Sun Tzu's The Art of War is the most famous work on military operations in ancient China. Being the oldest military treatise in the world, it is one of the greatest cultural legacies of the Chinese nation. Only the Prussian Clausewitz's On War may compare with it. But On War (Von Kriege) was written more than 2,000 years later. Therefore, Sun Tzu's The Art of War is a classic on military operations and the most influential in the world today.
In this well-known book, Sun Tzu puts forward many important principles in military operations. He says, "winning a victory and subduing the enemy without fighting is the highest excellence." War is not for slaughter; if you win without fighting, the way you can do so is the greatest military strategy, Sun Tzu in his book stresses, "To attack where the enemy is unprepared and hit when it is unexpected" is another wise observation." Military operations should aim at speedy victory and not prolonged campaigns." "Know both the enemy and yourself, you will fight a hundred battles without danger of defeat." All these principles are, unquestionably, significant even in military strategies in the world today.
The thirteen military essays in The Art of War form a systematic military work. Each essay discusses one problem, but thirteen essays constitute an organic whole, which can never be taken separately.
The Art of War actually discusses how to win, which is not limited to military operations. Its significance has been enlarged to many fields, such as commercial affairs, management, athletic competitions, etc. Everyone who reads it carefully may acquire the key to victory.
Sun Tzu said: What is war? It may be described as one of the most important affairs to the state. It is the ground* of death or life of both soldiers and people, and the way* that governs the survival or the ruin of the state. So we must deliberately examine and study it.
*way: in ancient Chinese language 'way' means law, principle, or reason.
Therefore we should analyse and compare the conditions of ourselves and an enemy from five factors in order to forecast if we will win before the beginning of war. The five factors are as follows: the first is way; the second, heaven; the third, earth; the fourth, generals or commanders, and the firth, law.
What is the way? The way may make the people in complete accord with their ruler in their goals and cause them to share weal and woe fearlessly during the war. What is the heaven? The heaven means day and night, cold and heat, and the sequence of the seasons.
What is the earth? The earth signifies whether the battleground is distant or near, whether the terrain is strategically difficult or secure, vast or narrow, and whether conditions are favourable or unfavourable to the chance of survival.
What is the general or commander? The general or commander may be one who is a high ranking military officer with five virtues: intelligence, trustworthiness, benevolence, courage, and sternness.
What is the law? The law refers to the military establishment, the assignment of officers at all levels, and the allocation and use of military supplies.
Whoever leads soldiers to fight must be familiar with the above-mentioned five factors. Only he who thoroughly understands them can win victory. If he is not well versed in these, he may be defeated. Therefore, in order to analyze and compare the conditions of the opposing sides according to a scheme to determine whether our side will win or not, the following questions should be asked:
Which ruler is the one who is popular with the people?
Which general is the one who has ability?
Which side has the more favourable climate and the advantageous terrain?
Whose discipline is more effective?
Which side possesses military superiority?
Which side has soldiers and officers that are better trained?
Whose system of rewards and punishments is fairer and clearer?
We may forecast the outcome of a battle if we have a careful consideration of them.
The general who adopts my schemes or stratagems will surely win while commanding at the front, and will surely retain his general's position. If he does not adopt my advice, he will certainly suffer defeat at the front, and will not keep his post.
The general, having paid attention to my useful schemes or stratagems, must establish his force which will help him realize his plan. What is force? It means that a general should formulate his tactics according to what is expedient.
Any military operation takes deception as its basic quality. A commander who is competent should pretend to be incompetent, he who is ready to use military force should pretend to delay his action; he whose troops draw near the enemy should make it seem as if his troops were still far away; and he whose troops are far away from the enemy should let the enemy believe he is drawing near. A good commander must offer a bait to allure the enemy who covets small advantages, capture the enemy when he is in disorder, take precautions against the enemy who has good preparation and substantial strength, evade for a time the enemy while he is strong, enrage the enemy who is hot-tempered, pretend to be weak in order to make the enemy arrogant or haughty, wear the enemy out if he has taken a good rest, set one party against another within the enemy if they are united. A commander must understand how to attack where the enemy is unprepared, and hit when it is unexpected. All the above-mentioned is the key to military victory, but it is never possible to formulate a fixed plan beforehand.
It gives a general greater advantage to win to make military decisions in the temple* even before fighting a battle, and less advantage if he makes no military decision in the temple before doing battle. He who plans and prepares carefully will find himself in a favourable position and win victory; he who does so carelessly will find himself in an unfavourable position and win no victory. How much worse off it is for those who do not prepare carefully at all. In this way, we can see clearly who may win and who may lose.
*make military decision in the temple: doing battle is a matter of vital importance to the nation, the generals must hold a ceremony for military actions and forecasting the outcome of war.
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