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"Rethinking Sun Tzu" Topic


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210 hits since 5 Dec 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0105 Dec 2017 2:15 p.m. PST

"The author James Clavell once wrote that if he were ever put in charge of the U.S. military, he would require all generals to take an annual written and oral exam covering the tenets of Sun Tzu—with those scoring below 95 percent being summarily dismissed.[1] Predictably, the proposal never gained much traction within the Pentagon, but the hypothetical exam raises an interesting question. Would we even be able to agree on a common, testable understanding of the principles inherent in The Art of War? The number of prominent Western military strategists who consistently attribute to Sun Tzu phrases never a part of his work suggests the Chinese sage suffers the same fate as his Prussian counterpart.[2] That is, he is the author of a book "well-known but little read."[3] As a result, we too readily ascribe to Sun Tzu contemporary views bearing little resemblance to the cultural and historic milieu that ultimately grounds the text. In short, we stray too far from the original document we are attempting to interpret for a modern audience.

Take the almost unquestioned belief that Sun Tzu articulated a surprisingly modern and enlightened ethical stance by directing the enemy writ large be treated humanely during wartime. The U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Legal Center publishes the Law of Armed Conflict Deskbook, in which the authors state: "Sun Tzu's The Art of War set out a number of rules that controlled what soldiers were permitted to do during war, including the treatment and care of captives, and respect for women and children in captured territory." This view of Sun Tzu's thinking, though, does not reflect the ideas put forth in the actual text. The Art of War may not have proposed wanton destruction for its own sake, but it was also far from an ancient proponent of our modern laws of warfare…"
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Dynaman878907 Dec 2017 9:44 a.m. PST

Sun Tzu's works are like chess, maybe, perhaps, useful in a background info sort of way but knowing either in detail is not required to being a warrior or a commander.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP10 Dec 2017 5:43 a.m. PST

Interesting article. Seems not very many strategists know Sun Tzu as well as they think they do. And I do remember when Sun Tzu was treated as the great text of business, which no doubt the great general would have been amused (or stunned) to learn. Business is business, war is war. Confusing the two is both foolish and irrational.

Lastly, just because someone wrote it down long ago doesn't mean that what they wrote is always right, or even always applicable. (Not to mention that Sun Tzu can at times be quite vague and overly metaphorical.)

What is it about human thought that we so easily make an appeal to authority without considering whether that authority is valid in the circumstances being argued?

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