The Art of War: 3

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Chapter 3 - Strategy of Aggression

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.

Use what the opponent has against him. Contol his assets, sway his allies, bend his will and make them your own. Avoid siege and attricion -- get to the goals. Fight when it is to your advantage, and avoid it when it is not. Don't win battles by a little -- win them by a lot. Demoralize through total domination -- war is no place for compassion. Destroy his will to fight, destroy his allies will to fight. Make all involved realize that there is nothing they can do, the outcome is innevitable (and you will win) -- so they must bend to your will, and the quicker the better for all.

The way to lose a fight is to have a compassionate leader try to micromanage that which he doesn't understand. Being ignorant of the "rules" and being "nice" is not the way to win. Politics and diplomacy are for before a fight -- once in a war the rules are different. There can be no distractions from the goals, no playing by "nice" rules -- the way to win is to win at any cost. It is the most committed and driven that will win -- war is about a battle of spirit. Keep your eye on the prize (which is winning and THEN peace). Once you show distraction from the goals, others will exploit that weakness against you.

Know when to avoid a fight, and when you have no other choice. Know how to fight from a position of strength or weakness. Know how to unite others with you (and divide others from your opponents). Be prepared for anything -- and how to deliver the unexpected. Know how to delegate (set attainable goals) and get the hell out of the way (and get your men everything they need to achieve those goals). If you leave any openings, the opponent will use them to his advantage -- and you must exploit those oppenings in your opponent.

Know the enemy, (know the situation, and the rules), and know yourself!

The variable you do not know is the one that will be used against you (ultimately to your own defeat).

Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.

Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.

Thus 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 in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.

The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more.

The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege.

Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.

With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.

It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy's one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.

If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.

Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force.

Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak.

There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army:

  1. By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.
  2. By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier's minds.
  3. By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.

But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure to come from the other feudal princes. This is simply bringing anarchy into the army, and flinging victory away.

Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory:

  1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
  2. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
  3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
  4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
  5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

Hence the saying:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred 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.