The Art of War short summary & analysis

The Art of War


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The Art of War - Sun Tzu

Categories:History & Criticism

The Art of War Analysis

Not much is known about Sun Tzu, a Chinese philosopher. He is thought to have lived in the period of warring feudal lords in China. His birth is approximately in mid sixth century BC. It is known that his real name is Sun Wu. According to the limited information obtained, he was born in Qi lordship, which was one of the most powerful principalities in that time. His name is mentioned in the book of prominent Chinese historian Si Ma Qian. Here in the introductory chapter of the book named The Art of War, an event about Sun Tzu was reported.

The Art of War Short Summary

To sum up the event briefly, Sun Tzu meets with the ruler of Wu. What gave cause for this meeting was his work he wrote under the name “The Art of War”. The ruler of Wu asks Sun Tzu to train a legion of women. Two concubines of the ruler’s favorites are put in charge of the legion. Sun Tzu teaches the women what they should do. But, when the drums are played at his behest, the women laugh instead of following the order. At this moment Sun Tzu says: “If the instructions are not clear enough and commands are not understood well, that’s the commander’s fault.”

The drums are played once more at his behest and the women start laughing again. This time Sun Tzu says: “If the instructions are not clear enough and the commands are not understood well, that’s the commander’s fault; but, if the commands are not followed even though the instructions and orders are loud and clear, that’s the team commanders’ fault. If so, I want the left and right team commanders’ heads.”

The ruler opposes this decision, but Sun Tzu opposes the ruler’s objection, as well. Thus, the two concubines are beheaded. New team commanders are appointed. From that moment on, the women obey the rules. As a result, Sun Tzu amply fulfils his task that was given to him by the ruler.

Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is the most discussed work throughout history. The work consists of 41 pages and 13 chapters.

Getting back to Sun Tzu’s work, every chapter in the book starts with “Sun Tzu says that…” and in relation to that chapter it mentions his thoughts and strategies.

“The war is the main problem of a country, a matter of life and death and a road to existence or extinction; it can't be done without considering its pros and cons.”

He mentions five elements that must be taken into account at a war. These are road, sky, ground, commander and rule. In Sun Tzu’s opinion, whoever knows these rules wins and those who don’t know lose. He suggests that he can foresee whether a war will be won or lost by taking these calculations into consideration.

“So, those who do not know what war may bring also do not what good a war may bring about as well.”

He argues that the war needs be known very well, comprehended and accepted. That is to say, not only the king must want the war, but also the people and the soldiers. Besides, in Sun Tzu’s opinion, victory is essential, not the voting.

According to Sun Tzu’s opinion, not the one who takes food along, but the one who supplies it from the enemy; not the one who defends, but the one who attacks; not the one who is divided, but the one who forces to divide wins. If a war lasts too long, the soldiers get tired and restless and the people become poor and bad-tempered. And this is not in favor of the king. A wise king or commander ends the war as soon as possible.

At the same time, in Sun Tzu’s opinion, the king must trust his commander and not interfere in his business. The commander may not obey the rules coming from the king during the war.

“Musical notes do not outnumber five,* but the combination of five notes creates melodies unheard. The colors do not exceed five, but the combination of five colors creates variations not seen before. Tastes do not exceed five, but the combination of five tastes creates new tastes not experienced before.”

*The Chinese music consists of the notes do-sol-re-la-mi*

As in the examples above, he emphasizes that the commander may practice the same strategies in different ways. I interpreted this in this way: The Crescent Tactic of the Turks is known by many nations. If a battle were to happen today, how effective would it be since this tactic is long-known? But, a wise commander can practice this tactic in an unknown way. I suppose that this is what he is trying to tell.

OK. In what aspects is a book which contains battle strategies useful to us? To our life. We are our own commanders in this war called ‘life’. There are a lot of things about real life in the book. Reading carefully is enough to notice these.


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