The Art of War
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The Art of War is one of the world's first books on military philosophy. Written in the 6th century BC by Sunzi, The Art of War is heavily influenced by the Taoist school of thought, and also traces its roots to the I-Ching, an ancient Chinese text that discusses the inevitability of change. As a result, the primary premise of The Art of War is adaptability to change and the importance of flexibility. The text is written in a simple, if somewhat ambiguous, prose that can, and has, been easily re-interpreted by such imaginative folks as Mao Zedong, Douglas MacArthur, and Gordon Gekko.
The Art of War was studied by Vietnamese officials during the Vietnam War, and strongly influenced their use of guerrilla tactics, with one of its most notable influences being General Vo Nguyen Giap, who pioneered the military strategy of Vietnam during the war. The US military has instructed its soldiers to study this book during Operation Desert Storm, and even corporate scumbags have learned to use Sun's theories for their nefarious purposes.
The Art of War is divided into multiple sections, each addressing a specific topic, such as maneuvering in a specific type of terrain, the proper counters of guerrilla warfare, and how to attack by fire. Later editions include a section of text unearthed at an archaeological dig in China, describing Sun's meeting with the ruler of a province. While certainly some sections are outdated (imagine attacking your corporate enemies with fire!), many sections still remain applicable today. The majority of the quotes stem from the first several segments, which are a general overview of the way one must carry out war.
Sunzi specifically believes that all of war can be understood by the great military genius. To Sunzi, the great general who "knows himself and his enemy" cannot lose even a single battle. This goes directly against the greatest Western military theorist, Clausewitz, who elevated "friction" to a high level theoretical concept, meaning that even the best genius will have problems they need to deal with.
This is actually, to a degree, what accounts for the reverence given to Sunzi in the West. After World War I, which was (mostly unfairly) blamed on the teachings of Clausewitz, many Western theorists turned to Sunzi as a possible antidote to the total war that had ravaged all of Europe. It didn't help.
 The conundrum of war
A a glance, it would seem that a book entitled The Art of War would help in one's evil quest for world domination. However, throughout the book Sunzi emphasizes the value of life, compassion, integrity, and justice, and one of the essential concepts of The Art of War is preventing the need for wanton chaos, bloodshed, and harm to non-combatants. Of course, these methods are not entirely altruistic. For example, in the section about the use of spying, it encourages use of captured enemy soldiers as spies, which bears the necessary prerequisite of having captured enemy soldiers. It also suggests purposefully "outing" one of your spies to the enemy when they got suspicious, to make them distracted by their "victory" enough to not look for any others, a particularly nasty devious tactic (if possibly also effective).
 Literal interpretations
The Art of War is a very ambiguous text, preferring to hint and allude, rather than state outright. As with all similar texts, this leaves it open to interpretation, ranging from advocating nonviolence to advocating genocide.
Some notable examples of this practice include Donald Trump, who advocated its use as a guide to the business world, and Mao Zedong, who used it in his quest to conquer China... at the cost (and lives) of many innocent bystanders.
 Other reading
While in the Western world the book is most often sold alone, perhaps plain or maybe with annotations; in the East, it is often incorporated into a collection known as the Seven Military Classics. This collection includes other influential Chinese military works as the Six Secret Teachings and the Ssu-ma fa.
Sunzi's Art of War should not be confused with other titles by the same name, including one by Machiavelli.
 Sources and translations
- Sunzi, translated by Thomas Cleary (1988), The Art of War. Shambhala Dragon Editions. ISBN 0-87773-452-6
- The Art of War as translated by Lionel Giles (1910): English text only or bilingual
- ↑ Or Sun-tzu for all you Wade-Giles fans out there.
- ↑ Cleary, 100, "Therefore, good warriors cause others to come to them, and do not go to others."
- ↑ Meaning all the things that go wrong, including misdirection, weather, and the bungling of orders by subordinates.
- ↑ Cleary, 41, "Military action is important to the nation-it is the ground of death and life, the path of survival and destruction, so it is imperative to examine it."
- ↑ Cleary, 63, "Treat the [captured enemy] soldiers well, take care of them."
- ↑ Cleary, 139, "To be violent at first and wind up fearing one's people is the epitome of ineptitude."
- ↑ Cleary, 166, "A government should not mobilize an army out of anger, military leaders should not provoke war out of wrath. Act when it is beneficial, desist if it is not."