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Reviewing the Art of War

My sentiments go beyond words my, son. I cannot express my deepest sorrow for the troubles of war, the famine it brings, death that follows on swift wings. And yet, the manner in which we wage war, I offer, a definition; just so to achieve my intention to end man’s struggles quickly, so that death does not go to waste. Heed my words, young disciple, that war is an artform that is to be perfected. The experiences of war, though I take pride that only a handful suffice, cannot fully teach us by mere experience.

Rather, it is important to take into consideration the many existing factors that affect the machine of war. “It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can no account be neglected” (Tzu 2003, p. 3). It is important to understand, my young ward that war has only two principles – one can lead to victory and ultimate defeat. And it is up to us to prepare, to scrutinize every detail before turning to battle, for it affects the lives of everybody even though war turns it into a miserable statistic.

“Thus, war is governed by five factors that must be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions in obtaining the field” (Tzu 2003, p. 4). The Way, the moral law, that must be followed, to involve the people in a good relationship wit their ruler, so that they will follow their ruler to whatever end, bereft with fear. It is important for a ruler, to gain the love and respect of his people. To gain their trust, so that every decision the ruler makes, people will follow it without question.

My student, it is important to realize however, that this is not a matter of overruling personal freedom, subjecting oneself to one authority, but a mere accordance of method in a time of crisis. The second, the heavens, the almighty sky that looks down upon us; the heat of the day, the coldness of the night, a strong military accords its movement with the flow of weather day to day. The earth, the barren lands, the fruitful fields, must be noted for its advantage or disadvantage. Good lands provide advantage, while those that are not, compromise the position and eventually lead to defeat.

And now, the commander, a position that you may further take, whether at war or not, is of vital importance. In accordance to that of the teaching of The Way, a leader must possess wisdom, trustworthiness, humanness, courage, and firmness (Tzu 2004, p. 6). The entirety of an army or group depends on the leader’s strength – the handful of men who led countless of people to either complete victory or total defeat. To possess wisdom means to have compassion, which leads to trust. As a humane leader, one takes account of every soldier in the battlefield, to show respect as a person and as a leader of will.

Courage and firmness go hand in hand. One must be courage in the face of death and firmness in command. War, through the constant chaos it tries to imply, is not without rules. But these rules go with organization. Know your place. Know when a person deserves to be elevated to an honourable rank, to know every place of supplement for the army, and the money needed to last a war. I have told, countless generals of war, that those who “employ my assessment methods is bound to win; I shall therefore stay with him. Generals who does not heed my words will certainly lose; I shall leave him” (Tzu 2004, p. 9).

My words offer no confidence in victory, but merely assurance of the advantages of war. “War is a game of deception. Therefore, feign incapability when it fact capable; feign inactivity when ready to strike” (Tzu 2004, p. 11). Deceive your enemy. The main point of war is to win. Never let your enemy know that you are strong for they will equal your strength with their own. Never underestimate your enemy. Appear weak and helpless, to catch him by surprise by never compromising your secret. “When the enemy is greedy for gains, hand out a bait to lure him; when he is in disorder, attack and overcome him” (Tzu 2004, p. 11).

In war, it is imprudent to be greedy, and therefore enemies who try to use this, is a mistake. Attack at the opportune moment and have all the advantages one can acquire. As I have said before, war is filled with atrocities, and should therefore not be prolonged. “If the war is prolonged, the weapons will be blunted and the men’s moral will be dampened” (Tzu 2004, p. 16). It is therefore considered that war should just be quick, as that of quick and painless death. War does nothing but diminish the resources of the state, diminish the moral of society, and this leads your enemy in taking advantage of this momentary collapse.

But most of all, as war is a game deception, the use of spies is also of vital importance, to utilize them into gaining access into the enemy’s threshold. To gain knowledge of their tactics, to convert other spies into assets, provides an advantage. Your spies is a step forward with regard to your enemies movement. “Hence, it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying and thereby they achieve great results” (Tzu 2004, p. 145).

Thus my disciple, it is essential for you to understand, this art and philosophy of war, and apply in to your knowledge to be used on your future endeavours. Not only is these ideals of mine suited for the war but also in competition – to know what you are facing and how to deal with such. The whole point of my letter is for you to realize what my main point in war is – to take advantage – in order to lessen the pain. Leadership is also an important factor, for the leader and general has the sole responsibility of leading thousands of lives to either victory or death.

In war however, death is inevitable, but the points I make are enough to ensure that these death will not go in vain. Though I may have written in the sense of strategies and tactics, proffered to generals who will use my words to their advantage, I have not seen the real art in war. This kind of art involves in this bloody masquerade is merely a method on which I offer, in order to end war quickly and painlessly, without substantial loss in both sides. For in war, the only victor is the dead – the people who have witnessed its horror and have left the field of battle with honor. Yours in peace,


Sun, T. (2003). The Art of War (S. L. Wu, Trans. ) San Francisco, CA: Long River Press. Web resource: Sun, T. The Art of War. Accessed September 19 2008, from: <http://classics. mit. edu/Tzu/artwar. html>. Quotations used from the Book “It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can no account be neglected” Chapter 1, Laying Plans (p. 3) “Employ my assessment methods is bound to win; I shall therefore stay with him. Generals who do not heed my words will certainly lose; I shall leave him” Chapter 1, Laying Plans (p. 9)

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