January Books 2) The Art of War

2) The Art of War, by Sun Tzu (Gutenberg, .co.uk, .com)

I’ve had this on my Palm Pilot for years, and never got around to reading it; which is absurd because it’s very short – just over a hundred screen clicks, and so can’t be even thirty pages in hard copy.

It’s a series of aphorisms from two and a half millennia ago about how to win wars: in summary, by having a better idea of what you are doing, and preparing your own troops accordingly, than your opponent. The advice is sufficiently general that I’m not surprised to see it quoted in management handbooks, and I guess also in advice to thrusting young Wall Street brokers too.

Two points slightly jumped out at me. The first was the suggestion that in the event of prolonged war, the people will object: “three-tenths of their income will be dissipated; while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.” The US military budget of $470 billion is not quite as big, less than 20% of the total federal budget (though comfortably over 20% of income), but of course governments as a whole did a lot less in Sun Tzu’s day.

The second was his interesting justification for the gathering of intelligence. I am fascinated by the flow of informations in international politics, but Sun Tzu’s expression of why this is important as practically a moral imperative seemd to me unique: “to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver is the height of stupidity. One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his cause, no master of victory. Thus, what enables the wise commander to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.” I wonder who he thought he was arguing against, and what kind of thing he had in mind?

Top UnSuggestion for this book: Mr. Maybe, by Jane Green – a chicklit romance, I think.

One thought on “January Books 2) The Art of War

  1. I have first cousins ranging from 10 years older than me – 5 months younger than my youngest aunt – to 28 months older than . My mum’s older sister started early and my dad’s younger siblings started late. My oldest first cousin’s five children are all older than my youngest first cousin, and one of them has a child himself now, which makes me feel quite old!

Comments are closed.