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Sun Tzu
about 500 B.C. China

Charles Scamahorn
© 1977


At the Capital

This study of evil and war is of vital importance to the peace of the world. Its subject is the life or death of entire peoples, and of the methods required for attaining the security or ruin of nations. It must never be neglected by a sovereign or his general. This study is modeled on five variable factors which must be controlled by the general and by seven deliberations which the sovereign must make when he seeks to foresee the conditions which will later prevail in the battlefield. The general must control:

(1) the moral law, (2) heaven, (3) earth, (4) leadership and (5) military organization.

(1) The moral law refers to the overwhelming of personal remorse. It causes a soldier to instantly obey his general.

(2) Heaven refers to the moment of the command decision, whether it is to be night or day, cold or hot, wet or dry.

(3) Earth refers to the securities against calamitous defeat when faced with distances great and small, marches dangerous and secure, narrow passes and open fields.

(4) Leadership refers to the commander's reputation for wisdom, sincerity, humanity, perseverance and strictness.

(5) Military organization refers to the grouping of the army into functional subdivisions, the granting of rank among the officers, the maintenance of communication within the army, the feeding of the army and the control of military expenses.

Those five subjects must be controlled by the general; if he masters them he may be victorious; if he doesn't he will be defeated. When the sovereign seeks to determine the military balance of power, he should compare the opposing states in the following way:

(1) Which of the two peoples is capable of the moral law?

(2) Which of the two generals has the greatest ability?

(3) Which has the advantageous gradients granted by heaven and earth?

(4) Which army is most rigorously disciplined?

(5) Which army is larger?

(6) Which army is most proficiently trained?

(7) Which army has the greatest justice in reward and punishment?

By weighing those seven deliberations one may anticipate victory or defeat.

A general who controls his factors and is able to act upon them will conquer; retain him in command! A general who doesn't understand those factors or one who isn't able to act upon them will bring your people defeat; he must be dismissed beforehand.

Heed and profit from these suggestions, but be prepared to make advantage of unexpected developments. When circumstances are favorable, modify your plans accordingly.

Statecraft is founded on Deception! Therefore when we intend to wage war on a foreign state we must seem unable; when preparing our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are advancing we must make the enemy believe we are withdrawing; when withdrawing we must make him believe we are advancing. Lay out baits to attract the enemy. Feign a flight so he will charge, then crush him in the prepared trap.

If he feels secure at all points, prepare for his immediate attack. If he has the advantages, temporize with him. If their general has a quick temper, seek to irritate him. Feign weakness, that he will become lax. If his army needs a rest, harass it. If his men are disunited scatter them. Attack them where they are unprepared. Surprise them where they are inattentive. Deception leads to victory and it must be used with utmost secrecy.

Now sir, the generals who won battles made many preparations at home before the battles were fought, and the generals who lost battles made few preparations beforehand. Thus we know that thorough preparations lead to victory, hasty preparations lead to defeat and no preparations at all lead to calamity. You may now see who is most likely to bring the world complete and bloodless victories.


The Expenses of War

In preparation for war thousands of pieces of expensive equipment will be needed and hundreds of thousands of fully equipped soldiers. Also provisions will be required for months away from home. The expenses while training the men and the money spent on manufacturing equipment will strain the resources of the state. The cost of raising a fighting army is enormous.

When engaged in actual combat: if victory is slow in coming, the weapons will wear out and the men's fiery enthusiasm will be extinguished. If you attack a fortified place you will consume your army's strength and if the campaign is prolonged the resources of the nation will be exhausted by the expenses. Think ahead now to when your weapons are worn out, your enthusiasm extinguished, your strength exhausted and your resources spent, how opportunists will spring up to exploit your difficulties. Then no man, however wise, can prevent the disasters that will come. We have often heard of stupid haste in beginning a war, but we have never heard of wisdom in prolonging a war. There is no example of a country having benefitted from protracting a war.

Only a general appreciating the expenses of war can utilize the cheapest methods of waging a war. The understanding general doesn't need a second draft of soldiers or additional equipment and food. He takes fighting equipment with him from home, then takes what else he needs from the enemy. In this way our army supplies equipment and food for its own needs.

If our army consumes the resources of the enemy their army will be forced to maintain itself by over-taxing their remaining people. And this additional taxation causes those people to become impoverished. Also the proximity of either army causes the prices in that area to go up and these high prices also devour those people's savings. When their savings are gone they will be afflicted with unpayable taxes. With the loss of their savings and exhaustion of their income, these people will become stripped bare and there will be hunger and disorder in the land. Because of these effects the understanding general makes a point of taking from the enemy. Thus the home treasury isn't used but the enemy's is drained; one's own people aren't taxed but the enemies are impoverished.

By our having access to the enemy's resources his people must bear the burden of supporting our army as well as their own. As a rule, one unit of the enemy's resources put to our use is equivalent to twenty brought from home.

Since good men will hesitate to kill and steal what belongs to others, we must arouse them to a righteous anger and reward them when they do these things for us. Therefore when ten or more pieces of equipment or men have been captured, those who took them must be given exemplary rewards. And when our army scavenges a countryside our men should be rewarded. When our army acquires new territories the soldiers should be given visible benefits. Place these men's insignia on the enemy's equipment and use the equipment to visibly reinforce our army. Captured men should be treated well and used for workers. Those are the methods of using the foe's resources to increase our own strength.

In war our objective must be prompt victory and not protracted hostilities. Make it known to the people that the general of their army is their dearest friend. He is the man on whom depends whether they and their nations shall have a quick and desirable peace or a prolonged and costly war.


Security Through Prudence

The ideal in war is to take a country whole and intact, for a divided and ravaged land has little value. It is better to take an army, division, squad, man, or a gem in perfect condition than to break them up and destroy them.

To fight and win every battle is not the acme of generalship. The acme is to subvert the enemy's strategy and nullify his ability to fight without fighting. Not so good is to fight his scattered army piecemeal. An even worse policy is to fight his unified army in the field. And the worst policy of all is to besiege an enemy in a fortified place.

Never besiege a fortified place if there is any conceivable way to avoid it. The preparation of the weapons needed for a siege is expensive, and preparing the siege area places your army in a precarious position for a long time. The general, unable to control external enemies, will be forced to launch his men to a surprise all-out frontal assault. The usual result is that many of his men are slain and the fortified place remains untaken.

The consummate general of old subdued the enemy without fighting, took their cities without sieges, overthrew their government without prolonged operations in the field. With his own forces intact and augmented with the conquered foes' captured resources, he acquired mastery of the land. Without losing a man, his victory was complete. Those were the benefits of attacking with diplomacy.

If our army is ten times more powerful than theirs we may surround them; when five times more powerful we may launch a frontal attack; when double their strength we should take a vital with a detachment; when equally matched only a superior general should engage a faction of their force; and if inferior in all respects, we must maintain the capability of eluding them. A small army may put up an obstinate fight but in the end it will be pushed aside by a larger army.

In the general resides the military security of the people. If he is complete in every way, the people will be safe, but if he is defective the people are in danger.

There are three ways a sovereign tends to disable his own general: (1) By commanding his general to advance or retreat, being unaware that the army is not able to obey his commands. This hobbles his own general.

(2) By his demanding the soldiers be governed with benevolence and righteousness as he administers the state, being ignorant of the expediency and flexibility necessary to control an army. This distracts the soldiers' minds from their general.

(3) By his granting rank to officers in his army based on their civil status and not with regard to their military ability. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers in their officers' leadership.

When the general is hobbled, or the mens' minds are distracted from him, or they lack confidence in their officers' leadership, trouble is sure to come from opportunists. For the sovereign to do any of those things is to force anarchy upon the army and throw victory away.

There are five essentials for security in a general:

(1) He will not lose who knows the time to fight and the times not to fight.

(2) He will not lose who knows how to cope with stronger and weaker forces.

(3) He will not lose whose army is animated by the spirit of necessity throughout all its parts.

(4) He will not lose who constantly prepares himself and makes the enemy unprepared.

(5) He will not lose who has military ability and isn't disabled by his sovereign .

Security against defeat lies in the application of those five points. Remember the saying, "If you know your self and know your enemy you can fight a hundred battles without disaster." If you don't know yourself but do know your enemy even victory will bring defeat. If you don't know your self and don't know your enemy every battle will bring disaster.


The Art of War by Sun Tzu; rendered by Charles Scamahorn

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