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The Art of War by Sun Tzu Free Book Review Summary Audiobook Animated Book Summary PDF Epub on StoryShots

Synopsis

Twenty-Five Hundred years ago, Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War. This classic military strategy book is based on Chinese warfare and military thought. Since that time, all levels of the military have used the teaching of Sun Tzu. Since then, many have adapted these teachings for use in politics, business, and everyday life.

The most critical factor to a winning strategy is in the planning stage. You must calculate your strengths and weaknesses against the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses. Only then can you properly decide if it is advantageous to attack, stay put, or flee.

The best offensive move to victory is to psychologically destroy the enemy before the actual war occurs and take them over in peace with no killing necessary. Take their mind and heart out, and the enemy has no chance.

About Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu was born in approximately 540 BC. We know relatively little about Sun Tzu, with some even questioning whether he was one person or a group of notable men. Despite this, the most common description of his life is that he was born Sun Wu and obtained the title Sun Tzu (Master Sun) after his performances as a general. Even if Sun Tzu was not one person, whoever wrote this book was alive during a time of success in battle for these parts of China.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

– Sun Tzu

Chapter 1: Laying Plans

Sun Tzu believed it extremely important that war was thoroughly studied. Studying war was important because it could mean the difference between survival or death of a country. Sun Tzu uses this chapter to introduce what is to come in the rest of this book. He outlines the five fundamental factors associated with war: moral influence, weather, terrain, command, and doctrine. Each of these is spoken about in more detail later in the book. Taken together, these five factors combine to help you to develop a pre-conflict plan of action. In other words, these factors are crucial for your strategy.

Moral Influence 

The first factor relates to whether or not the people below a leader are confident in their ruler. This confidence ultimately determines the people’s willingness to support the stresses of war. Plus, this willingness is directly associated with the likelihood of success when waging war. 

Weather and Terrain

With these two factors, leaders must consider how difficult or easy it will be for his troops to march over the terrain. As a leader, you have to make this estimation to better understand what condition your troops will arrive in before engaging with the enemy. 

Command and Doctrine

A leader’s assessment of command relates to his own qualities. Specifically, how qualified he is to order the troops and be confident that these orders will be followed accurately. A leader must display command by displaying essential virtues, such as wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage, and strictness. Finally, a leader’s doctrine relates to their organization, control, assignment of appropriate ranks, regulation of supply routes, and the provision of items used by the army. 

If you can optimize these five factors, then you are more likely to be successful in war than a significantly bigger army without these factors. Therefore, this pre-engagement planning is crucial. 

Sun Tzu also flips his idea of strategizing. He states that you should learn all you can about your opponent while making your opponent blind to your true state. If they can’t gauge your strengths and weaknesses, it’s harder for them to succeed in battle. 

“Those who master them win; those who do not are defeated.”

– Sun Tzu

Chapter 2: Waging War

When an army has been sent into battle, speed and decisiveness must be adopted. Although this chapter is filled with highly specific details, such as the number of horses and troops to take into battle, the most important takeaway message is the importance of acting quickly. Additionally, victory cannot be achieved without solid preparation and organization ahead of time. This includes understanding your troops and resources so that you never have to send for second provisions. In doing so, you refrain from altering your clearly planned out strategy. The most successful leaders understand and keep track of each of their troops’ physical strengths and state of mind. There are several factors that generals have to ensure are accounted for before combat. Otherwise, failure is guaranteed due to a lack of decisive speed:

  • Hunger
  • Thirst
  • Attachment to accumulated loot
  • Outrage at an injustice

As well as ensuring these factors have been accounted for, leaders also need to remember that human lives and money are at stake when waging war. Therefore, you should never be reckless in your actions. Recklessness will have a psychological impact on your army, which will leave your army exhausted and your supplies dwindling. Make the most of what you have during war. Do not destroy supplies you can use, do not burn food that you can eat, and do not kill soldiers who can either give you information or join your ranks.

Chapter 3: Attack by Strategy

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

– Sun Tzu

Victory in war is not about the degree of destruction you created. Instead, the goal of war is to subdue and subsume the enemy. This kind of victory can only be achieved through careful planning.

Sun Tzu provides a list of tactics that can be adopted during the war in order of preference:

  1. Attack the enemy’s strategy or plans
  2. Separate the enemy from its allies
  3. Attack the army

You should only attack the opposing army when there is no alternative. Hence, Sun Tzu highlights the importance of controlling impatient actions during a siege situation. To support this point, he provides an example of emperor T’ai Wu. T’ai Wu commanded 100,000 troops. According to custom, T’ai Wu, an emperor, asked the Sung General, Tsang Chih, for some wine. However, he was sent a pot of urine instead. T’ai Wu was so angry that he immediately attacked the city. 30 days later and over half of T’ai Wu’s army was dead. It is the leader’s role to remain calm even when they have overwhelming emotions. The leader should be in control of both their emotions and their troops’ emotions.

Sun Tzu also provides five circumstances in which victory may be predicted:

  1. Suppose the leader knows as much about the opposition’s troops as he knows about himself and his troops. This knowledge will allow the leader to know when to advance and when to retreat.
  2. If the leader knows the correct use of both small and large forces.
  3. If the leader knows how to forge ranks unified in purpose.
  4. If the leader knows how to be patient when the opposition might struggle to be patient. 
  5. If the leader knows that his sovereignty should never interfere with the decisions he is making. 

Further tips provided by Sun Tzu:

  • Surround the enemy if your forces significantly outnumber the enemy’s forces.
  • If you have five times more troops than your enemy, you should attack them. If you have two times more, then you should divide the enemy and fight them that way.
  • If your enemy outnumbers you, then you should hide. Plus, if they significantly outnumber you, then you should escape.
  • You need a general who can make his own decisions without people above them interfering.

Chapter 4: Tactical Dispositions

“The experts in defense conceal themselves … those skilled in attack move as from above. … Thus they are capable of … protecting themselves and … gaining … victory.”

– Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu draws a clear distinction between defense and offense. Specifically, the most crucial difference lies with what the general can control (himself and his troops) and what is beyond his control (the opposing general and his troops).

As a leader, you also have to keep your group’s egos in check. Suppose your team has obtained a comfortable and predictable victory over a clearly inferior force. In that case, you must remind yourself that this victory is no mark of skill. Additionally, the real reasons behind a victory are not always clear. For example, victories won before the first clash of troops are sometimes hidden realities visible only when a battle ensues. The wise commander will prepare well to take advantage of the opportunities for victory when they do arise. They take nothing for granted. 

Sun Tzu introduced Taoism as an indicator of how to forge one’s forces into a unit capable of acting like an inevitable force of nature. He also presented elements of war:

  1. Measurement of space
  2. Estimation of quantities
  3. Calculations
  4. Comparisons
  5. Chances of Victory

“A victorious army wins its victories before seeking battle; an army destined to defeat fights in the hope of winning.”

– Sun Tzu

Chapter 5: Use of Energy

As a leader, you should aim to create well-organized units out of your troops. If done correctly, you can skillfully manage your individual troops into a single force. This unity can be the factor that helps you overcome a more loosely managed opponent. 

Sun Tzu recommends adopting a pyramid of command. You build your team from the base at the bottom, which should include individual soldiers. Then, move up each level by creating larger and larger units. For example, pair, trio, squad, section, platoon, company, battalion, regiment, group, brigade, and army. At each level, you should be incorporating a commander to obey his superiors and control his inferiors. Correct organization can allow your troops to still understand when they should be advancing and retreating, even when they are spread out and unable to communicate.

Sun Tzu claims that handling an extraordinary force can be achieved by realizing that its components—like the well-organized and systematic structure of an army—are few, but the possible combinations are limitless. To provide an example of these limitless variations, Sun Tzu describes how you can create limitless arrangements from just five music notes or five primary colors. 

When the enemy can be enticed or lured into a risky attack, an advantage can be gained. In this way, a skilled general controls his enemy’s movements instead of being controlled by the enemy.

 

Chapter 6: Weak Points and Strong

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

– Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu believed that successful leaders could create situations where the enemy is forced to engage. They do this by enticing the opposition leaders with the illusion of easy success. Due to overconfidence, this will then push the opposition into a position where they cannot retreat. Additionally, they will most likely be in a poor position to defend themselves. 

The best way to lead the opposition into a trap is to leave open what looks like an escape route. However, in reality, you will have controlled this route as a way of capturing prisoners and provisions. 

The first army to arrive at the field of battle has the advantage of time to rest and to fully assess the best positions for their battalions. A general who keeps his opponent in the dark about the details of his plans can cause the opponent to attempt to strengthen one area at the cost of leaving another vulnerable. One way to guarantee success is to have the enemy attempt to fortify in every direction. In so doing, the enemy’s resources will be spread so thin that no single position would be strong enough to withstand an attack.

Chapter 7: Maneuvering

“Nothing is more difficult than the art of maneuver.”

– Sun Tzu

Maneuvering is the strategy of making commands and orders of a physical army. If you force your army to march for 30 miles, you’ll lose men for all sorts of reasons. There’s a balance between pushing them to gain an advantage and then pushing them too far.

Sun Tzu suggests a complicated tactic of pretending you are on an aimless course when, in reality, you are actually on a direct and focused path. This approach aims to confuse the enemy while also teaching your lower-ranked army members how to obey complex and changing commands. Although potentially highly effective, this tactic should only be used by highly experienced leaders.

There’s a story about Sun Tzu where he’s challenged to train an army out of concubines. For obvious reasons, this was seemingly impossible. He would give an order, then they would laugh and carry on. To create order, he then executed two of the King’s favorite concubines. Now, everyone listened and maneuvered precisely as directed. This story shows that getting your army to maneuver can be one of the most challenging tasks for a leader. Hence, some difficult decisions might have to be made to encourage maneuvering.

Sun Tzu also provides specific guidance on maneuvering. Firstly, you should encourage your army to only split up when it is absolutely necessary. It is better to ensure that all troops arrive at the battlefield in good condition and simultaneously. Plus, you want your army to be arriving before the opposing army. Sun Tzu described this timeliness and togetherness as an advantageous position. 

 

Chapter 8: Variation of Tactics

Circumstances sometimes call for different tactics and different choices. There are cities you should not attack. There are roads you should not take.

In your preparation, you see that some choices will be catastrophic. These tactics all come from the general, and there are five major ways that a general can fail when deciding tactics.

  1. Being reckless and impatient leads to destruction.
  2. Cowardice and fear lead to eventual capture.
  3. A hasty temper means one can be baited and provoked.
  4. A high standard of honor means one might be susceptible and sensitive to shame.
  5. Excessive compassion for the troops might make a general second guess his decisions and worry about them instead of focusing on victory alone.

Sun Tzu claims that whenever an army is defeated, or a leader is slain, one of these five faults is to blame.

Chapter 9: The Army on the March

Sun Tzu considers the importance of well-disciplined marches and the arrangement of troops when facing an approaching enemy. He also takes weather and terrain conditions into account when outlining the best approaches. For example, he recommends taking advantage of the positions of sunlight relative to the time of day, but also to rivers, mountains, salt marshes, and level ground. Sun Tzu recommends this because of an example from his time. The Yellow Emperor had conquered four sovereigns because he was willing to take advantage of specific encampments. 

Sun Tzu also recommends using bad weather or terrain conditions to your advantage. For example, suppose there is rainy weather and several rivers in front of you. In that case, you should aim to push the opposing army back, so they have to fight within this area. 

 

Chapter 10: Classification of Terrain

Sun Tzu provides leaders with guidance on how they can read their terrain and the benefits of fighting on different terrains. 

  • Accessible terrain – Terrain that anyone can traverse easily.
  • Suppose you can secure high ground before the opponent arrives, with sufficient supplies to last. In that case, you are in a very advantageous position. If the opposition has the high ground, then you should retreat and force them to leave these advantages if they want to pursue it.
  • Entangling ground – Easy to move forward and secure new land. However, it will be difficult to backtrack or retreat. Make sure your enemy is vulnerable before moving forward in this land.
  • Deadlock – No advantage can be seen for either side. In this instance, Sun Tzu recommends backing out and making the enemy advance into this terrain. You can then strike with an advantage. 
  • Enclosed – A narrow passage with very few options. If you get to this location first, you can block it or ambush. If the opposition has a space like this, you should only advance if you are confident that they are poorly protecting it.

Additionally, the dangers inherent in a general’s weakness or indecision have just as much influence on troops’ readiness to fight as the terrain conditions on which a battle takes place. This holds true of all subcommanders and officers relative to the units they command. 

Chapter 11: The Nine Situations

Sun Tzu quickly runs through descriptions of nine different ground varieties on which a battle may take place, ranging from the easiest to the most desperate, with tactics on how to handle each. 

Sun Tzu recommends never engaging the enemy on these varieties of land, as you can gain very little by doing so:

  1. Dispersive ground – Within one’s own territory
  2. Frontier ground – Making a shallow penetration into enemy land
  3. Key ground – Neutral or mutually advantageous

If a leader can keep his formations together, then it can be advantageous to fight on:

  1. Communicating ground – Expanded and level to accommodate fortifications

As a leader, you can gain allies or resources if you engage on:

  1. Focal ground – When you are surrounded by three other states. However, there is a risk that allies may not be dependable.
  2. Serious ground – Involves deep movement into the enemy territory. Therefore, a significant opportunity to obtain prisoners and resources. However, it is also difficult to retreat. Hence, you need to ensure a continuous flow of provisions.

Then, you should be avoiding these ground types:

  1. Difficult ground – These terrains are not where you want to be fighting. They include mountains, cliffs, swamps, and fast-running rivers.
  2. Encircled ground – This type of ground involves being pressed by opposing forces and rough terrain.
  3. Death ground – The army will only survive by fighting out of desperation. This ground is the most severe test of an army’s internal discipline and order.

Chapter 12: The Attack by Fire

Sun Tzu covers several weapons of war. However, one of the most effective weapons is fire. He provides an outline of five ways that you can use fire during war:

1.Burning enemy soldiers

2.Destroying supplies that are static

3.Destroying their supplies that are still in transit

4. Destroying their weapons and ammo

5. Destroying lines of communication and causing chaos

These methods depend on weather conditions, humidity, and the direction and strength of winds. They advise that all sorts of equipment for this kind of attack should be carefully planned out and arranged well ahead of time so that adjustments can be made to accommodate fluctuating conditions. For example, if you successfully attack with fire, follow immediately with a physical attack to capitalize. Attack when the fire reaches its peak. Do not wait for the fire to go out. Also, ensure you are upwind when starting fires and remember that nighttime fires likely die quicker than daytime fires.

Chapter 13: The Use of Spies

“Native” agents are those from the enemy’s country, while “inside” agents are those already inside the opposing army’s structure. With these two kinds of agent, anyone nursing a grudge may be susceptible to flattery, generous bribery, or persuasion by an emotional or logical appeal. Such agents can pass on significant information.

“Doubled” agents are spies the enemy has sent who can be bribed, then used to convey false information back to the enemy. Thorough knowledge of the kind of person a doubled agent is will indicate the type of enticement to which he will most likely be susceptible. On the other end of the spectrum, “expendable” agents are those entrusted to feed the enemy leaked information that is deliberately false. Such agents are expendable because if caught in the deception, they will be killed. “Living” agents, on the other hand, are those who return with intelligence for the general’s ears only. This information can be used to gain an advantage over the enemy. 

Sun Tzu says that these intelligence gatherers should be the best paid and best treated, as this wisdom is key to winning a victory, especially a bloodless one. Every move that a General makes is based on this intelligence.


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