Sun Tzu “The Art of War”: Favorite Parts

In this blog post, I just wanted to share some of my favorite sections from Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”.

I’ve read the book because of my International Relations Seminar.

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Intro: Sun Tzu On War

“Sun Tzu believed that the moral strength and intellectual faculty of man were decisive in war, and that if these were properly applied war could be waged with certain success” (61).

“National unity was deemed by Sun Tzu to be an essential requirement of victorious war. This could be attained only under a government which was devoted to the people’s warfare and did not oppress them” (62).

The Text

Chapter 1 — The Elements

Themes: deception, playing on emotion

“By moral influence I mean that which causes the people to be in harmony with their leaders, so that they will accompany them in life and unto death without fear of mortal peril” (92).

“By command I mean the general’s qualities of wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage, and strictness” (93).

“All warfare is based on deception” (96) — Elements, 17.

“Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance” (97). — Elements 23

“In the ninth month Li Ching took command of the troops and addressed them as follows: ‘What is of teh greatest importance in war is extraordinary speed; one cannot afford to neglect opportunity’ ” (100). — Elements 26

“With many calculations, one can win; with few one cannot. . . . By this means I examine the situation and the outcome will be clearly apparent” (103). — Elements 28

Chapter 2 — Waging War

The economics of war — 12–15 (p. 109)

“The reason troops slay the enemy is because they are enraged” (110). — ch. 16

“Treat the captives well, and care for them” (113). — 19

Chapter 3 — Offensive Strategy

Themes: against fluid formation of military strategies,

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“To capture the enemy’s army is better than to destroy it; to take intact a battalion, a company or a five-man squad is better than to destroy them” (115). — 2

“[Wang Hsi] . . . Look into the matter of his alliances and cause them to be severed and dissolved. If an enemy has alliances, the problem is grave and the enemy’s position strong; if he has no alliances the problem is minor and the enemy’s position weak” (116). — 5

“The worst policy is to attack cities. Attack cities only when there is no alternative. To prepare the shielded wagons and make ready the necessary arms and equipment requires at least three months; to pile up earthen ramps against the walls an additional three months will be needed. If the general is unable to control his impatience and orders his troops to swarm up the wall like ants, one-third of them will be killed without taking the city. Such is the calamity of these attacks” (117). — 7–9

“[T]here are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army. When ignorant that the army should not advance, to order an advance or ignorant that it should not retire, to order a retirement. This is described as ‘hobbling the army’. . . . When ignorant of military affairs, to participate in their administration. This causes the officers to be perplexed. . . . When ignorant of command problems to share in the exercise of responsibilities. This engenders doubts in the minds of the officers” (121–2). — 19–22

“Therefore I say: ‘Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril . . .’ ” (125). — 31

Chapter 4 — Dispositions

“One defends when his strength is inadequate; he attacks when it is abundant” (128). — 6

“[T]he skillful commander takes up a position in which he cannot be defeated and misses no opportunity to master his enemy” (131). — 13

“Those skilled in war cultivate the Tao and preserve the laws and are therefore able to formulate victorious policies. Tu Mu: The Tao is the way of humanity and justice; ‘laws’ are regulations and institutions. Those who excel in war first cultivate their own humanity and justice and maintain their laws and institutions. By these means they make their governments invincible” (132). — 15

Chapter 5 — Energy

“When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing. . . . Thus the momentum of one skilled in war is overwhelming, and his attack precisely regulated” (139). — 14–15

“Apparent confusion is a product of good order; apparent cowardice, of courage; apparent weakness, of strength” (139). — 18

Chapter 7 — Manoeuvre

“Nothing is more difficult than the art of manoeuvre. What is difficult about manoeuvre is to make the devious route the most direct and to turn misfortune to advantage” (155). — 2

“One who sets the entire army in motion to chase an advantage will not attain it” (156). — 5

“Those who do not know the conditions of mountains and forests, hazardous defiles, marshes and swamps, cannot conduct the march of an army” (158). — 10

“Weigh the situation, then move” (161). — 15

“Do not attack his elite troops” (167). — 28

Chapter 8 — The nine Variables

“There are some roads not to follow; some troops not to strike; some cities not to assault; and some ground which should not be contested” (172). — 7

Chapter 9 — Marches

  • Highly specific

“When without a previous understanding the enemy asks for a truce, he is plotting” (187). — 28

  • Sun Tzu’s distrust of the enemy

“When birds gather above his camp sites, they are empty” (190). — 35

  • Once again, highly detailed and specific

Chapter 10 — Terrain

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Statue of Sun Tzu in China. Source.

“When troops are strong and officers weak the army is insubordinate. When the officers are valiant and the troops ineffective the army is in distress” (198). — 11–12

“[T]he general who in advancing does not seek personal fame, and in withdrawing is not concerned with avoiding punishment, but whose only purpose is to protect the people and promote the best interests of his sovereign, is the precious jewel of the state” (203).

“[T]herefore I say, ‘Know the enemy, know yourself; your victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total’ ” (205). — 26

Chapter 11 — The Nine Varieties of Ground

“The doctrine of war is to follow the enemy situation in order to decide on battle” (223). — 60

Chapter 12 — Attack by Fire

“Water can isolate an enemy but cannot destroy his supplies or equipment” (228). — 14

“If not in the interests of the state, do not act. If you cannot succeed, do not use troops. If you are not in danger, do not fight” (229). — 17

Chapter 13 — Employment of Secret Agents

“Now the reason the enlightened prince and the wise general conquer the enemy whenever they move and their achievement surpass those of ordinary men is foreknowledge. What is called ‘foreknowledge’ cannot be elicited from spirits, nor from gods, nor by analogy with past events, nor from calculations. It must be obtained from men who know the enemy situation” (232). — 3–4

“Double agents are enemy spies whom we employ” (233). — 9

“Expendable agents are those of our own spies who are deliberately given fabricated information” (234). — 10

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keep reflecting.

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Author of “Up in the Air: Christianity, Atheism & the Global Problems of the 21st Century” on AMAZON | Exploring Ethical Living | IG: jakub.ferencik.official

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