3. Attack By Stratagem
- The end goal of war is to capture, direct confrontation is not always necessary, and is almost always costly (in relation to the size of the undertaking)
- The lowest form of gameplan is to contest through direct confrontation with brute force. The highest is to contest through attacking the enemy’s gameplan.
- In carrying out a project/enterprise there are ways that are prolonged, protracted, and drains the resources of the organization – such as deploying many men to storm a well-defended encampment. Though the image of war are associated with such activity, a good general must learn that this is the most costly, and should be used only as a last resort.
- It is also important to understand the notion of effective capacity – that is the size/dimension of the force that we command in relation to the size of the challenge. The rule of thumb from Sun Tzu is as follows:
- If ten to one, surround
- If five to one, attack.
- If two to one, divide.
- If equally matched, bait for battle.
- If inferior, avoid conflict.
- If severely outnumbered, flee.
- Mistakes to avoid by generals:
- To command a disobedient army (or army not ready to obey)
- To govern a military force using civil principles.
- To follow (military or civil) principles without adjusting to circumstance.
- Mistakes will make the army “restless and distrustful” – which can crumble the forces even before battle, and when sensed by enemy forces will invite further trouble. Therefore, mistakes have compounding negative effect.
- Five essential for victory:
- Knowing when to engage or avoid fight.
- Being able to command both superior and inferior army.
- “Many in body, one in mind” within the army.
- To be able to attack an unprepared foe, when one is fully prepared (this is a manifestation of attack by stratagem).
- To operate without being handicapped by limitation imposed by sovereign.
- Find the most effective way to capture the end goal, and be aware of the end goal of an operation as well as the various hindrances that may occur during operation.
- Execution is a manifestation of a plan – attack by stratagem points to the higher form of warfare, which is to attack the enemy’s plan.
- Appropriate timing, understanding of the size of one’s army in relation of enemy’s, to be able to attack the enemy unprepared while we are well prepared, and so on … can only be achieved if the general is able to gather the relevant information. Subsequent chapters in Sun Tzu talks about the use of spies to gather information – this chapter discuss the principles of ‘attacking by stratagem’ and subtly implies the necessity to be able to gather accurate information. How else would the general know that the size of his forces are ‘ten to one’ to that of his enemy’s? In warfare his enemy will do his utmost to conceal this information.
- To operate without being handicapped by limitation imposed by sovereign implies that the general must make the necessary arrangement to ensure that when he carries out an operation, he have the full responsibility AND authority to carry it out. This is difficult especially in large undertaking, as the sovereign are usually more risk-averse and is generally less trusting. This also implies that in large operation, the higher the risk, the more possibility it is for the higher authority / sovereign to intercept. But with the right preparation, the right authority can be secured – and where the risk is high, proper countermeasure can (and must) be deployed.
- Lastly, the very title “attack by stratagem” can only be done when the general can fully perceive the enemy’s battleplan (or stratagem). Again this points to the need to gather effective information / insight into the circumstance.
1. Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best
thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact;
to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is
better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it,
to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire
than to destroy them.
2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles
is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists
in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to
balk the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent
the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in
order is to attack the enemy's army in the field;
and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
4. The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it
can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets,
movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take
up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over
against the walls will take three months more.
5. The general, unable to control his irritation,
will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants,
with the result that one-third of his men are slain,
while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous
effects of a siege.
6. Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's
troops without any fighting; he captures their cities
without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom
without lengthy operations in the field.
7. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery
of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph
will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.
8. It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten
to the enemy's one, to surround him; if five to one,
to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army
9. If equally matched, we can offer battle;
if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy;
if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.
10. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made
by a small force, in the end it must be captured
by the larger force.
11. Now the general is the bulwark of the State;
if the bulwark is complete at all points; the State will
be strong; if the bulwark is defective, the State will
12. There are three ways in which a ruler can bring
misfortune upon his army:--
13. (1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat,
being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey.
This is called hobbling the army.
14. (2) By attempting to govern an army in the
same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant
of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes
restlessness in the soldier's minds.
15. (3) By employing the officers of his army
without discrimination, through ignorance of the
military principle of adaptation to circumstances.
This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.
16. But when the army is restless and distrustful,
trouble is sure to come from the other feudal princes.
This is simply bringing anarchy into the army, and flinging
17. Thus we may know that there are five essentials
(1) He will win who knows when to fight and when
not to fight.
(2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior
and inferior forces.
(3) He will win whose army is animated by the same
spirit throughout all its ranks.
(4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take
the enemy unprepared.
(5) He will win who has military capacity and is
not interfered with by the sovereign.
18. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy
and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a
hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy,
for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will
succumb in every battle.