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    Chapter 3: Attack By Stratagem

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    1. Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best
    thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to
    shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to
    recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a
    regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.

    [The equivalent to an army corps, according to Ssu-ma Fa,
    consisted nominally of 12500 men; according to Ts'ao Kung, the
    equivalent of a regiment contained 500 men, the equivalent to a
    detachment consists from any number between 100 and 500, and the
    equivalent of a company contains from 5 to 100 men. For the last
    two, however, Chang Yu gives the exact figures of 100 and 5

    2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not
    supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the
    enemy's resistance without fighting.

    [Here again, no modern strategist but will approve the words
    of the old Chinese general. Moltke's greatest triumph, the
    capitulation of the huge French army at Sedan, was won
    practically without bloodshed.]

    3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the
    enemy's plans;

    [Perhaps the word "balk" falls short of expressing the full
    force of the Chinese word, which implies not an attitude of
    defense, whereby one might be content to foil the enemy's
    stratagems one after another, but an active policy of counter-
    attack. Ho Shih puts this very clearly in his note: "When the
    enemy has made a plan of attack against us, we must anticipate
    him by delivering our own attack first."]

    the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces;

    [Isolating him from his allies. We must not forget that Sun
    Tzu, in speaking of hostilities, always has in mind the numerous
    states or principalities into which the China of his day was
    split up.]

    the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field;

    [When he is already at full strength.]

    and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.

    4. The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can
    possibly be avoided.

    [Another sound piece of military theory. Had the Boers
    acted upon it in 1899, and refrained from dissipating their
    strength before Kimberley, Mafeking, or even Ladysmith, it is
    more than probable that they would have been masters of the
    situation before the British were ready seriously to oppose

    The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various
    implements of war, will take up three whole months;

    [It is not quite clear what the Chinese word, here
    translated as "mantlets", described. Ts'ao Kung simply defines
    them as "large shields," but we get a better idea of them from Li
    Ch'uan, who says they were to protect the heads of those who were
    assaulting the city walls at close quarters. This seems to
    suggest a sort of Roman TESTUDO, ready made. Tu Mu says they
    were wheeled vehicles used in repelling attacks, but this is
    denied by Ch'en Hao. See supra II. 14. The name is also applied
    to turrets on city walls. Of the "movable shelters" we get a
    fairly clear description from several commentators. They were
    wooden missile-proof structures on four wheels, propelled from
    within, covered over with raw hides, and used in sieges to convey
    parties of men to and from the walls, for the purpose of filling
    up the encircling moat with earth. Tu Mu adds that they are now
    called "wooden donkeys."]

    and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take
    three months more.

    [These were great mounds or ramparts of earth heaped up to
    the level of the enemy's walls in order to discover the weak
    points in the defense, and also to destroy the fortified turrets
    mentioned in the preceding note.]

    5. The general, unable to control his irritation, will
    launch his men to the assault like swarming ants,

    [This vivid simile of Ts'ao Kung is taken from the spectacle
    of an army of ants climbing a wall. The meaning is that the
    general, losing patience at the long delay, may make a premature
    attempt to storm the place before his engines of war are ready.]

    with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the
    town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a

    [We are reminded of the terrible losses of the Japanese
    before Port Arthur, in the most recent siege which history has to

    6. Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops
    without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying
    siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy
    operations in the field.

    [Chia Lin notes that he only overthrows the Government, but
    does no harm to individuals. The classical instance is Wu Wang,
    who after having put an end to the Yin dynasty was acclaimed
    "Father and mother of the people."]

    7. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of
    the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be

    [Owing to the double meanings in the Chinese text, the
    latter part of the sentence is susceptible of quite a different
    meaning: "And thus, the weapon not being blunted by use, its
    keenness remains perfect."]

    This is the method of attacking by stratagem.
    8. It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the
    enemy's one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him;

    [Straightway, without waiting for any further advantage.]

    if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.

    [Tu Mu takes exception to the saying; and at first sight,
    indeed, it appears to violate a fundamental principle of war.
    Ts'ao Kung, however, gives a clue to Sun Tzu's meaning: "Being
    two to the enemy's one, we may use one part of our army in the
    regular way, and the other for some special diversion." Chang Yu
    thus further elucidates the point: "If our force is twice as
    numerous as that of the enemy, it should be split up into two
    divisions, one to meet the enemy in front, and one to fall upon
    his rear; if he replies to the frontal attack, he may be crushed
    from behind; if to the rearward attack, he may be crushed in
    front." This is what is meant by saying that 'one part may be
    used in the regular way, and the other for some special
    diversion.' Tu Mu does not understand that dividing one's army
    is simply an irregular, just as concentrating it is the regular,
    strategical method, and he is too hasty in calling this a

    9. If equally matched, we can offer battle;

    [Li Ch'uan, followed by Ho Shih, gives the following
    paraphrase: "If attackers and attacked are equally matched in
    strength, only the able general will fight."]

    if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy;

    [The meaning, "we can WATCH the enemy," is certainly a great
    improvement on the above; but unfortunately there appears to be
    no very good authority for the variant. Chang Yu reminds us that
    the saying only applies if the other factors are equal; a small
    difference in numbers is often more than counterbalanced by
    superior energy and discipline.]

    if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.
    10. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small
    force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force.
    11. Now the general is the bulwark of the State; if the
    bulwark is complete at all points; the State will be strong; if
    the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak.

    [As Li Ch'uan tersely puts it: "Gap indicates deficiency;
    if the general's ability is not perfect (i.e. if he is not
    thoroughly versed in his profession), his army will lack

    12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring
    misfortune upon his army:--
    13. (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat,
    being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called
    hobbling the army.

    [Li Ch'uan adds the comment: "It is like tying together the
    legs of a thoroughbred, so that it is unable to gallop." One
    would naturally think of "the ruler" in this passage as being at
    home, and trying to direct the movements of his army from a
    distance. But the commentators understand just the reverse, and
    quote the saying of T'ai Kung: "A kingdom should not be
    governed from without, and army should not be directed from
    within." Of course it is true that, during an engagement, or
    when in close touch with the enemy, the general should not be in
    the thick of his own troops, but a little distance apart.
    Otherwise, he will be liable to misjudge the position as a whole,
    and give wrong orders.]

    14. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as
    he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which
    obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier's

    [Ts'ao Kung's note is, freely translated: "The military
    sphere and the civil sphere are wholly distinct; you can't handle
    an army in kid gloves." And Chang Yu says: "Humanity and
    justice are the principles on which to govern a state, but not an
    army; opportunism and flexibility, on the other hand, are
    military rather than civil virtues to assimilate the governing of
    an army"--to that of a State, understood.]

    15. (3) By employing the officers of his army without

    [That is, he is not careful to use the right man in the
    right place.]

    through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to
    circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.

    [I follow Mei Yao-ch'en here. The other commentators refer
    not to the ruler, as in SS. 13, 14, but to the officers he
    employs. Thus Tu Yu says: "If a general is ignorant of the
    principle of adaptability, he must not be entrusted with a
    position of authority." Tu Mu quotes: "The skillful employer of
    men will employ the wise man, the brave man, the covetous man,
    and the stupid man. For the wise man delights in establishing
    his merit, the brave man likes to show his courage in action, the
    covetous man is quick at seizing advantages, and the stupid man
    has no fear of death."]

    16. But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble
    is sure to come from the other feudal princes. This is simply
    bringing anarchy into the army, and flinging victory away.
    17. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for
    victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to

    [Chang Yu says: If he can fight, he advances and takes the
    offensive; if he cannot fight, he retreats and remains on the
    defensive. He will invariably conquer who knows whether it is
    right to take the offensive or the defensive.]

    (2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and
    inferior forces.

    [This is not merely the general's ability to estimate
    numbers correctly, as Li Ch'uan and others make out. Chang Yu
    expounds the saying more satisfactorily: "By applying the art of
    war, it is possible with a lesser force to defeat a greater, and
    vice versa. The secret lies in an eye for locality, and in not
    letting the right moment slip. Thus Wu Tzu says: 'With a
    superior force, make for easy ground; with an inferior one, make
    for difficult ground.'"]

    (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit
    throughout all its ranks.
    (4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the
    enemy unprepared.
    (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not
    interfered with by the sovereign.

    [Tu Yu quotes Wang Tzu as saying: "It is the sovereign's
    function to give broad instructions, but to decide on battle it
    is the function of the general." It is needless to dilate on the
    military disasters which have been caused by undue interference
    with operations in the field on the part of the home government.
    Napoleon undoubtedly owed much of his extraordinary success to
    the fact that he was not hampered by central authority.]

    18. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know
    yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If
    you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you
    will also suffer a defeat.

    [Li Ch'uan cites the case of Fu Chien, prince of Ch'in, who
    in 383 A.D. marched with a vast army against the Chin Emperor.
    When warned not to despise an enemy who could command the
    services of such men as Hsieh An and Huan Ch'ung, he boastfully
    replied: "I have the population of eight provinces at my back,
    infantry and horsemen to the number of one million; why, they
    could dam up the Yangtsze River itself by merely throwing their
    whips into the stream. What danger have I to fear?"
    Nevertheless, his forces were soon after disastrously routed at
    the Fei River, and he was obliged to beat a hasty retreat.]

    If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in
    every battle.

    [Chang Yu said: "Knowing the enemy enables you to take the
    offensive, knowing yourself enables you to stand on the
    defensive." He adds: "Attack is the secret of defense; defense
    is the planning of an attack." It would be hard to find a better
    epitome of the root-principle of war.]
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