The art of war book report

The Art of War

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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 the officers are angry, it means that the men are weary. The most effective way to attack is to surprise the enemy and hit their weak spot. To accept cookies, click continue. Griffith, The Art of War is a timeless classic on military strategy.

Along with proverbs specific to his own army, Sun Tzu also presents the General with advice specific to the enemy and their strategies: what enemy movements entail and how the manner in which the enemy moves tips their hand to reveal their strategies and objectives. For example, the effect of enemy troops on the natural environment may cause the sudden flight of birds in the air, the rising of dust in different types of columns and heights based on troop movement and strength, and the movement of trees in forests and grass — the successful General should be alert to these natural signs.

The General is tasked with being observant of the manner in which these varying natural occurrences reveal enemy troop movement, marches, strategies, and ambushes. This task blends the different traits of the successful General: awareness of natural surroundings and situations as well as knowledge of the enemy. Therefore, the brilliant and successful General is able to observe and decipher the body language of the enemy, whether they are primed for warfare or fight out of obligation and fear.

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. It is debatable whether the Shuai-Jan snake is a mythical or real creature, but the significance of the metaphor still stands. The Shuai-Jan snake is able to recognize and respond to various scenarios thrown at it: strike at its head, and it will attack with its tail; strike at its tail, and it will attack with its head; strike at its middle and it will attack with both head and tail.

By comparing the General and his army to a living creature capable of such maneuvers, Sun Tzu highlights the importance of unity and adaptability to different situations. It is also worth noting that the head of the snake is the primary means of attacking, while the tail acts as its less deadly form of striking. With any army, the front force that is attacking is stronger, but the back must still be capable of lashing out if the proper circumstances arise. Thus, the General should lead with his strength, or the head of the snake, while able to still strike with his rear forces or the tail of the snake.

Before the battle begins, Sun Tzu utilizes the metaphor of a maiden for the General to disguise his strengths and appear weak before the enemy. Thus, the enemy will advance and attack seeking victory over a seemingly feeble opponent, which is the time when the army should strike with the speed and quickness of a hare with the intention of catching the enemy off-guard and unaware. Besides the metaphor of the maiden and the hare, Sun Tzu encourages the General to pretend to be weak so that the enemy may grow arrogant.

Along with cleverness and deception, the great General must develop wisdom so that when battle arrives, he is thoroughly prepared and may be able to decide upon the best route to victory. A crucial part of wisdom is forethought and preparation heading into the battle. Overall, these five possible mistakes can be grouped together under the category of wisdom: for a wise man is not reckless, but exudes courage, is not easily angered, and glorifies honor and his men, but not to a fault. Therefore, the wise General, being aware of these faults, studies their importance and is alert to them in his preparations.

The worst plan of action of all is to lay siege to walled cities. Therefore, the wise General uses means outside of all-out warfare to pursue victory, then employs his army in an assault if necessary. Engaging in a lengthy campaign against a heavily fortified enemy is strongly discouraged.

The Art of War

In addition to the physical toll, a prolonged campaign affects troops, diminishes the resources of the nation, strains the economy and people back home grow discouraged. The troops are disheartened; spirits are dampened, and the treasury is spent.

The General must then be wary of other chieftains rebelling and taking advantage of the dire situation. The fourth precept stresses the importance of wisdom and preparation necessary for war so that victory can be attained through quick and decisive military action. The last proverb for victory does not fit in as well with the others, but the lesson is important nonetheless: the General should not be micromanaged by his superiors or the sovereign, who is not as aware of the military situation as the General or may have other lesser motives.

The basic point is that the one who is most familiar with the situation and aware of what is going on should be making the critical decisions, and not an emperor far away in a distant palace. However, this does not give the General the authority to disregard every decision by the emperor, but rather to act on his own accord in the heat of battle where politics have no place.

Specifically, Sun Tzu encourages a strong defense, one that will not allow defeat before any offensive tactics are deployed. The first priority of the General then is to make certain the defenses can hold against defeat and then wait for the enemy to give him the path through which victory can be attained. This statement directly contradicts common perceptions about warfare mentality, in that the initial objective of the General should be about not suffering defeat rather than winning.

However, this strategy will change over time and is based on the movements made by the enemy and if those actions provide an opportunity for victory. Additionally, the General must be able to adapt his tactics throughout the course of the battle — a static battle plan is futile against the changing status of war. Sun Tzu again uses nature as an analogy, when he states that, similar to water, an army should be changing its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows.

So, an army should be fluid to the circumstances surrounding it, which is a duty the General must master in order to be successful.

The Book in Three Sentences

He states that, while there are only five musical notes, these notes give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are only five primary colors, yet, in combination, they produce more hues and mixes than can ever be seen. Lastly, there are not more than five cardinal tastes, but these senses yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.

These metaphors highlight how warfare, though simple in its base state, is of a very complex nature through the combination of different tactics. According to Sun Tzu, there are only two methods of attack — the direct and indirect. The direct method, although not explicitly defined, is used for joining the battle, and indirect methods are necessary for securing victory. Sun Tzu compares the use of indirect tactics to the rising and setting of the sun and moon in that when one ends, the other rises to take its place; the sun sets only to rise again the next day. Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength.

Keep your army continually on the move, and devise unfathomable plans. The skillful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan. Now the shuai-jan is a snake that is found in the Ch'ang mountains. Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both. We cannot enter into alliance with neighbouring princes until we are acquainted with their designs.

We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country — its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps. We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make use of local guides. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.

No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique. What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.

When a general, unable to estimate the enemy's strength, allows an inferior force to engage a larger one, or hurls a weak detachment against a powerful one, and neglects to place picked soldiers in the front rank, the result must be rout. He who knows things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated. Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.

The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and use combined energy. When he uses combined energy, his fighting men become as it were like unto rolling logs or stones. For it is the nature of a log or stone to remain motionless on level ground, and to move when on a slope; if four-cornered, to come to a standstill, but if round-shaped to go rolling down.

Now a soldier's spirit is keenest in the morning; by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is only on returning to camp. If those who are sent to draw water begin by drinking themselves, the army is suffering from thirst. If there is disturbance in the camp, the general's authority is weak.

The Art of War

If the banners and flags are shifted about, sedition is afoot. If the officers are angry, it means that the men are weary. For example, accessible terrain is easy to leave and to go back. Entangling terrain that is easy to leave but hard to go back should not be used to launch an attack. The Art of War makes the point that there is no such thing is an objective reality, but different interpretations of it. How close we interpret reality is a major element of winning or losing a war.

In a sense, all wars are wars of information. My Note: Sun Tzu was incredibly prescient here. All wars are wars of information. It Aged Some principles of The Art of War stand the test of time and will keep standing the test of time for a long time to come.

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But some other parts aged quite a bit. Same can be said for preparation. Read more summaries or check out the best book reviews. Your email address will not be published. About the Author: Lucio Buffalmano.