The Art of War: 1

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Chapter 1 - Laying Plans

Art of War : Intro - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - Conclusion

This is my modernized interpretations, or what it means to me.

This is the literal translation by Lionel Giles.

Understanding motivations, influence, and learning how to control (ones self, ones allies and ones enemies) is necessary to every individual or organization. It is easy to focus on the external and the shallow -- to see the surface (facade) and miss the truths -- but there are truths, and it is our responsibilities (as leaders or followers) to understand them, accept them, and follow them.

The truth includes that men desire (and need) an order to all things -- and men need to understand the order of things around them. Without that security, you can not lead effectively or achieve goals. The fundamentals are:

  1. Men must understand the rules (and the consequences)
  2. Men must understand their environment
  3. Men must understand their situation
  4. Men must know when to follow (and know the pecking order)
  5. The rules must have a purpose, and they must be effective in order to be followed

When judging two leaders, the way to decide which is more effective leader is by examining who understands and controls these fundamentals (and who is better at creating security and order).

Control is also managed through communication. You can control (manipulate another) through communications. False information and controlling what another sees is a way to control how they will act. Never trust the information that someone else (adversarial to your position) tells you -- be skeptical! Be deceptive when necessary -- and when being deceptive do it well -- never let an adversary know the truth until it is too late. Keep them off balance and try to retain yours. Expect the unexpected. Use your advantages and exploit their weakenesses -- never give in, and never give an adversary a rest.

The key to successfully achieving an end is having thought of all the options ahead of time. Planning, cross checking those plans against every opportunity, will have everyone prepared for all possibilities and allow them to deal with situations much better.

Enlightenment and knowledge are the key to good decisions. Communications is the key to getting others to accomplish your goals.

The art of war is of vital importance to the State.

It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one's deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field. These are:

  1. The Moral Law
  2. Heaven
  3. Earth
  4. The Commander
  5. Method and discipline.

The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.

Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.

The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness.

By method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.

These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.

Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:

  1. Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?
  2. Which of the two generals has most ability?
  3. With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?
  4. On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
  5. Which army is stronger?
  6. On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
  7. In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?

By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.

The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer: let such a one be retained in command! The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat: let such a one be dismissed!

While heading the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.

According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one's plans.

All warfare is based on deception.

Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.

If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.

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 his forces are united, separate them.

Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.

Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.