The Art of War: 12

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Chapter 12 - Firestorm

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

My interpretation.

Literal translation by Lionel Giles.

You need to use nature against your foes; one of the keys to human nature is start a fire of ideas and let them spread; this is marketing and sales.

There are many ways to start this fire. You can promote yourself (as an organization or individual), promote your product, promote your industry, or attack others. In all the cases you must watch the environment and political weather so they don't turn against you, and watch that your opponents don't use your techniques against you.

When your competitors have a weakness, exploit it. Turn your weaknesses into strengths. Use your strengths against the opponent, to cause chaos, and make them react to you. If you control the minds of the people, you control the actions of your enemy. If your opponents appear not to react, be wary, they may be preparing to counter.

The winds that rise from the superficial are not as long lasting as the ones that rise from substance and truth. In this area, there is no need to be over aggressive; the truth is natural and will spread on its own, start the fire, but let it burn on its own. Overuse makes you strident, or is wasteful. If you take risks, and use negative attacks, they can quickly backlash against you. Make sure the you aren't caught in your own firestorm.

Your reputation is precious. It is easy to harm your reputation, hard to get it back. Guard it preciously. Act accordingly.

NOTE: I took great liberties in this section. This was originally about "attacking with fire". Since arrows and flames aren't really a part of modern business; I felt this was not very valuable. But there was a lot of information about the firestorm of marketing and hype. So I reworked it for my own ends.

There are five ways of attacking with fire.

  1. The first is to burn soldiers in their camp;
  2. the second is to burn stores;
  3. the third is to burn baggage trains;
  4. the fourth is to burn arsenals and magazines;
  5. the fifth is to hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy.

In order to carry out an attack, we must have means available, the material for raising fire should always be kept in readiness.

There is a proper season for making attacks with fire, and special days for starting a conflagration. The proper season is when the weather is very dry; the special days are those when the moon is in the constellations of the Sieve, the Wall, the Wing or the Cross-bar; for these four are all days of rising wind.

In attacking with fire, one should be prepared to meet five possible developments:

  1. When fire breaks out inside to enemy's camp, respond at once with an attack from without.
  2. If there is an outbreak of fire, but the enemy's soldiers remain quiet, bide your time and do not attack.
  3. When the force of the flames has reached its height, follow it up with an attack, if that is practicable; if not, stay where you are.
  4. 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.
  5. When you start a fire, be to windward of it. Do not attack from the leeward.

A wind that rises in the daytime lasts long, but a night breeze soon falls.

In every army, the five developments connected with fire must be known, the movements of the stars calculated, and a watch kept for the proper days.

Hence those who use fire as an aid to the attack show intelligence; those who use water as an aid to the attack gain an accession of strength. By means of water, an enemy may be intercepted, but not robbed of all his belongings.

Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.

Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical. No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are.

Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life. Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good general full of caution. This is the way to keep a country at peace and an army intact.