took the first. Our own flags should be substituted for those of the enemy, and the chariots mingled and used in conjunction with ours. The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept.
- This is called, using the conquered foe to augment one's own strength.
- In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.
- Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of the people's fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall be in peace or in peril.
III. Attack by Stratagem
Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.
- Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
- Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
- The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possible be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more.
- The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege.
- Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.
- With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.
- It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy's one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.
- If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.
- Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force.
- 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.
- There are three ways in which a ruler can bring mistfortune upon his army:—
- (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.
- (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 soldier's minds.
- (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.
- But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure to come from the other feudal princes. This is simply bringing anarchy into the army, and flinging victory away.
- 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.
- Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
IV. Tatical Dispositions
- 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.
- To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.
- Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.
- Hence the saying: One may KNOW how to conquer without being able to DO it.
- Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.
- Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength.
- The general who is skilled in defense hides in the most secret recesses of the earth; he who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven. Thus on the one hand we have ability to protect ourselves; on the other, a victory that is complete.
- To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence.
- Neither is it the acme of excellence if you fight and conquer and the whole Empire says, "Well done!"
- To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.
- What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.
- Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.
- He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.
- Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.
- Thus it is that in war that victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.
- The consummate leader cultivates the moral law and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success.
- In respect of military method, we have, firstly, Measurement; secondly, Estimation of quantity; thirdly, Calculation; fourthly, Balancing of chances; fifthly, Victory.
- Measurement owes its existence to Earth; Estimation of quantity to Measurement; Calculation to Estimation of quantity; Balancing of chances to Calculation; and Victory to Balancing of chances.
- A victorious army opposed to a routed one, is as a pound's weight placed in the scale against a single grain.
- The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep.
VI. Weak Points and Strong
- Sun Tzu said: Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.
- Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him.
- By holding out advantages to him, he can cause the enemy to approach of his own accord; or, by inflicting damage, he can make it impossible for the enemy to draw near.
- If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him; if well supplied with food, he can starve him out; if quietly encamped, he can force him to more.
- Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected.
- An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through country where the enemy is not.
- You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.
- Hence the general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.
- O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy's fate in our hand.
- You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy's weak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your movements are more rapid than those of the enemy.
- If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch. All we need do is attack some other place that he will be obliged to relieve.
- If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy from engaging us even though the lines of our encampment be merely traced out on the ground. All we need do is to throw something odd and unaccountable in his way.
- By discovering the enemy's dispositions and remaining invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated while the enemy's must be divided.
- We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a while, which means that we shall be many to the enemy's few.
- And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits.
- The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few.
- For should the enemy strength his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strength his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strength his left, he will weaken his right; should he strength his right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.
- Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparations against us.
- Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight.
- But if neither time nor place be known, then the left wing will be impotent to succor the right, the right equally impotent to succor the left, the van unable to relieve the rear, or the rear to support the van. How much more so if the furthest portions of the army are anything under a hundred LI apart, and event the nearest are separated by several LI!
- Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yueh exceed our own in number, that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory. I say then that victory can be achieved.
- Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting. Scheme so as to discover his plans and the likelihood of their success.
- Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.
- Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.
- In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, form the machinations of the wisest brains.
- How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy's own tactics—that is what the multitude cannot comprehend.
- All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.
- Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.
- Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.
- So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
- Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.
- Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.
- He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.
- The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth) are not always equally predominant; the four seasons make way for each other in turn. There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning and waxing.