Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sun Tzu is a circle

I may be saying something here that is self-evident to some people, but have you ever noticed in Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War' that the last chapter feeds into the first chapter? Quick note from here on in I'm using Sawyer's translation.

Employing spies feeds into the initial estimations. Without spies there is no information for estimates. The estimations also guide the spies. Without clear guidance of what information is needed in the estimation the spies would be useless. So both initial estimations and the employing spies chapters are intertwined.

I was thinking to myself, does this work with any other chapters? What if I continue the same pattern based on the above?

Let's look at the chapters side by side using the original pattern.

  • initial estimations is partnered with employing spies
  • waging war is partnered with incendiary attacks
  • planning offensives is partnered with nine terrains
  • military disposition is partnered with configurations of terrain
  • strategic military power is partnered with maneuvering the army
  • vacuity and substance is partnered with nine changes

If you create the above visually with a ring of concentric circles, starting with estimations-spies on the outside we are left over with a singular chapter on military combat in the middle. The last inner circle on military combat is interesting considering two things. Firstly, is that military combat is the real action and overall theme of the book. Secondly, I'm not a religious scholar but there might be a taoist theme to its singularity. Military combat is alone amongst all the other partnerships. It just 'is' and might be considered the only chaotic constant amongst all the other themes in the book.

To go in depth and compare the above patterns would probably make me fall prey to confirmation bias, since the overall themes of the book probably criss-cross each other anyway and the pattern is just in my mind and probably not intended by the author. Although it might make fodder for a future synthesis of military themes (or blog post).

Update: I cannot remember if I had seen this connection between the last chapter and the first chapter from somewhere else. At first I thought it was the Ralph Peter's essay 'The sage and the seeker' which discusses Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, but I re-read it and there was no mention of the connection. Perhaps my memory is faulty?


The Red Son said...

Delightful. Also good to read about an old classic in a new light. Inspired by this post I finally wrote a post judging the war in Iraq by the quality of victorious armies laid out in chapter 3. I invite you to respond to my reading of the tome, available here,

Keep up the good work.

G said...

red son, I know very little about Iraq. I don't think I'd be able to respond to your post. I'll have a short crack at it anyway but I'm not promising anything enlightening.

The Red Son said...

Short crack? I hate to see what a long crack looks like. Your infernal "logic-based arguement" made my head spin.

G said...


That's what you get when invite me to respond!

G said...

thanks for letting me respond as well!