Art of War   by    Sun Tzu


The following quotes are from the translation of Sun Tzu’s work by Ralph D. Sawyer (Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado: 1994).  It is important that you appreciate how timeless this material is, as you will see that it has guided military campaigns for centuries.  It is timeless militarily, one could argue, because it is very insightful about the nature of human beings.  Sun Tzu was a master of observation.  When you read him, see how his wisdom applies not only to battles between armies but to battles between individuals as well.


Some background first: “By the second century B.C. China had already passed through a thousand years of almost unremitting conflict and had been brutally unified into a vast, powerful, imperially directed entity.  Along the way, skilled commanders appeared, and major battles were fought.  Campaigns became interminable, and the scale of destruction was immense, consuming both men and the thoughts they had committed to writing.  However, among the small number of military writings that survived until unification, there were six major ones, including Sun-tzu’s famous Art of War.  They continued to be studied and transmitted down through the centuries until the remnants were collected and edited in the Sung dynasty around twelve hundred years later.  Combined with T’ang dynasty work, they compose the Seven Military Classics, a compilation that comprised the orthodox foundations for military thought and the basis for the imperial examinations required for martial appointment” (pp. 13-14).


“Far from having vanished and being forgotten, these ancient Chinese military works have extensively influenced twentieth-century thought and are experiencing a new vitality in Asia.  Not only in the military realm---throughout the century they have been thoroughly studied in Japan and China---do they continue to be discussed, but also in the business and personal spheres their resurgence is particularly evident” (p. 15).


Why did everyone down through the ages for two thousand years study Sun-tzu?  Why did Napoleon study him?  “Sun-tzu repeatedly emphasizes the need for rationality and self-control, and stresses the vital necessity to avoid all engagements not based upon extensive, detailed analyses of the situation, the combat options, and one’s own capabilities” (p. 130).  “Sun-tzu stressed that warfare should not be undertaken unless the state is threatened.  Haste, fear of being labeled a coward, and personal emotions such as anger and hatred should never be permitted to adversely influence state and command decision making” (p. 131).


So now let us turn to the words of Sun-tzu:


“Warfare is the greatest affair of state, the basis of life and death, the Way (Tao) to survival or extinction.  It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed” (p. 167).


“Warfare is the Way (Tao) of deception.  Thus although you are capable, display incapability to them.  When committed to employing your forces, feign inactivity.  When your objective is nearby, make it appear as if distant; when faraway, create the illusion of being near” (p. 168).


“Thus the highest realization of warfare is to attack the enemy’s plans; next is to attack their fortified cities.


“Thus one who excels at employing the military subjugates other people’s armies without engaging in battle, captures other people’s fortified cities without attacking them, and destroys others people’s states without prolonged fighting.  He must fight under Heaven with the paramount aim of preservation.  Thus his weapons will not become dull, and the gains can be preserved.  This is the strategy for planning offensives” (p. 177).


“…one who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered in a hundred engagements.” One who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes be victorious, sometimes meet with defeat. One who knows neither the enemy nor himself will invariably be defeated in every engagement” (179).


“The location where we will engage the enemy must not become known to them.   If it is not known, then the positions they must prepare to defend will be numerous.  If the positions the enemy prepares to defend are numerous, then the forces we will engage will be few” (p. 192).


“In military combat what is most difficult is turning the circuitous into the straight, turning adversity into advantage” (p. 197).


In order await the disordered; in tranquility await the clamorous. This is the way to control the mind” (p. 199).


“If the Tao of Warfare indicates you will not be victorious, even though the ruler instructs you to engage in battle, not fighting is permissible.  Thus a general who does not advance to seek fame, nor fail to retreat to avoid being charged with the capital offense of retreating, but seeks only to preserve the people and gain advantage for the ruler is the state’s treasure” (pp. 214-215).


“Unless endangered do not engage in warfare.  The ruler cannot mobilize the army out of personal anger.  The general cannot engage in battle because of personal frustration.  Anger can revert to happiness, annoyance can revert to joy, but a vanquished state cannot be revived, the dead cannot be brought back to life” (p. 228).


How does all of the above relate to you?  How can you use this knowledge that is thousands of years old?  Yes, you can read it and see how your government is or is not using this wisdom in its military exploits.  This will provide you with insights about just how wise your government is or is not.  But, you can also apply this wisdom to your own personal behavior.  It relates to anger management.  It relates to decision-making.  It relates to how you use your mind to make the choices that will bring you success in life.