war.jpgYesterday I went on a modest book spree to morosely commemorate the imminent closure of my nearest bookstore, Colliseum Books. That’s when I discovered Penguin Books’ new ‘Great Ideas’ imprint, which includes Plato’s ‘Symposium,’ Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense,’ and yes, Sun-tzu’s ‘The art of War.’ The volumes are slim, beautifully designed and perfect for a commuting. Highly recommended.

You’re probably familiar with the acronym “WWJD” or “What Would Jesus Do.” This morning as I perused a particularly handsome and affordable new copy of Sun-tzu’s ‘The Art of War,’ I was struck by the likelihood that the thinker to whom this 2,000 year-old warring wisdown is attributed would have a lot to critize if he were alive and raking in the dough as a defence contractor.

I excerpt some stanzas here. Stanzas seem to be the appropriate term because what is essentially a military manual is written most poetically.

“In War,
Victory should be
If victory is slow,
Men tire,
Morale sags.
Exhaust strength;
Protracted campaigns
Strain the public treasury.”

With current US spending on Iraq alone reported in The Week (13 October 2006) as being approximatelty $9 billion amonth, we can certainly see proof of the impact on the public treasury. Congress has just passed a record $447 billion military spending bill.

US troops in the midst of their second or third terms of duty in Iraq would probably agree with his advice on deployment matters:
“A Skillful Warrior
Never conscripts troops
A second time…”

And as for a comment appropriate for considering the pros and cons of the Geneva Convention? Sun-tzu’s take is that one should:
“Treat prisoners of war kindly,
And care for them.
Use victory over the enemy
To enhance your own strength.”

In the Strategic Offensive portion of the book, Sun-tzu addresses the role of a ruler in war. According to him, one of the three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his troops are “Ignorant interference in military decisions,” which he writes will create, “chaos in the ranks and gives away victory.”

He later recommends what sounds like the seeds of mutiny. What’s more, his advice only seems to muddy the current waters where generals retired and active and all manner of military strategists seems unable to agree on one of his Five Essentials for victory: “Know when to fight, and when not to fight.” He writes:

“If an engagement is sure
To bring victory,
And yet the ruler
Forbids it,
If an engagament is sure
To bring defeat,
And yet the ruler
Orders it,
Do not fight.”

Later Sun-tzu writes:

“…a nation destroyed
Cannot be
Put back together again;
A dead man
Cannot be
Brought back to life.

So the enlightned ruler
Is prudent;
The effective general
Is cautious.
this is the Way
To keep a nation
At peace
And an army

It makes it sound like the ultimate art of war may be to not actively wage one at all, but rather to, as he puts it, “defeat the enemy withut ever fighting.” But then again, as the screaming title to Stanley Bing’s book sells it, “Sun-tsu was a sissy.” I haven’t finished this one yet, but will report back if it warrants more than the amount of laughs I expect it to deliver against its purchase price.

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