Sun Tzu -- The Art Term Paper

Length: 10 pages Sources: 10 Subject: Military Type: Term Paper Paper: #84579816 Related Topics: Woody 2000, Plastic Surgery, Art Of War, Korean War
Excerpt from Term Paper :

254). Evans wondered if in fact the two organizations have not heeded advice from the likes of Tzu: "…Can we be more proactive, anticipating and knowing what our 'enemies' are planning?" he wondered (p. 254).

Evans (p. 254) also wonders if Tzu has a relevant point -- "When it is advantageous move; when not advantageous, stop" -- and explains that perhaps his organizations would be better off if they realize "…the wall is solid and not passable" and hence "walking around the end of the wall is the better forward progress." Knowing what terrain to do battle on is part of the key in wartime maneuvers, according to Tzu, and Evans (p. 255) realizes the same is true for his national organizations. "The location where we will engage the enemy must not become known to them. If it is not known, then the positions that they must prepare to defend will be numerous," Evans quotes Tzu on page 255. With that last passage in mind, Evans admits that in his field of reconstructive surgery, it is "hard to know the territory" because the medical environment is changing all the time.

Finally, Evans' editorial quotes from Tzu as to how victory can be obtained "…through the unorthodox." Hence, Evans posits, an "orthodox" approach to gaining more leverage in their portion of the medical market "may be used in unorthodox ways" because an orthodox attack when it is unexpected -- which it apparently would be in this case -- "may be unorthodox" (p. 255). It would appear that Evans may be stretching a bit in his analogies, because his "cause" appears to be based more on prestige and money than anything helpful to society per se. Still, if he is zeroing in on new and better academic approaches to plastic surgery, that rings a bit more pertinent to society than just national recognition and higher income levels.

Meantime Edward O'Dowd and Arthur Waldron (both professors at Princeton University) go into great detail to flush out sections of The Art of War that are worthy for use today by military commanders. After thoroughly covering the history of how and why Tzu created this strategy, and the historical implications, on page 27 the authors state that rather than a "systematic analysis of the phenomena of war and strategy" Tzu's work can be considered "…a set of aphorisms compiled into one document by a long series of commentators and editors." In other words, what is published today as The Art of War is really an edited serious of passages and quotes from ancient writings -- some of those having been lost and never recovered.

The authors use several examples of how Asian military commanders have used Tzu's strategies; during the Vietnam War, for example, the North Vietnamese agreed to attend the Paris Peace Talks, not to help find a compromise, but rather to "…feed the enemy with hope and consequently heighten divisions in the enemy camp" (p. 28). It was also an attack on the American strategy of trying to find a compromise, O'Dowd writes, because the North Vietnamese knew full well American public opinion was loudly and profoundly against the war, and hence, in the eyes of the North Vietnamese, the enemy (U.S.) showed signs of "fatigue and internal stress," words right out of The Art of War (p. 28). Moreover, knowing the enemy as well as yourself, a Tzu maxim, means (O'Dowd) that the "competent strategist should," as Tzu insisted, "exhibit the coyness of a maiden until the enemy gives you an opening" (p. 29).

After you see that opening, Tzu continues, quoted by O'Dowd, you "…emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you" (p. 29). Basically, the entire Tzu strategy is to place the enemy in a "chaotic" condition, O'Dowd mentions often in his scholarly piece. O'Dowd uses an example taken from the Korean War to link Tzu's book with warfare in the 20th Century. If the military leader in battle knows the "enemy's dispositions and potential strength while hiding his own from the enemy" the battle will go the way of that leader. An example of this occurred in November, 1050. The U.S. Second Infantry Division (in Korea) was battling the Chinese in the village of Kunu-ri, but was being hit hard by the Chinese from the north. So the Americans withdrew and headed south on Sunch'on Road.

But the Americans did not know that the Chinese snuck around the right flank of the Americans' Second Infantry Division and around the...


"Chaos was the result," O'Dowd writes, and "the American units collapsed" (p. 30). The commander of the Chinese troops, Lin Biao, later wrote about his troops' strategy, and it sounded a great deal like quotes from The Art of War: "When attacking an enemy on the march…engage him in a frontal attack while the main forces attack his flank. Cut him in two…" (p. 30).

In the publication Journal of Business Strategy, journalist Bernard Boar has some fun pretending to write letters to -- and receive letters from -- both Sun Tzu and Machiavelli. For the purposes of this paper, only the questions and answers from Sun Tzu will be reference albeit both characters' responses are valid and entertaining too. "Dear Sun," Boar writes, "What do I need to do to establish a shared agenda, common purpose…across my entire organization," as I'm having problems with "organizational conflict" (Boar, 2007, p. 16). He signed it, "Organizationally challenged." In his make-believe "Dear Abby" styled missive, Boar has Sun responding like this:

"Dear Challenged: Those whose upper and lower ranks have the same desire are victorious…Those skilled in strategy achieve cooperation in a group…Employ the entire force like employing a single individual" because after all, Tzu continues, "Strategy is a problem of coordination, not of masses" (Boar, 2007, p. 17). What Boar might also have included from The Art of War is Tzu's line at the end of Chapter Three: "He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all ranks" (McAlpine, 1992, p. 226). When asking Sun Tzu "…which comes first, strategy or organization" the author produces this answer: "Structure depends on strategy. Forces are to be structured strategically based on what is advantageous" (pp. 17-18).

Even though the meaning of Sun Tzu's succinct paragraphs and sentences may seem obvious to the Western reader, and the meaning appears to be totally straightforward and clear, according to Derek M.C. Yuen, "…many of its hidden premises and abstract reserves are lost during translation" (Yuen, 2009, p. 183). For example, on page 189 Yuen brings in Sun Tzu's quote, "…One who cannot be victorious assumes a defensive posture" but "…One who can be victorious attacks"; what this is actually saying, according to Yuen's interpretation, is that the intelligent thing for the military leader to do is attack "the enemy's plans" at the operational and tactical level. This is really all about making the enemy's moves more predictable, Yuen continues, not just a statement of the obvious. In fact, Yuen sees that Tzu's entire philosophy is Taoist in substance, and that this example embraces the functionality of "yin-yang," the "dialectical engine of Chinese strategic thought" (p. 189). In fact, the author asserts, while Tzu's readers figure he's just giving sound military advice, the reality is more along the lines of the yin and the yang -- to wit, "any concept proposed without considering its opposite is only half a concept" (p. 189).

On pages 189-190 Yuen exposes another of what he terms a misinterpretation of Tzu's work. One of the most famous of Tzu's maxims is "One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered in a hundred engagements." To take this as an allusion to "information superiority or dominance," Yuen cautions, is "…nothing but a serious misreading of Sun Tzu by the West" (p. 189). In fact, what lies beneath the surface of that particular maxim goes deeper than "implications for raw information or intelligence," Yuen explains. Indeed, that famous quote merely reestablishes the fact that war is a "mind game" and that "…attacking the enemy's mind is always the preferred method of attack" (p. 190).

That explanation will clear up any misunderstandings for an American military strategist that may believe intercepting messages from al-Queda keeps the U.S. free from terrorism. "Knowing the enemy" isn't just about gathering intelligence, though that is part of it; but being willing to employ psychology and clever strategy in approaching al-Qaeda's threat is likely more in keeping with what Tzu was really writing about 2,500 years ago.

Michael Handel of the Naval War College considers Sun Tzu's approach as "negative" because that Tzu considers "…the…

Sources Used in Documents:


Boar, Bernard, 2007, 'Sun Tzu and Machiavelli On Strategy', Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 16, Issue 1, 16-18 (originally published in the Journal of Business Strategy in 1993).

Evans, Gregory R.D., 2004, 'Sun Tzu's Art of War', Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Vol. 114, No. 1, 252-255.

Foo, Check Teck, 2009, 'Implementing Sun Tzu's Art of War, system of systems (SoS) thinking', Chinese Management Studies, Vol. 3, No. 3, 178-186.

Handel, Michael I., 2000, 'Corbett, Clausewitz, and Sun Tzu', Naval War College Review, Vol. 53, Issue 4, 106-125.
Ratledge, Kenny, 2003, 'Football According to Sun Tzu: The Art of War May Be Just Chinese To You, But It Can Win Football Games', Coach & Athletic Director, Retrieved Oct. 30, 2010, from

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