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THE ART OF WAR

by

Sun Tzu

Written about 500 B.C. in China

and rendered into English and published as Tao and War in 1977 by Charles Scamahorn. That book also included a rendering of The Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu.


CHAPTER 4

Tactical Dispositions

A good general first puts his army beyond the possibility of defeat and then makes opportunities for the enemy to defeat himself. To shield ourselves against defeat lies within our own control but our chance of victory is controlled by the enemy. The wise fighter can protect himself, but he can’t be certain of luring the enemy into leaving himself unprotected. It has been said, ‘You may know how to win and be unable to do it.’ Security against defeat needs only defensive tactics but defeating the enemy requires an offensive. Maintaining a complete defense needs only a little strength but launching an open attack requires exceedingly great strength. A general skilled in defense uses the most secret gradients of the earth and one skilled in attack flashes forth with divine inspiration from the heavens. Thus at one time he may secure himself against defeat and launch an attack for victory.

To anticipate a winning battle only when it becomes apparent to the common man isn’t excellence. Nor is it excellence if you fight and conquer and everyone says, ‘Well done’. To lift a down-feather isn’t proof of great strength; to observe the sun or moon isn’t proof of sharp sight; to hear the crash of thunder isn’t proof of excellent hearing. What the wisest men call an intelligent fighter is one who not only excels at winning but wins without a fight. The consummate general seeks no public acclaim for courage or wisdom in battle. He wins victories by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes creates the possibilities for perfect victories. This means conquering an enemy whose sovereign and combat soldiers know their army is already defeated but they as individuals are safe. The skillful general puts our army into a position where it is overwhelmingly superior but where the appearance to the soldiers is that our army is precariously positioned. Everyone must see that we must conquer or he personally will die. The consummate general puts his army into a position which makes his defeat unacceptable to every man of his own army, and he appears at the time and place where defeat is acceptable to every man of the enemy’s army. The strategist destined to victory initiates fighting only after victory has been made absolutely necessary to his own men, but the strategist destined to defeat first commits his force and then looks for a method to rally his men. The wise general cultivates the moral law and in addition strictly adheres to military custom.

(The general uses the commander’s reputation of wisdom to be able to put the moral law into effect, of open sincerity so the people will believe him, of humanity so they will become attached to him and follow him, of perseverance so everyone will face their daily hardships, of strictness so they will develop their attitude of obedience to command.) The men of a desperate army are like a millstone placed against a single grain and even a courageous army’s men are like single grains when placed against this desperate millstone. The charge of a desperate army into the breech of a routed army is like a mountain-high dam bursting into a bottomless pit. Enough on tactical dispositions.


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