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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 3.1-5: Avoid Battle)

 

Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 3.1-5: Avoid Battle

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III. Attack by Stratagem

 

Sun Tzu said: Commentary
1. 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.  Destroying the enemy may seem the obvious goal. But capture may result in later wars. Glory may seem to be only found in battle. The enemy seen as evil deserves to be punished severely.

Yet this is not the best way. Harming people when it is not necessary creates enduring enmity. On the other hand, showing superiority without fighting invokes awe.

A captured force has to give up its weapons. It may be used in negotiations. Through treating them with respect you may draw the sting of their anger against you.

In business, it is better to weaken and acquire competitors or go around them, rather than waging expensive competitive battles. When you are seen as superior, you may be able to induce their better people to join you, weakening them further.

2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting. If the enemy sees that you can defeat them with ease, then few will seek simply to fight to an inevitable and inglorious death.

Kindness in capture also weakens resolve and frames you as morally, as well as strategically, superior.

3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk 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; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities. Here are the goals to seek in your planning.

If you can see what the enemy is planning, you can prepare to pull the rug from beneath their strategic feet.

If you cannot see their plans then you may be able to outmanoeuvre them before battle is joined. When they see you have a superior position, they may be forced to concede. Also seek to prevent allies of the enemy joining with them.

If you must fight, it is better to fight in open space than where where they have positional advantage.

Siege is covered in more detail in the next point.

The rules are similar for business. If you can anticipate and out-plan competitors, then you can smoothly and efficiently defeat them.  

4. The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more. Laying siege to a strongly defended position is poor in many ways. It is likely to drag on for a long time. It is hard work and takes much resource. Your troops are exposed while theirs are hidden. The sheer cost of siege makes it a final option only.

 

5. The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege. Frustration in the face of an impregnable enemy is a dangerous companion for any leader, as is any emotion that clouds judgement.

In business, managers who are 'action oriented' and like saying things like 'just do it' without considering consequences are in danger of significant subsequent regret.

 

 

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