Sun Tzu and contemporary military governance

Discussion in 'Staff College and Staff Officers' started by Snoreador, Dec 16, 2010.

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  1. I have just started reading The Art of War, and something rather close to the beginning piqued my interest. In the section "The Attack by Stratagem", he talks of the role of 'Princes' - heads of state, rulers - in the effectiveness of an army. Three of these points seemed to me, as an external viewer, to have been violated by the British government recently:

    "Now a prince may embarrass his army in three ways, namely:

    Ignorant that the army in the field should not advance, to order it to go forward; or, ignorant that the army should not retreat, order it to retire.

    This is to tie the army as with a string.

    Ignorant of military affairs, to rule the armies in the same way as the state.

    This is to perplex the soldiers.

    Ignorant of the situation of the army, to settle its dispositions.

    This is to fill the soldiers with distrust."

    I welcome ARRSEers' comments on this - have I completely missed the point, read too much into it, or otherwise misunderstood the feelings of the military that come through in the mainstream media? On a naive level, the feeling that comes across is one of being tied, perplexed at defence policy, and distrustful of politicians in general (not necessarily a bad thing!).
  2. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer got it dead right, but ****** politicians don't read, to busy fiddling expenses
  3. More caviar with your second mortgage, sir?
  4. Sun Tsu? Did he know Tony Blair personally? it's pretty easy to say important and relevant things when you talk in generalities. I'm sure it has always been thus that the soldier does the politician's bidding without full understanding, and the soldier has always distrusted the politician.

    What's the news?
  5. In which case, why did he feel the need to explicitly say these things if they are, are you suggest, universally occurring?
  6. I have this feeling in my 'water' that many of our bleeding Politicians of all parties are 'proffesional politicians' who step from the Sixth Form, to College/Univeristy then into Political Researcher or PR and Media type jobs which does not really give them much of an idea of how the Real World operates, except in the rarefied atmosphere of the Westmisnter Village. No experience of real jobs like working in a factory, building sites, digging ditches, cleaning latrines or shelf stacking at 'Tescos' etc, etc.

    As for matters Military, they wouldn't have one iota of a clue. Hence the 'fubars' from the time of Saint Tony as PM, through Doc Broone as Chancellor and then PM. Even the likes of Call-Me-Dave and Cleggy give me the same impression - utterly clueless about all matters military. But then they do have 'Experts' to advise them on these matters. But some of that advice from these 'experts' in MoD appears to be a tad clueless as well at times.

    This certainly sums up that impression -- "Ignorant of military affairs, to rule the armies in the same way as the state..!"

    "This is to fill the soldiers with distrust......"

    Absolutement, Mes Amis......Hits the nail right on the head..., well, certainly for me
  7. Twas ever thus - checkout the Duke of Burgundy as a factor in Marlborough's ultimate victory over the French!
  8. Same problems over here with professional pols.

    In countries with representative governments like ours, it is always a dodgy thing to strike the right balance for our principle of civilian control of the military in terms of how much "control" is wielded before it becomes "interference."
  9. Caecilius

    Caecilius LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    Probably because he was trying to write a comprehensive book. There are many similarities between the work of Clausewitz and that of Sun Tzu: principally that the books consist of 99% weak platitudes or turgid detail which is used by commanders (and now those in the business world) to make their plans sound clever, original or supported by an historical authority. There is a final 1% of genius in both books but your extract is probably not, in my opinion, an example of this.
  10. Which is why some of the more successful ancient Chinese generals - esp in the Sui and Tang eras - were reportedly very dismissive of Sun Tzu and his ilk. To be fair, suspect that Sun Tzu may have intended his work less as a Idiot's Guide for proper generals, more of an Idiot's Guide to those who employ proper generals - eg Emperors and their civilian bureaucracies who would properly be responsible for strategy, less properly concerned with operational and tactical detail.
  11. Ah yes, my copy comes with a stomach-churning introduction from a self-help businessman. I skipped it rather rapidly.

    This makes sense. The book ends up being revered (historically?) as a matter of course, without thought to which is actually the good stuff. This is why I posed this question - my experiences of anybody attempting to apply this stuff is zero, so it's interesting to get this feedback.

    It would be very interesting to put this into a historical context. Are there any decent books on the history of such things?
  12. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

    " Be harmonious,enrich the soldiers, and scorn all other men"

    Septimius Severus 21AD

    now theres a politicians that knew about squaddys
  13. I think the date was 210AD and what ever he knew about soldiers I don't think he new much about COIN in view of his problems with the Caledones
  14. You are right, but you could substitute the warblings of some long dead inscrutable oriental chappy with almost anything - try Sharpe, or possibly Predator - with enough thought.

    Its just easier with the government as they act so counter-intuitively to good military sense so often.