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The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Insights for warfare and generals with applications to many fields including leadership, management, psychology, business strategy, and politics.
My Favorite Quotes
- The general who loses a battle makes few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory and few calculations to defeat.
- If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of 100 battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
- The power of estimating the adversary, of controlling the forces of victory and of shrewdly calculating difficulties, dangers, and distances, constitutes the test of a great general.
- Rapidity is the essence of war.
- The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.
Chapter 1: Laying Plans
The art of war is governed by five constant factors to be taken into account in one’s deliberations.
- Moral Law
- The Commander
- Method and Discipline
All warfare is based on deception.
When attacking we must seem unable to attack.
When we are near we must make the enemy believe we are far.
Feign disorder. Seek to irritate him.
Pretend to be weak that he may grow arrogant.
The general who loses a battle makes a few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory and few calculations to defeat.
Chapter 2: Waging War
No country benefits from prolonged warfare.
Forage on the enemy.
One cartload of goods from the enemy is equivalent to 20 of your own.
Use the conquered foe to augment one’s strength.
Captured soldiers should be treated with kindness and kept.
Chapter 3: Attack by Stratagem
It is better to capture than destroy.
Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
The highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans.
The next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces.
The next best is to attack the enemy’s army in the field.
The worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
The skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without fighting.
Without losing a man his triumph will be complete.
Rule in war:
- Our forces 10 to the enemy 1: surround him
- 5 to 1: attack him
- 2 to 1: divide our army into two
- 1 to 1: offer a battle
- Slightly inferior in numbers: avoid the enemy
- If quite unequal in every way: we can flee.
Five Essentials for Victory:
- He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
- He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
- He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
- He will win who prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
- He will win who has the military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of 100 battles.
If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Chapter 4: Tactical Dispositions
The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.
The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.
Chapter 5: Energy
Control of a large force is the same principle of the control of a few men. It is merely a question of dividing their numbers.
In fighting, indirect tactics are needed to ensure victory.
In battle there are only two methods of attack:
These two in combination can lead to an endless series of maneuvers.
Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow, decision to the release of the trigger.
Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline.
Simulated fear postulates courage.
Simulated weakness postulates strength.
Hide order beneath the cloak of disorder.
Mask strength with weakness.
One who is skillful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains deceitful appearances.
Look to the effect of combined energy and do not require too much from individuals.
Chapter 6: Weak Points and Strong
Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy will be fresh for the fight.
Whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.
Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.
Attack only places that are not defended; defend only places that cannot be attacked.
That general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend, and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.
The divine art of subtlety and secrecy.
If the enemy defends in all areas he is weak in all areas.
In war avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak.
Chapter 7: Maneuvering
We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country. It’s mountains and forests, marshes and swamps, etc.
Let your rapidity be like that as the wind.
When you move, fall like a thunderbolt.
A clever general avoids an army when it’s spirit is keep but attacks it when it’s spirit is sluggish.
Husband one’s own strength.
Do not attack uphill against an enemy.
Do not swallow bait offered by an enemy.
When you surround an enemy, leave an outlet free.
Do not press a desperate foe too hard.
Chapter 8: Variation in Tactics
When in a difficult country, do not encamp.
In hemmed in situations you must resort to stratagem.
In desperate situations, you must fight.
The general who does not understand variation in tactics will not be able to turn his knowledge to practical account, he will fail to make the best use of his men.
Rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him. Not on the chance of his not attacking but on he fact that we have made our position unassailable.
Five dangerous faults which may effect a general:
- Recklessness which leads to destruction.
- Cowardice which leads to capture.
- A hasty temper which can be provoked by insults.
- A delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame.
- Over-solicitude for his men which exposes him to worry and trouble.
Chapter 9: The Army on the March
Camp in high places facing the sun.
The four branches of military knowledge:
- Mountain Warfare
- River Warfare
- Salt marshes warfare
- Flat country campaigning
All armies prefer high grounds to low and sunny places to dark.
If those who are sent to draw water begin by drinking themselves, the army is suffering from thirst.
To begin by bluster but afterward to take fright at the enemy’s numbers, shows a supreme lack of intelligence.
If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive and unless submissive, they will be practically useless. If when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless. Therefore soldiers must be treated in the first instance with humanity but kept under control by means of iron discipline.
Chapter 10: Terrain
Six kinds of terrain:
- Accessible ground: freely traversed by both sides.
- Entangling ground: ground which has been abandoned but is hard to re-occupy.
- Temporizing ground: neither side gains by making the first move.
- Narrow passes: strongly garrison if you can occupy first.
- Precipitous heights: occupy the raised and sunny spots.
- Great distance from the enemy: fighting is to your disadvantage.
An army is exposed to six calamities from which the general is at fault and responsible:
- Flight: one force hurled against another 10x its size.
- Insubordination: the common soldiers are too strong and the officers are too weak.
- Collapse: officers are too strong and the common soldiers are too weak.
- Ruin: the higher officers are angry and insubordinate.
- Disorganization: general is weak and without authority, orders are not clear and distinct, there are no fixed duties assigned to officers and men.
- Route: general allows a weak force to face an inferior one.
The power of estimating the adversary, of controlling the forces of victory and of shrewdly calculating difficulties, dangers, and distances, constitutes the test of a great general.
If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack but are unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we have gone only halfway to victory.
If we know that the enemy is open to attack, but are unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we have gone only halfway to victory.
If we know that the enemy is open to attack and also know that our own men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes fighting impracticable, we have still gone only halfway towards victory.
Chapter 11: The Nine Situations
- Dispersive ground: fighting in ones own territory
- Facile ground: when penetrated into hostile territory but to no great distance
- Contentious ground: the possession of which imports great advantage to either side
- Open ground: each side has the liberty of movement
- Ground of intersecting highways: forms the key to three contiguous states
- Serious ground: when penetrated into hostile territory with a number of fortified cities in rear
- Difficult ground: mountain forests, rugged steeps, marshes, hard to traverse country
- Hemmed in-ground: reached through narrow gorges and from which we can only retire by tortuous paths so that a small number of the enemy can crush a large body of men
- Desperate ground: ground on which we can only be saved by fighting without delay
Rapidity is the essence of war.
Chapter 12: The Attack by Fire
Five ways of attacking with fire:
- Burn soldiers in their camp
- Burn stores
- Burn baggage trains
- Burn arsenals and magazines
- Hurl dropping fire among the enemy
Material for making fire must always be kept in readiness.
Attack with fire on dry days and days of rising wind.
When attacking with fire one should be prepared to meet five possible developments:
- When fire breaks out inside the enemy camp, attack at once from without.
- If there is an outbreak of fire but that enemy soldiers remain quiet, bide your time and do not attack.
- When the force of flames has reached it’s height, follow with an attack.
- If it is possible to make an assault with fire from without, do not wait for it to break out within, but deliver your attack at a favorable moment.
- When you start a fire, be to windward from it, do not attack from the leeward.
The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.
Move not unless you see an advantage.
Chapter 13: The Use of Spies
To remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of 100 ounces of silver, is the height of inhumanity.
What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.
Knowledge of the enemy’s disposition can only be attained from other men.
Five classes of spies:
- Local spies: employing the inhabitants of a district.
- Inward spies: making us or officials of the enemy.
- Converted spies: getting hold of the enemy’s spies and using them for our own purposes.
- Doomed spies: doing certain things openly for he purposes of deception and allowing our spies to know of them and report them to the enemy.
- Surviving spies: those who bring back news from the enemy’s camps.
When these five kinds of spies are all at work, none can discover the secret system. This is called divine manipulation of the threads.
Begin by finding out the names of the enemy’s attendants, aids, doorkeepers and sentries.
The enemy’s spies must be sought out, bribed, led away and comfortably housed. Thus we gain converted spies.
Only the enlightened ruler and wise general will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying.
Spies are the most important element of war because on them depends an army’s ability to move.
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This is the 33rd book read in my 2018 reading list.
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