On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

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Carinthium
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On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Carinthium » 2013-01-31 10:36pm

Since ancient China isn't an area of history I know well, requesting some help from people who do on this question. Basically- for the circumstances in which it was written, how effective or ineffective was Sun Tzu's The Art of War as a guide to it? In particular, in that capacity what were it's flaws?

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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Stark » 2013-01-31 10:37pm

Are you looking for information around its specific applicability or otherwise or the way the ideas were used over time?

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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Carinthium » 2013-01-31 10:42pm

I am looking for how useful it would be for somebody attempting to learn how to fight wars effectively at the time, as well as how effective or ineffective a commander would be if they followed Sun Tzu's ideas purely at the time.

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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Thanas » 2013-01-31 11:19pm

It is more a rule on how to effectively wage a campaign. It is a general philosophy, far less dedicated to specific instances like the Roman manuals of war, but it is a good way to learn how to not commit the most stupid blunders.
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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Dominarch's Hope » 2013-01-31 11:20pm

Its a very good set of guidelines of how to utilize an armed force.
Because, Murrica, thats why.

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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Zinegata » 2013-02-01 12:36am

The "Art of War" is also a bit of a misnomer, as it covers not only war but diplomacy and espionage. It's really a manual of "general guidelines on how states can resolve conflicts", as much as a manual of "general war strategy".

And as a set of general guidelines, it actually makes a lot of sense. The period for which it was written featured a divided China, with numerous small states engaging in conflict with each other. Advice like "weak states should ally with the strong" or "find something of value that a stronger power wants" would be pretty relevant for the rulers and generals of this time period.

That being said, it's more of a set of guidelines; not a detailed how-to manual.

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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by spaceviking » 2013-02-01 02:53am

It might be a good manual for solving conflicts, but I find it really annoying when people by books like "un Tzu in the board room.

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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by CaptHawkeye » 2013-02-01 06:05pm

Some people just like to fantasize about their boring trade being like war and themselves being like great Generals.

I'd hazard to guess these are the same kind of people who think most soldiers in antiquity died epically in combat and not from malnutrition or disease.
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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Zinegata » 2013-02-02 09:21pm

Sun Tzu is so generalized that some of its precepts are indeed applicable to any form of leadership position (arguably one of its strengths and conversely also its weakness); but trying to apply the whole book to the boardroom is a stretch.

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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Ziggy Stardust » 2013-02-04 01:53pm

Half of the book is basically just Sun Tzu finding creative ways to say, "Don't be a fucking moron."

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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Nephtys » 2013-02-04 04:57pm

Half of Sun Tzu are just anecdotes that are basically:

When you can, stack the deck in your favor.
Try not to play if you can't win.
Be cost effective and rational.

Pretty basic stuff, really. When you strip out the general ancient battle context.

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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Elfdart » 2013-02-04 06:08pm

Ziggy Stardust wrote:Half of the book is basically just Sun Tzu finding creative ways to say, "Don't be a fucking moron."
In other words, it's little more than fortune cookie cliches for milwankers -only adding the words "in bed" to the end doesn't make Sun Tzu's sayings mildly amusing on dinner dates.
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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by PainRack » 2013-02-04 10:25pm

I always take the Art of War more as a strategy guide for actual generals, as opposed to Roman texts which teach generals how to fight. Hell, if anyone read the seven military classics, they were ALL written like that.

This is for example Jiang Tai Gon Six Teachings.
http://www.chinese-wiki.com/Tai_Gong_Si ... _Chapter_1



Arguments about it being too short ignore the context of the times. It was written in an era of bamboo strips, with the use of a pictographic language and grammar that inhibited prose, which was then formalised mostly by the Han Dynasty. As Cao Cao and other commentators has taken note, for something that's supposed to be obvious, lots of actual commanders don't do that.
As a philosophy, it could never reach the same depth of Clausewitz on war, but summarising the same principles is still quite a good achievement.
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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by thejester » 2013-02-05 12:31am

Elfdart wrote:
Ziggy Stardust wrote:Half of the book is basically just Sun Tzu finding creative ways to say, "Don't be a fucking moron."
In other words, it's little more than fortune cookie cliches for milwankers -only adding the words "in bed" to the end doesn't make Sun Tzu's sayings mildly amusing on dinner dates.
No, not really? The Art of War remains one of the most important theoretical works on strategy and warfare written - the fact that it has been distilled down to 'Confucius says' bullshit by self-help corporate hacks is a reflection on them, not it.
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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Stark » 2013-02-05 12:49am

Nephtys wrote:Half of Sun Tzu are just anecdotes that are basically:

When you can, stack the deck in your favor.
Try not to play if you can't win.
Be cost effective and rational.

Pretty basic stuff, really. When you strip out the general ancient battle context.
The utility is pretty obviously in the examples and attitude produced. This sort of reply is like saying 'the world of finance basically boils down to 'buy low, sell high' once you remove the modern financial context'.

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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by PainRack » 2013-02-05 06:08am

Nephtys wrote:Half of Sun Tzu are just anecdotes that are basically:

When you can, stack the deck in your favor.
Try not to play if you can't win.
Be cost effective and rational.

Pretty basic stuff, really. When you strip out the general ancient battle context.
Errr......... Are we actually reading the same book?

The use of direct and indirect forces= stack the deck in your favour, try not to play if you can't win or what?

The virtues of a military commander and discipline, training, tactics and strategy?

Try and remember that this is the same era where a famous Duke decided that 'virtue' was all that was needed to win a battle and committed virtually every single sin that Sun Tzu advised against(Except for Moral Heaven of course). Or how politicians believed that a battle was decided due to cosmological forces, such as the fall of a comet or wind blowing the banner and etc..........
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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by PeZook » 2013-02-05 02:42pm

Also, the fact it is basic information does not mean it is useless. It would be like saying first grade math books are dumb and useless and not that good because they teach things everybody knows ; Everybody knows them because they were taught all that. This is why military officers all have to read Sun Tzu...before moving to other material so that they can learn all the gritty details of modern warfare, staff work, logistics etc.

And in an era where even basic observations like these were by no means universal or obvious, it was invaluable to have it codified and assembled in one place.
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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Simon_Jester » 2013-02-05 03:13pm

Yes.

By comparison, great medieval scholars wrote huge, learned books on algebra, geometry, types of philosophy we now teach to college freshmen... was it useless? Hardly. That was literally all the human race knew at the time in those areas. Trying to learn and teach it for the first time, to adults not already accustomed to it, was a tremendous challenge we have a hard time imagining today.
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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Dominarch's Hope » 2013-02-05 07:17pm

PainRack wrote:
Nephtys wrote:Half of Sun Tzu are just anecdotes that are basically:

When you can, stack the deck in your favor.
Try not to play if you can't win.
Be cost effective and rational.

Pretty basic stuff, really. When you strip out the general ancient battle context.
Errr......... Are we actually reading the same book?

The use of direct and indirect forces= stack the deck in your favour, try not to play if you can't win or what?

The virtues of a military commander and discipline, training, tactics and strategy?

Try and remember that this is the same era where a famous Duke decided that 'virtue' was all that was needed to win a battle and committed virtually every single sin that Sun Tzu advised against(Except for Moral Heaven of course). Or how politicians believed that a battle was decided due to cosmological forces, such as the fall of a comet or wind blowing the banner and etc..........


Which Duke?
Because, Murrica, thats why.

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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by PainRack » 2013-02-08 09:18pm

Dominarch's Hope wrote: Which Duke?
I'm a bit too lazy to actually dig through the Spring and Autumn Annals again........


I would like to point out also that that other great Literature work, the Spring and Autumn Annals is also only about 16,000 words long and its cover the historical period of 240 years. Clearly, existing literature of that era were concise and required students to actually have access to commentaries or other guides to understand the discipline
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Re: On the Effectiveness of The Art of War

Post by Dr. Trainwreck » 2013-02-09 12:21pm

PainRack wrote:Clearly, existing literature of that era were concise and required students to actually have access to commentaries or other guides to understand the discipline
Dingdingdingding. Accompanying commentaries have either been simply lost, or it was once decided that they were not as important as the primary text.
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