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The Art of War

James Clavell

  The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected.

  So begins a remarkable document, written in Chinese some 2,500 years ago, that the world famous author James Clavell strongly feels is vital to our survival today: a book to be read not only by every commander in chief and every officer, but by everyone of us who is interested in peace. For if the true purpose of war is peace, here are the ways to attain it.

  Sun Tzu was a philosopher before he ever became a general, and he discusses all aspects of war, from the tactical to the human, in language that is both penetrating and poetic. And James Clavell takes his precepts and shows their application to today’s world—to the world of business as well as the world of daily life.

  Sun Tzu starts with the laying of plans, moves on to waging war, and then to the sheathed sword; for as Sun Tzu said, “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” He covers the weak points and the strong ones of an army; the way to maneuver; special tactics for special situations; the army on the march; dealing with different kinds of terrain; when to fight and when not to; attack by fire; and, most important, the use of spies.

  The Art of War brought Sun Tzu to the attention of the King of Wu, who appointed him general. For almost two decades thereafter—until the deaths of Sun Tzu and the king—the armies of Wu were victorious over their hereditary enemies.







  …but not just for children

  Published by

  Delacorte Press

  1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza

  New York, N.Y. 10017

  Copyright © 1983 by James Clavell

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  9 8 7

  Designed by Richard Oriolo


  Sun Tzu [6th cent, B.C.] The art of war.

  I. Military art and science—early works to 1800.

  I. Clavell, James. II. Title.

  U101.S95 1983 355'.02 82-19939

  ISBN 0-385-29216-3

















  Sun Tzu wrote this extraordinary book in China two and a half thousand years ago. It begins:

  The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected.

  It ends:

  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. Spies are a most important element in war, because upon them depends an army’s ability to move.

  I truly believe that if our military and political leaders in recent times had studied this work of genius, Vietnam could not have happened as it happened; we would not have lost the war in Korea (we lost because we did not achieve victory); the Bay of Pigs could not have occurred; the hostage fiasco in Iran would not have come to pass; the British Empire would not have been dismembered; and, in all probability, World Wars I and II would have been avoided—certainly they would not have been waged as they were waged, and the millions of youths obliterated unnecessarily and stupidly by monsters calling themselves generals would have lived out their lives.

  Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

  I find it astounding that Sun Tzu wrote so many truths twenty-five centuries ago that are still applicable today—especially in his chapter on the use of spies, which I find extraordinary. I think this little book shows clearly what is still being done wrong, and why our present opponents are so successful in some areas (Sun Tzu is obligatory reading in the Soviet political-military hierarchy and has been available in Russian for centuries; it is also, almost word for word, the source of all Mao Tse-tung’s Little Red Book of strategic and tactical doctrine).

  Even more importantly, I believe The Art of War shows quite clearly how to take the initiative and combat the enemy—any enemy.

  Sun Tzu wrote: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

  Like Machiavelli’s The Prince and Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings, Sun Tzu’s truths, contained herein, can equally show the way to victory in all kinds of ordinary business conflicts, boardroom battles, and in the day to day fight for survival we all endure—even in the battle of the sexes! They are all forms of war, all fought under the same rules—his rules.

  The first time I ever personally heard about Sun Tzu was at the races in Happy Valley in Hong Kong in 1977. A friend, P. G. Williams, a steward of the Jockey Club, asked me if I had ever read the book. I said no, and he told me that he would be happy to send me a copy the next day. When the book arrived, I left it unread. Then one day, weeks later, I picked it up. I was totally shocked that in all of my reading about Asia, about Japan and China particularly, I had not come across this book before. Since that time it has been a constant companion for me, so much so that during the course of the writing of Noble House many of the characters in it refer to Sun Tzu in all his glory. I think his work is fantastic. Hence this version of his book.

  Unfortunately little is known of the man himself or of when he wrote the thirteen chapters. Some ascribe them to approximately 500 B.C. in the Kingdom of Wu, some to approximately 300 B.C.

  About 100 B.C. one of his chroniclers, Su-ma Ch’ien, gives this biography:

  Sun Tzu, whose personal name was Wu, was a native of the Ch’i state. His Art of War brought him to the notice of Ho Lu, King of Wu. Ho Lu said to him, “I have carefully perused your thirteen chapters. May I submit your theory of managing soldiers to a slight test?”

  Sun Tzu replied, “You may.”

  The king asked, “May the test be applied to women?”

  The answer was again in the affirmative, so arrangements were made to bring 180 ladies out of the palace. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies and placed one of the king’s favorite concubines at the head of each. He then made them all take spears in their hands and addressed them thus: “I presume you know the difference between front and back, right hand and left hand?”

  The girls replied, “Yes.”

  Sun Tzu went on. “When I say ‘eyes front,’ you must look straight ahead. When I say ‘left turn,’ you must face toward your left hand. When I say ‘right turn,’ you must face toward your right hand. When I say ‘about turn,’ you must face right around toward the back.”

  Again the girls assented. The words of command having been thus explained, he set up the halberds and battle-axes in order to begin the drill. Then to the sound of drums he gave the order “right turn,” but the girls only burst out l

  Sun Tzu said patiently, “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame.” He started drilling them again and this time gave the order “left turn,” whereupon the girls once more burst into fits of laughter.

  Then he said, “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders are clear and the soldiers nevertheless disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.” So saying, he ordered the leaders of the two companies to be beheaded.

  Now the King of Wu was watching from the top of a raised pavilion, and when he saw that his favorite concubines were about to be executed, he was greatly alarmed and hurriedly sent down the following message: “We are now quite satisfied as to our general’s ability to handle troops. If we are bereft of these two concubines, our meat and drink will lose their savor. It is our wish that they shall not be beheaded.”

  Sun Tzu replied even more patiently: “Having once received His Majesty’s commission to be general of his forces, there are certain commands of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity, I am unable to accept.” Accordingly, and immediately, he had the two leaders beheaded and straight-away installed the pair next in order as leaders in their place. When this had been done the drum was sounded for the drill once more. The girls went through all the evolutions, turning to the right or to the left, marching ahead or wheeling about, kneeling or standing, with perfect accuracy and precision, not venturing to utter a sound.

  Then Sun Tzu sent a messenger to the king saying: “Your soldiers, sire, are now properly drilled and disciplined and ready for Your Majesty’s inspection. They can be put to any use that their sovereign may desire. Bid them go through fire and water and they will not now disobey.”

  But the king replied: “Let our general cease drilling and return to camp. As for us, we have no wish to come down and inspect the troops.”

  Thereupon Sun Tzu said calmly: “The king is only fond of words and cannot translate them into deeds.”

  After that the King of Wu saw that Sun Tzu was one who knew how to handle an army, and appointed him general. In the west Sun Tzu defeated the Ch’u state and forced his way into Ying, the capital; to the north he put fear into the states of Ch’i and Chin, and spread his fame abroad among the feudal princes. And Sun Tzu shared in the might of the kingdom.

  So Sun Tzu became a general for the King of Wu. For almost two decades the armies of Wu were victorious over their hereditary enemies, the Kingdom of Yueh and Ch’u. Sometime within this period Sun Tzu died and his patron, the King of Wu, was killed in a battle. For a few years his descendants followed the precepts of Sun Tzu and continued to be victorious. And then they forgot.

  In 473 B.C. the armies of Wu were defeated and the kingdom made extinct.

  In 1782 The Art of War was first translated into French by a Jesuit, Father Amiot. There is a legend that this little book was Napoleon’s key to success and his secret weapon. Certainly his battles depended upon mobility, and mobility is one of the things that Sun Tzu stresses. Certainly Napoleon used all of Sun Tzu to his own advantage to conquer most of Europe. It was only when he failed to follow Sun Tzu’s rules that he was defeated.

  The Art of War was not translated into English until 1905. The first English translation was by P. F. Calthrop. The second, the one that you will read here, is by Lionel Giles, originally published in Shanghai and London in 1910. I have taken a few liberties with this translation to make it a little more accessible—any translation from ancient Chinese to another language is to a certain extent a point of view—and have inserted some of Giles’s notes, according to the Chinese method, immediately after the passages to which they refer.

  I have also, for simplicity, deliberately eliminated all accents over Chinese names and places. It is, really, almost impossible to translate the Chinese sounds of a character into Roman lettering. Again, for simplicity, I’ve used the old-fashioned method of spelling. Let all scholars great and small please excuse me!

  I sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book. Sun Tzu deserves to be read. I would like to make The Art of War obligatory study for all our serving officers and men, as well as for all politicians and all people in government and all high schools and universities in the free world. If I were a commander in chief or president or prime minister I would go further: I would have written into law that all officers, particularly all generals, take a yearly oral and written examination on these thirteen chapters, the passing mark being 95 percent—any general failing to achieve a pass to be automatically and summarily dismissed without appeal, and all other officers to have automatic demotion.

  I believe, very much, that Sun Tzu’s knowledge is vital to our survival. It can give us the protection we need to watch our children grow in peace and thrive.

  Always remember, since ancient times, it has been known that …“the true object of war is peace.”



  * * *


  Sun Tzu said:

  The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected.

  The art of war is governed by five constant factors, all of which need to be taken into account. They are: the Moral Law; Heaven; Earth; the Commander; Method and discipline.

  The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

  Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.

  Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.

  The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness.

  By Method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the gradations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.

  These five factors should be familiar to every general. He who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.

  Therefore, when seeking to determine your military conditions, make your decisions on the basis of a comparison in this wise:

  Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral Law?

  Which of the two generals has the most ability?

  With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?

  On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?

  Tu Mu alludes to the remarkable story of Ts’ao Ts’ao (A.D. 155–220), who was such a strict disciplinarian that once, in accordance with his own severe regulations against injury to standing crops, he condemned himself to death for having allowed his horse to stray into a field of corn! However, in lieu of losing his head, he was persuaded to satisfy his sense of justice by cutting off his hair. “When you lay down a law, see that it is not disobeyed; if it is disobeyed, the offender must be put to death.”

  Which army is the stronger?

  On which side are officers and men more highly trained?

  In which army is there the most absolute certainty that merit will be properly rewarded and misdeeds summarily punished?

  By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat. The general who hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it will conquer—let such a one be retained in command! The general who hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it will suffer defeat—let such a one be dismissed! But remember: While heeding the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules and modify your plans accordingly.

  All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; whe
n far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

  The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat; how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.


  * * *


  In the operations of war, where there are in the field a thousand swift chariots, ten thousand heavy chariots, and a hundred thousand mail-clad soldiers, with provisions enough to carry them a thousand li,1 the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day. Such is the cost of raising an army of a hundred thousand men.

  When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, the men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be dampened. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength, and if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the state will not be equal to the strain. Never forget: When your weapons are dulled, your ardor dampened, your strength exhausted, and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

  Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays. In all history, there is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare. Only one who knows the disastrous effects of a long war can realize the supreme importance of rapidity in bringing it to a close. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war who can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.