Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Art Of War

I have recently read the amazing "The Art Of War", an ancient strategy manual that is attributed to Sun Tzu, but in reality was compiled by various anonymous authors that collected oral precepts, in the ancient China of the 4th century BC.
Even if, as it is common with similar Oriental literature, the concepts in the book are not expressed and developed in a linear and formal way, as we are more used to in western literature, the book is really impressive.
Here are some remarkable excerpts:
And so swift like the wind,
Slow like the forest,
Raiding and plundering like fire,
Not moving like a mountain,
Difficult to know like yin,
Moving like thunder.
There are roads one does not follow.
There are armies one does not strike.
There are cities one does not attack.
There are grounds one does not contest.
There are commands of the sovereign one does not accept.
There are also interesting concepts that are stated and not explained, but that become clear (or reveal additional meanings) as you read other parts of the book. Consider for example this sentence:
Leave a way out for surrounded soldiers.
When I have read it for the first time I must confess that I thought it was a remarkable example of humanity, but not very useful in a manual about war. But later on in the book there are these sentences about the efficacy of danger to motivate the soldiers:
Throw them where they cannot leave.
Facing death they will not be routed.
Officers and men facing death,
How could one not obtain their utmost strength?
and also:
Therefore, in dispersed ground, do not do battle.
In light ground, do not stop.
In contested ground, do not attack.
In connected ground, do not cross.
In junction ground, join with allies.
In heavy ground, plunder.
In spread-out ground, move.
In enclosed ground, strategize.
In death ground, do battle.
Victory is the final goal, not War or annihilation of the enemy.

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