The Art Of War

Sun Tzu Also available in audiobook: Download our app for free listening.

The Art of War is one of the most popular nonfiction books in history. It was written by a Chinese general named Sun Tzu, over 2500 years ago. The book is still an excellent reference for troop success in the event of war, but it has also become a classic business book, recommended for entrepreneurs, investors and executives in highly competitive environments. Is it war? The advice of Sun Tzu remains current. Recently, Evan Spiegel bought copies of this book for all employees of his company, Snapchat, to prepare for an impending war with Facebook. Are you going to war or are you fighting someone? Read everything!

Study War in Times of Peace

War is a matter of life and death. The state depends on understanding the art of war in order to survive and perpetuate itself. Studying the war before it occurs is important, for that is the knowledge that will serve to create your plans. For Sun Tzu, the general who draws up plans before the battle always wins the general who has not planned. In addition to knowing about war, you also need to know about yourself and the enemy to be able to compare yourselves. Understanding the armies involved in a battle in these 7 dimensions will allow you to predict which will win or be defeated on the field of battle.

  1. Which of the two rulers of the enemy states has complete obedience of his people, so that they will follow him even to their own deaths?

  2. Which of the generals is most capable?

  3. Which side has natural, climatic advantages and knows the nature of the terrain?

  4. On what side is the discipline of his men enforced more heavily?

  5. Which side has the strongest army?

  6. Which side has the most well-trained officers and soldiers?

  7. Which side has more consistency in giving rewards and punishments? Carefully compare your enemy's army with your own army, so you know the strengths of each side. Plan according to the circumstances. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you will always be victorious. Planning and being precise is never too much.

To win, You Must Not Be Defeated

The best generals only go into battles that they know will win. The worst ones just go into battles. A skilled general avoids confrontations where there is the risk of defeat, and this causes him not to be overcome and feared. The opportunity of victory comes from the enemy’s mistakes. To the victory to be ensured, there are essential rules:

  1. You must know when to fight and when not to fight.

  2. You must know how to deal with both inferior and superior forces of your army.

  3. Your army must have a fighting spirit and discipline.

  4. You must fight so that you are prepared and your enemy is unprepared.

  5. You must have military capability and freedom to command your troops without the interference of superiors.

Attack Only When You Have The Advantage and Always Avoid The Enemy Where He Is Going

Avoid the enemy army when your troop formations are in perfect order or when they have a more advantageous position, such as on a higher ground, for example. Never go into a battle out of anger; The reason you fight is to win something. Anger is transient, but a destroyed state has no return. Avoid the pitfalls your enemy will try to attract you. Do not lead your army to places where your supplies will not arrive or through unknown lands.

General and The Sovereign Can Not Cause Defeat

An army is commanded by a general, but this one also is controlled by the sovereign. This chain of command can create problems, and you need to understand them. A sovereign can disrupt the army if he gives the wrong orders. That can be done when he asks troops to advance or retreat when it is impossible. The sovereign can lose wars by neglecting the army or placing officers in inadequate positions. These mistakes undermine the soldiers' confidence and cause defeat. Not only the sovereign but also the general can have serious problems. The characteristics of the general that lead an army to defeat are:

  1. Stubbornness - Which leads to destruction;

  2. Cowardice - Which leads to capture;

  3. Distemper - That makes him susceptible to insults;

  4. Excessive Honor - Which leaves him susceptible to shame;

  5. Compassion in excess for his men - Which leads to a weak army. He can be reckless and lead his army to destruction, or be a coward and get captured. A general can be proud or uncontrolled and feel teased by provocations from the enemy, or he may be concerned about the comfort of his men and let such considerations prevent military tactics. The general is responsible if any of these calamities happen to an army:

  6. If he throws his army against a force that is ten times its size, causing his soldiers to flee.

  7. If your soldiers are too strong compared to their superiors, causing insubordination.

  8. If the soldiers are too weak, causing them to be worn by officers and defect.

  9. If the superior officers are rabid and undisciplined, causing them to attack out of their own volition and cause the army's ruin.

  10. If the general is weak and undecided, which results in a weak and disorganized army.

  11. If the general is not able to estimate the strength of the enemy and throws a lower force against a superior, leading to an overwhelming defeat.

Strategy and Spy

A prolonged war can deplete the resources of any state, leaving it weak and vulnerable, after all, maintaining an army is expensive. We must focus on quick and decisive victories, not long campaigns. In war, you should avoid surrounding walled cities, because this usually takes months of preparation and may slow you down. To lessen the cost of war, you have to capture a whole, intact state, city, or army instead of destroying it through an expensive battle. And to achieve this, you need a force much greater than that of your enemy. A great general will subdue his enemies without any struggle, which constitutes the ultimate triumph. The best armies stand out not only for winning but for winning with ease. Another way to save the resources of your state is to take those of your enemy, taking with you all food, weapons, armor, and men. That saves the cost of fueling your army and saves your peasants from the workload to maintain their army. Individual battles can end wars, and so you must involve spies: they provide decisive information on the disposition of the enemy. Spies can also be useful for spreading false rumors and secrets on enemy lines, so reward them well and ensure their loyalty. That is a very low cost to pay if you can save on the expenses of a long war. Oh, and the last advice from the relentless Sun Tzu: If you plot an attack based on a secret spied by a spy, kill him, as well as any other people to whom he may have told the secret so that this attack will not risk you losing power.

Mislead Your Enemy

The art of war is based on the ability to deceive and deter the enemy. You must mask your strength with weakness, courage with timidity, and order with disorder. Confusing your enemy will always leave him unprepared and no match for you. Make your troops fake clutter when in reality they are highly disciplined. As you approach your enemy, make it seem as though you are far away. When you are ready to attack, make it appear that you are not. Play with your enemy as a cat plays with a mouse. If he has a difficult temper, irritate him. If he is comfortable, disturb him; If he is well supplied, make him starve; If you are quietly camping, force him to move. If you want the enemy to advance, have a bait for him; And if you want him to retreat, cause suffering to him. An intelligent combatant takes advantage of the initiative and imposes his will on the behavior of the enemy army. Attack him at his vulnerable points, so that he has to run to defend himself. Let your enemy try to guess where you are going to attack, forcing him to divide and spread his forces. Getting him to prepare for attacks on multiple fronts creates chaos and ensures that you always have an advantage.

Know Your Soldiers and The Soldiers of The Enemy

The spirit of a soldier has its optimum point in the morning. At noon he starts to get by and at night he only thinks about returning to the camp. If the soldiers stand on their spears, they are hungry. If there are confusion and chaos in the camp, the general's authority is weak. When the soldiers who seek water for the camp begin to drink before returning, they are suffering from thirst. When they begin to eat their own cattle and act as if they are no longer going back to their tents, know that they are willing to fight to the death.

Know the Land Where You Fight

A good general knows where to fight and where not to; he knows which orders from his sovereign he must follow and which ones he must disobey. As water shapes its course according to the ground by which it flows, the good general also has to adapt to the situation, the ground and the disposition of the enemy. Observe the terrain to take advantage of its natural advantages and avoid its disadvantages. Never climb mountains, go against the current or move away from your supplies. Avoid cliffs, enclosed places or bogs where a small troop can destroy an entire army. Watch the enemy and your soldiers as well. Observe, understand the risks and opportunities before starting an attack. Never expose yourself.

Discipline and Uncertainty Make The Soldier to Fight Until Death

Controlling a large troop is no different from a small one. The important thing is to divide men into smaller groups and use signals such as gongs, drums, and flags to control their forces. They will move as one, and the cowards will not dare to retreat, and the brave will not advance alone. A great general leads his army as if he were carrying a single man by the hand. Treat your soldiers as children, and they will stand by you until they die. If you are unable to command them with authority, they will be as useless as spoiled children. An iron discipline among his soldiers is necessary for victory. But for discipline to be effective, your soldiers must admire and respect you. You must treat them humanely and at the same time keep them under control with discipline and punishment. As a general, you should also keep secrets. Keep your soldiers uninformed and uncertain and change your plans often to keep both your troops and the enemy guessing. Make long and tortuous routes instead of direct ones. Only reveal your intentions when you are fully immersed in the battlefield. If the situation sounds good, tell your soldiers about it, but when the situation seems unfavorable, keep that knowledge to yourself. The more you penetrate the enemy state, the more your soldiers will feel part of something bigger. Put them in unexpected situations where there is no escape, and they will lose all sense of fear and fight with maximum strength, even to the death.

Final Notes:

The rules of war do not change, and the good general is always ready for it. Studying war skills, planning properly and knowing how to manage the troop are critical skills for a general. A qualified general chooses to fight only when he knows victory is inevitable, never to be defeated and always to be feared. Knowing how to cheat your enemy and use territory in your favor are also essential.

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