The Art of War: Conclusion

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

The point to all these metaphorical stories are amazingly applicable to us all. An important lesson here, and throughout the text, is that the Western culture is like the ignorant King. He wanted power and to play "war" games without understanding the costs. He did not know what war was for real so he was too willing to get involved, and too willing to say "enough" once he was going to have to pay the price. But as was explained in the third chapter of The Art of War, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles." Well the King did not know his enemy, himself, or even the rules of the game in which he was playing -- and it cost him his favorite concubines (something dear to him). We all need to learn the rules of engagement, understand ourselves, and understand those we are dealing with before we get involved in any "games" of conflict.

Which brings me to the point. Most westerners (who are not, or who have not been warriors) are so ignorant (as the King was) that it is hard to explain to them even the most basic of concepts of that which they are involved. This is clearly demonstrated in how they read (and interpret) the title of this book itself. The title is "The Art of War" (or more literally "War Art") -- but most westerners don't even understand what is "war" (and we could debate about what is "art" as well).

Read a western (English) Dictionary and you get the definition:

War (wor) n. 1.a. A state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties. b. The period of such conflict. c. The techniques and procedures of war; military science. 2.a. A condition of active antagonism or contention. b. A concerted effort or campaign to combat or put an end to something considered injurious.

This definition demonstrates a fundamental failure to understand what Sun Tzu was talking about and what is "war". Fighting and open conflict is such a trite and trivial aspect of war as to be secondary. Open warfare is the costs of fighting a war (and fighting a war poorly) but is not war itself. War to Sun Tzu was more the concept of influence (force, coercion, fighting, politics, business, and so on) in order to achieve an ends in the quickest and least costly way possible. In most cases, to get to the fighting stage of war is a failure, and means that you failed to win without fighting (or failed to win in the least costly way possible).

A better definition for the western mind (though less literal) would be to call the book "The study of control" (or maybe domination) or just "how to win". It is about learning to control others, to control yourself, to control a situation - and the potential costs of failure. It is more than just learning how to win, it also trying to teach people to think of the costs and consequences of their actions before hand. It is about leadership, building trust, and achieving goals. Not just the short term goals, but the long term ones.

War to Sun Tzu is an absolute conflict. It is all out, no holds barred, must win or be destroyed kind of thing. I don't personally agree with casually using the win-at-any-cost attitude that is necessary for war. Resorting to "war" and this attitude is way to easy for some - and is something I associate with youth (and a black and white attitude on life). There are times when you may have to resort to war - but the older (more mature) you get, the more you learn how to avoid it because you know the costs. So I opt to not use many techniques and behaviors of war. But by knowing about war, I can make these decisions from a point of understanding and choose wisely, before it is too late. At least knowing about them allows me to see how others may use the techniques, wittingly or otherwise. So it is worth exploring the mindset, even if many techniques will rarely (if ever) be employed. Heck I studied martial arts, and learned how to disarm people who had guns or knives, or how to strike deadly blows, but I seriously doubt there will ever be a circumstance where I would have to employ them.

Westerners feel that some forms of control, or ways of winning are "sneaky" or "manipulative" - but that is their failure as well, they don't even understand the rules of the game that they are playing. That game is the life and death consequences that others may be playing by. Then they are failing to take responsibility for that ignorance, and instead blaming others. It is not someone else's fault if you are ignorant - especially when the information to enlighten is available. The Art of War has been available for 2500 years, and many centuries to Westerners, the failure to learn and understand belongs with those who fail to grow, not with the world because it failed to spoon feed key knowledge to them.

Philosophers can often debate about "why is", but many men that have sought the answer to "what is" have often found it. The reason why many "warriors" or Martial Artist (or men who've faced combat) have ideals that are similar is not because it requires the same personality or beliefs to be put in those situations -- it is because those situations force them to reflect on themselves, their surroundings, and the truth. This often causes men to reach many of the same conclusions (to see the same truths). Once one sees war (combat) and what is life (and death), cause and effect, and sees into the hearts and minds of others (and society), then certain truths becomes clear.

The Art of War


Written: 1999.08.28