‘The Art of War- Sun Tzu” is a military classic that has important lessons in every area of our life provided we assume the right attitude. And what is the right attitude – life is not a game to be played and enjoyed but a war to be won. Your opponents are enemies that need to be ruthlessly eliminated by all means including direct confrontation and subterfuge.
In essence this classic teaches
- a staggering level of cunning and deception. The book even suggests deceiving your own men if required.
- the importance of moving rapidly.
- the importance of knowing your enemy, its intentions, strategy, weakness and strengths.
- the importance of understanding the ‘ground’ and varying your response. This term originally referred to the layout of the battleground but modern interpretations have extended this to mean evaluating your current situation.
Underlying the entire book is a sense of pragmatism. Sun Tzu is not hung up on blindly believing in positive outcome, a trait common in the west.
If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.
Make no mistake about it. This book is followed dearly by the Chinese even today both militarily and in business as Jawaharlal Nehru the Indian leader in the 60′s learnt this to his chagrin. Nehru was fooled into believing the Chinese could be trusted. He gave up India’s attempt for a permanent seat on the UN security council to appease the Chinese. He fell for the Indo – China friendship treaty and let his guard down. As a result when the Chinese invaded India in 1962 the Indians were completely routed. Nehru ended up in the disquieting position of crying on national TV after the invasion.
A key principle in the ‘Art of War’ is the importance of using the ground terrain to one’s advantage. True to the textbook the Chinese are building massive dams upstream on the rivers at the China -India border. All they have to do is raise the sluice gates and the hapless Indians would be wiped out from the lower plains.
While the ‘Art of War’ is a military text, it is not a textbook in the truest sense. Meaning it does not contain cut and dried instructions. This text would not have survived as a useful reference, one growing in popularity if it were not for the timeless and cunning strategies it so clearly articulates. The text itself warns against this:
Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.
Below are other key principles from this text:
Practice benevolence and justice, but on the other hand make full use of artifice and measures of expediency.
According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one’s plans.
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 a general is ignorant of the principle of adaptability, he must not be entrusted with a position of authority.” Tu Mu quotes: “The skillful employer of men will employ the wise man, the brave man, the covetous man, and the stupid man. For the wise man delights in establishing his merit, the brave man likes to show his courage in action, the covetous man is quick at seizing advantages, and the stupid man has no fear of death.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Conceal your dispositions, and your condition will remain secret, which leads to victory; show your dispositions, and your condition will become patent, which leads to defeat.
He who only sees the obvious, wins his battles with difficulty; he who looks below the surface of things, wins with ease.
When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home.
Never venture, never win.
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