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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 9.11-17: Obstacles)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 9.11-17: Obstacles

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IX. The Army on the March


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
11. All armies prefer high ground to low and sunny places to dark.

High ground seems safer as attack from above is more difficult.

Sunny places are just warmer and more cheerful (except in hot countries).

Always consider the environment, not only for the advantage it gives but also the motivation and comfort.

12. If you are careful of your men, and camp on hard ground, the army will be free from disease of every kind, and this will spell victory. Soft marshes attract flies and other animals that spread disease.

Soldiers live in close proximity and illness is another enemy. A contagious or infectious disease can defeat an army all by itself.

13. When you come to a hill or a bank, occupy the sunny side, with the slope on your right rear. Thus you will at once act for the benefit of your soldiers and utilize the natural advantages of the ground. Troops will be warmed by the sun on a slope. Occupying a slope allows you to sweep down on an enemy.

With the slope behind you, you face the oncoming army. It does not matter whether it is left or right.

14. When, in consequence of heavy rains up-country, a river which you wish to ford is swollen and flecked with foam, you must wait until it subsides. When there are no bridges, roads lead to the wider and slower stretches of rivers which can then be crossed on foot.

It does not take much depth to sweep a man off his feet. A fast-flowing stream need only be about up to his knees. Hence, attempting to cross a swollen ford (and white flecks are a sure sign) would result in the loss of many soldiers.

15. Country in which there are precipitous cliffs with torrents running between, deep natural hollows, confined places, tangled thickets, quagmires and crevasses, should be left with all possible speed and not approached. The best country for easy movement is open and clear. Cliffs, rivers, and so on are obstacles that must be surmounted or another route found.

Barriers to free movement also offer places for enemies to entrap and corner you. If you do not wish to hold a place, them easy passage is the main preference.

16. While we keep away from such places, we should get the enemy to approach them; while we face them, we should let the enemy have them on his rear. Just as obstacles can be trouble for you, so also can they be trouble for enemies, especially those who do not know the lie of the land. You can use obstacles to ambush or generally make like difficult for the other side.

This is another reason why scouting ahead can offer you advantage.

17. If in the neighborhood of your camp there should be any hilly country, ponds surrounded by aquatic grass, hollow basins filled with reeds, or woods with thick undergrowth, they must be carefully routed out and searched; for these are places where men in ambush or insidious spies are likely to be lurking. Beware of terrain that could hide enemy armies or even individual soldiers who could attack, spy on you or conduct other activities.

If such places cannot be avoided, then take time to investigate them to ensure they are safe.

It is also good to post guards to ensure that the enemy does not later creep into such places.

In business, beware of subtle competitor action. At conferences, for example, watch for their spying action or seduction of customers.



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