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Art of War by Sun Tsu: a sobering read.

January 11, 2010

Art of War by Sun Tsu: a sobering read.



Few books are considered to be as influential to armies as the Sun Tsu ‘Art of War’. It is still on the book lists of many officer training academies around the world and is often quoted despite being over 2000 years old. In fact even those who have no intention of waging war can often turn to this book for guidance in business, sport and personal relationships. Thus the Art of War can sometimes be translated into the Art of Life where we place ourselves in a hostile and sometime adversary mindset. It is after all a book of strategy rather than deep philosophy. War, whether it is internal, metaphorical or actual is given a set of instructions that promise the reader a clear path to victory. Regardless of this applications for the ordinary folk trying to overcome a smoking habit the book should not be separated from it original intent which was to instruct a close circle of people the secrets of winning war. War that Sun Tsu is referring to is real and even if you do not apply all the attitudes to national conflicts it still offers you a distrustful and paranoid view where every one is little more than puppets or enemies. Good luck with trying to live with that attitude.


I say the book is sobering because the very same pitfalls and warnings sounded in the ancient texts seems just as real today.

    Sun Tsu writes: “There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.” Ref Ch.2 pass.6

    Perhaps there is something about a certain war today that echoes this sentiment.


    Perhaps his lessons are very real because they seem to be based upon the reality that soldiers are not superman or mythical Spartans. He pays heed to rest, speed of travel and rewards or moral of his army. Punishments are tempered with fairness to create loyalties and the will to fight. False pride is frowned upon and so too is foolish courage.

    “A clever General, therefore, avoids an army when its spirit is keen, but attacks when it is sluggish and inclined to return. This is the art of studying moods.” Ref Ch.7 pass.29

    And later he reiterates the pitfalls of trying to trample an enemy.

    “When surrounding an enemy, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” Ref Ch.7 pass.36


Perhaps some of the most telling passages deal with the causes of war and why they continue today. He shows contempt for the emotional bases of going into battle.

    “Anger may in time turn to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content” Ref Ch8 pass.20

    Then he warns in the following passage.

    “But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never comes again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.” Ch.8 pass.21



‘Art of War’ shows that we as human have hardly changed in thousands of years. We still fall for the same mistakes and ignore the same sorts of advice. Wars that are portrayed as necessary and a noble cause are broken down into little more than moving chess pieces by generals who are well aware that they just another piece. Yet once roused the ‘Art of War’ is a cold sterile world that count it enemy in order to attack when it is weak and flee when it is strong. Words and propaganda are held with contempt in comparison to the reality of actually taking action that secure victory. Warning of the drain on the economy of nation and its people are still being ignored today and yet it is a military man who makes this warning.


For those looking for a way to live this book offers nothing except deceptions and mind games as the answer. Yet for those who are fascinated by something that echoes warnings even today I recommend reading this book.




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