Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver, the less he demands in slaughter. – Winston Churchill
The above quote has been the prevailing thought in western military strategy since World War II, but before this, war resembled the killing fields of the Great War, where the price of lives paid was astronomical. All war costs a terrible price; itâ€™s more acceptable when embarked on with the ideal of sparing as many lives, civilian and military, as possible.
These ideals are the essence of sound strategy and tactics, and were outlined about 2,500 years ago in The Art of War in ancient China by the general Sun Tzu. Unfortunately these teachings didnâ€™t reach the West until shortly before the French Revolution and didnâ€™t gain widespread acceptance until the 20th Century.
Sadly, western thought was governed by the often misunderstood philosophies of Carl von Clausewitz outlined in On War. Clausewitz preached the ruinous practice of total war, the utter destruction by any and all means of oneâ€™s enemy. Due to the proliferation of Clausewitzâ€™s ideas, the West, as it had for centuries, continued waging war on a scale of mass attrition, culminating in the World Wars. Had the teachings of Sun Tzu been propagated and given due weight, millions upon millions of lives could have been saved.
Because western culture achieved dominance throughout the world as globalization occurred, peoples who took the ideals of The Art of War to heart began to abandon them in favor of Clausewitz. It took two World Wars and the deaths of millions for us to see the light.
Sun Tzu, in a time which would appear ancient and uncivilized to the modern observer, outlined the most expansive and in-depth treatise on the theory and conduct of war that has ever been written. Sun Tzuâ€™s writings, often referred to as the â€œThirteen Chapters,â€ display the aspects and practices of war with such wisdom they can only described as the veritable generalâ€™s Bible.
However, Sun Tzu himself might never have existed. It has been concluded through the study of history in relation to the text that Sun Tzu did not live in the time or situation canonically ascribed to him. The traditional story is false. This is not to say Sun Tzu was not real. He quite possibly could have lived at a later time, about 300 years later than originally thought, in the latter 400s B.C., under the same or a different name. Authors of the time frequently credited their works to popular figures of old to lend them credence. Nevertheless, the Thirteen Chapters are no less enlightened, correct or important.
The Art of War is essential reading not only for military commanders, but also enlisted personnel, coaches, teachers, businessmen, politicians, and everyday people.