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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 11.41-51: Nine Ground Measures)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 11.41-51: Nine Ground Measures

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XI. The Nine Situations


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
41. The different measures suited to the nine varieties of ground; the expediency of aggressive or defensive tactics; and the fundamental laws of human nature: these are things that must most certainly be studied.

The Nine Varieties of Ground have already been discussed and more is added here.

'Study' is an important word. It means gathering data, taking time, reflecting, considering different information, connecting disparate thoughts. It is not about a quick look or a five-minute ponder.

42. When invading hostile territory, the general principle is, that penetrating deeply brings cohesion; penetrating but a short way means dispersion. A short distance into enemy territory is 'facile ground'.

When deep into their territory, the threat all around pushes troops together and makes them more of a common mind.

Closer to home, there may be different thoughts about what strategy should be, including going back home.

43. When you leave your own country behind, and take your army across neighborhood territory, you find yourself on critical ground. When there are means of communication on all four sides, the ground is one of intersecting highways. 'Critical ground' is not one of the nine varieties. When you just want to cross the territory of a non-enemy, this can annoy the territory owners. You may need to ask permission. You may also cross quickly or stealthily to avoid detection. Or else you may find yourself in an unwanted fight.

At 'Intersecting highways' there are many routes that may be taken, making this a strategic position.

44. When you penetrate deeply into a country, it is serious ground. When you penetrate but a little way, it is facile ground. In 'serious ground', the enemy is all around you, for example where you have passed by fortified places. This requires great caution.

Facile ground is mentioned above.

45. When you have the enemy's strongholds on your rear, and narrow passes in front, it is hemmed-in ground. When there is no place of refuge at all, it is desperate ground. 'Hemmed in' ground was previously described as 'Ground which is reached through narrow gorges, and from which we can only retire by tortuous paths'. Enemy strongholds behind this makes it more difficult.

On 'Desperate ground' you have to fight, now.

46. Therefore, on dispersive ground, I would inspire my men with unity of purpose. On facile ground, I would see that there is close connection between all parts of my army. 'Dispersive ground' is in one's own territory. Unity of purpose can hence be 'defending the homeland'.

'Facile ground' is close to home. Keeping the army connected ensures that separate units do not go off on their own missions. It also helps manage a repulsive force from the invaded enemy.

47. On contentious ground, I would hurry up my rear. 'Contentious ground' is that where 'the possession of which imports great advantage to either side'.

You are likely to be attacked on this ground and so should not have a long straggle backwards, where units may be picked off by the enemy.

48. On open ground, I would keep a vigilant eye on my defenses. On ground of intersecting highways, I would consolidate my alliances. On 'open ground', both sides can move quickly. Hence the need for vigilance.

At crossroads, allies may be used to help hold this position.

49. On serious ground, I would try to ensure a continuous stream of supplies. On difficult ground, I would keep pushing on along the road. When the enemy is all around, you need to sustain supply levels as you never know when you may be cut off.

'Difficult ground' is hard and slow to cover, such as mountains and marshes. Such places are seldom worth holding unless they have some strategic value, and they are not comfortable, so it is best just to get through them. 

50. On hemmed-in ground, I would block any way of retreat. On desperate ground, I would proclaim to my soldiers the hopelessness of saving their lives. In narrow ways, it is easy to protect your rear by blockage. It is also easy to stop fearful troops going backwards.


51. For it is the soldier's disposition to offer an obstinate resistance when surrounded, to fight hard when he cannot help himself, and to obey promptly when he has fallen into danger. When your back is against the wall, you have no option but to fight.

When soldiers are confused, then they will obey commands with even more enthusiasm as they place blind trust in those who seem to know what to do.



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