Professor of war – Sun Tzu
Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.
The other day I went randomly browsing the inventory of the local old book shop, only to be frozen stiff by my discovery of a true immortal classic, Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” – the moment got engraved in my mind and I felt a level up in my search skill. No martini could quench my thirst like this small gem, made out of old, yellow yet quaint paper instead of various minerals that glister for the rich.
Lord Sun is an elusive figure, with his past obscure for the most part. The widely accepted thesis says that his birthplace was the state of Wu, yet other sources pinpoint at the Qi state. His birthplace is maybe a mystery, but the times that he lived are known in detail: utter chaos, death and volatile relationships between various states shaped the lives of the many, including Sun. Sun, like most of his fellow countrymen, had little choice in the matter – either become a robber or a soldier. As a member of the landless aristocracy, his choice was both obvious and candid: put on your armor, take the halberd and march forward as a soldier.
Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate. (Sun Tzu)
Despite his exploits that are still waiting “moderation” from “modern” historians, Sun Tzu’s greatest achievement is his view on the military tactic that is recorded in his greatest work. Sun Tzu was a pragmatic man, well aware of the lack of successful military and tactic doctrines on both state and personal level. His work clearly states that the purpose of a victorious and genius strategy is to make you invincible. This should be done by any means necessary, including deceptions and cunning. To Sun, ideals and morals are something that could be bent in order to achieve the greater good.
Greater good as defined by Sun Tzu:
- Preserving the lives of soldiers, that were of low social standing and usually were nothing more than cannon fodder.
- Protecting the innocent that haven’t took part in the war, but always suffered the most.
- Superior discipline and effectiveness through drills and education.
- Effective use of military ordnance and supplies.
- Winning without a fight.
It could be said that I read the book in a single breath, simply astonished by the wisdom sown into these pages that are in front of me. There are several thoughts that are still lingering in my mind, impinging my everyday life. The thrill came with his emphasis on the victory without bloodshed – something that could be used today instead of wholesaling slaughter – during that ravaging only the innocent suffer. That’s very brave, right?
The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.
Some examples from the book of Sun Tzu:
- When Lord Sun states that it is far better to win without fighting, the message is clear. Do not lose nerves in negotiations, yet do not give in to the enemy. There are examples for this throughout the history, but I’ll mention one, that comes to mind: the Emperor August and his threats to Parthia with which he subdued their rebellious attitude.
- Strategy is based on deception – this is a nice one. During the first crusade, the knights used bushes tied to their horses to create an illusion of an entire army approaching, despite being rather small. This was enough to force the Saracens to retreat.
- Sun Tzu claims that valiant warriors eliminate the possibility of defeat and wait for the right opportunity to deliver the finishing blow to the enemy. We can see this practically employed during Hideyoshi’s castle sieges against the Mori clan and they were practically battles of attrition. Several weapons that included negotiations, flooding, assaults, cannons and surrender were the ones that brought victory.
Lord Sun was a man of many words – he stressed many virtues like loyalty, bravery and skill, but also added a few more like cunning, patience and love toward your fellow man. He maybe insisted on ranking and obedience, but he knew how to value each soldier and stimulate their bravery by using them as “actual” soldiers not like human targets that were set in front of the enemy, waiting for the “blessed” moment after which comes eternal silence.
Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.”
To summarize, Sun Tzu was ahead his time – a man of superior intellect and rational thinking that formed an entire doctrine that was in time spread across Asia with none of few oscillations. In Japan there are many examples of Sun’s teachings, despite some people’s arrogance to admit it, but don’t worry, today’s Japanese forgot Sun Tzu – it’s maybe for the best.
…..So lord Sun Tzu, shall we continue our conversation?……