The Art of War By Sun TZU – A Critical Review
The Art of War is a book about military strategy and tactics, which the legendary Chinese General wrote about 500BC. Although the book has been written centuries ago, yet the principles of war discussed in the book are still very much applicable today, not only to the military but also to the others fields such as business, sports, politics, projects etc. Art of War is considered one of the oldest and most successful books on military strategy in the world. It has had a huge influence on military thinking, business tactics, and beyond.
The book explains everything, you have to know about competing; and competing in a smart way which must ensure and brings total success. From spying and signals, to war campaigns and resources administration, the book explains all aspects in depth. Although the book was written thinking of war tactics and strategies only, but in the environment of modern competitive world in which we live now, understanding of this book makes really sense.
Written on bamboo stripes 2500 years back, the book is a marvelous piece of work which can be used as a guide not only in battle field but in all walks of life. Its lessons can be generalized to other fields of human enterprises. It is only a week that I studied the Sun Zi. I had the honor to listen to experts on the subject. These experts have devoted quite a portion of their lives to study Sun Zi. I carried out a study on the book the Art of War. My study in no way, can be termed as complete, qualified or conclusive to comment on Sun Zi’s Art of War. I think we are not even qualified to do that. But in order to further educate ourselves and clarify certain queries, I would like to highlight certain controversial issues and a few unaddressed aspects of warfare in this book. The same may provide food for thought for the others. I would highly appreciate if the readers may like to comment to clarify these issues.
In-subordination: We have noticed that although Sun Zi is loyal to the sovereign, and goes to war on his orders, however, later on, he advocates that;
Some commands from the sovereign must not be obeyed.
Similarly, he further says that;
If a General thinks that he does not stand a good chance of victory, he should not go to war, even if his sovereign has ordered him to engage.
Now this type of behavior or conduct of a general or a commander we cannot imagine in a military set ups and I wonder how this rule of his can be applied in today’s world. The general or for that matter any local area commander cannot be granted the liberty to disobey his sovereign, government or superior’s orders who may be viewing the overall situation in a much broader perspective. The local area commander may not be able to understand or aware of the overall strategy.
Aim or Mission: Aim of the campaign or mission given to the commander are the most important and vitals in any war. This will determine the extent and type of war and tactics. Concept of operations and planning is also based on it. Therefore, a commander must be clear of his mission. We found that this has not been addressed in the book.
One Man Show: Sun Zi advocates that his general must keep his officers and men totally ignorant of his plans. Keeping subordinates in total darkness is not considered appropriate for a commander. One man show, at times may prove successful but in most of the cases it brings failures. The concept of corporate decision making by generals and his staff is enforced in all the modern armies of the world. All staff and experts in their fields are involved in the planning and decision making process right from day one. I do not agree with Sun Zi’s concept of keeping subordinates ill informed and consider it inappropriate and not applicable in modern warfare, especially for joint operations.
Disposal of Subdued Enemy: Where as Sun Zi thinks that the best way to win a war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. However, he does not further explain as to what shall be the disposal of these forces after submission.
Defense against Enemy Attack: Sun Zi mainly talks about war and explains all preparations and tactics for launching offensive against his enemy. However, he has not addressed one important aspect, that is, what strategy and tactics are to be adopted if the enemy forces attack you. What all preparations are required for that?
War Termination Strategy: The important thing for a general is to know that at what stage and under what conditions he shall terminate the war. He should have a plan as to how to achieve that at the appropriate time. This aspect was found missing from the book.
More Tactics – Less Strategy: In my view although Sun Zi has discussed strategy of war to some extent, yet his main emphasis has been mostly upon tactical and operation levels rather than at strategic level. Some important strategies like War avoidance strategy and Strategy of Deterrence has also not been deliberated in the book.
Notwithstanding the above said observations, we firmly believe that Art of War by Sun Zi is a masterpiece on strategy of warfare. The writings of this ancient warrior Sun Zi have provided tremendous wisdom to generations through the ages. This book provides guidelines on how to attack, apart from war, in any other field of life as well. In this regard I would like to inform that past a book by the name of Sun Zi and Art of Business and Six Strategic Principles for Managers’ written by Mark McNeilly has been published. This book, which also includes 13 chapters of Sun Zi book Art of War, Provides analysis of six principles of business which formulate the strategies for the new millennium.
It can be seen that as the time passes, the wisdom of Sun Zi is extending beyond the military realm into the world of business. Probably, the future wars will now be fought on the economic fronts where managers will plan and fight these new kinds of economic wars on the basis of Sun Zi’s principles of art of war.