Sun-Tzu: The Art of War for Peacemakers
Excerpts from the Classic text
(With Commentary in Arial Italics)
(Read the full text at: http://www.sonshi.com/)
Also check out:
Wheel of War &
The Wheel of Peace
The skillful commander takes up a position in which he cannot be defeated and misses no opportunity to overcome his enemy. Thus, a victorious army always seeks battle after his plans indicate that victory is possible under them, whereas an army destined to defeat fights in the hope of winning but without any planning.
Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.
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. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack weak points. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.
Hence that general is skillful in attack whose adversary does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose adversary does not know what to attack.
That the impact of your army may be like a grindstone dashed against an egg - this is effected by the science of weak points and strong.
Commentary: Good strategic thinking for peace workers involves assessing our strengths and weaknesses, and those of the groups or forces we're up against, then finding ways of bringing our forces to bear against the other side's weaknesses.
Here is an example, from the Vietnam era: many churches and other community activist groups offered draft counseling to young men, and helped hundreds of thousands of them to avoid the draft. This draft counseling was quiet, legal, decentralized, and little noticed by the media. Yet it made a big contribution to a serious weakening of the US military during the latter years of the Vietnam war. A prominent military historian, Col. Robert Heinl, took note of this internal disarray in a widely-read essay, "The Collapse of the US Military."
From a strategic perspective, this draft counseling brought to bear many strengths of the peace constituency -- a decentralized network, high verbal skills, access to local churches -- on the military's major weakness: recruiting, its constant need to persuade young men to join up or submit to the draft.
Of course, there were other factors involved too; but the impact of the draft counseling movement is still an example of smart movement strategy with implications for peace work today.
Sun Tzu wrote: The highest form of generalship is to foil the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field; [When he is already at full strength.] andthe worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities. . . . The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided . . . .
Commentary: In my view, Washington DC is the ultimate "walled city," protected by thick layers of institutional strength. I spent two years working on a Congressional staff, and it seemed to me that to make things happen in Washington, a person or group needs one, or preferably more of the following items, which I call the Big Four:
The Big Four:
1. Big Numbers.
(As in, millions of people behind you.)
2. Big Bucks. (As in millions of dollars for lobbying and campaign cash.
3. Big "Butts" (As in, high officials on whom you have some claim or hold.)
4. Big Media.
When I present
this list, especially to my own Quaker constituency, I pause here and ask,
"Which items on this list do WE have?"
The answer is obviously, None. And the same goes for most other peace groups.
(Yes, there are moments, as during the largest peace rallies, when we have big numbers; but such moments pass. And in 2004 peace folks assembled big bucks to deploy in the election campaign; but that moment passed too, and in my view we still lacked effective access to Big Media, as well as "Big Butts" who were truly responsive, especially when it came to challenging the widespread cheating and vote suppression that contaminated the results.)
Again, Washington is the ultimate "walled city." The peace constituency's lack of access to the Big Four goes far to explain my pleas in "A Quaker Declaration of War" to rethink and overcome our typical media-influenced fixation on Washington spectacle. Sun Tzu would smile sardonically at the strategic naivete we display in falling again and again for the idea that all our attention and effort should be aimed there. Its puts our weaknesses up against its strengths, a guaranteed recipe for defeat and despair.
Does this realization leave us
But it does mean it is time to learn how to think like Sun Tzu: assess the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, and begin figuring out how to put our strengths into play in engagement with the other side's weaknesses.
How do we do that? It is not a quick or easy process, but again Sun Tzu can offer some guidance. Below he speaks of the value of "indirect methods," which are both "inexhaustible," and imperative for forces which are not equipped for direct confrontation.
This process is also sketched out on the two diagrams on the following pages, The Wheel of War, and The Wheel of Peace.
Sun Tzu wrote: In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory.
Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.
Consequently, the art of using troops is this: When ten to the enemy's one, surround him. When five times his strength, attack him. If double his strength, divide him. If equally matched, you may engage him with some good plan. If weaker numerically, be capable of withdrawing. And if in all respects unequal, be capable of eluding him, for a small force is but booty for one more powerful if it fights recklessly.
Defend yourself when you cannot defeat the enemy, and attack the enemy when you can. One defends when his strength is inadequate; he attacks when it is abundant. Those who are skilled in defense hide themselves as under the nine-fold earth; those in attack flash forth as from above the ninefold heavens. Thus, they are capable both of protecting themselves and of gaining a complete victory.
On the use of spies: Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the adversary's condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity. . . .
Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.
Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.
Knowledge of the adversary's dispositions can only be obtained from other people.
Hence the use of spies . . . .
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.
Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
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