The Art of Strategy: A New Translation of Sun Tzu's Classic The Art of War by R.L. Wing

More than 2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu composed his masterpiece The Art of War which has been used by the world's greatest leaders including Napoleon. Here, Wing makes the influential philosophies of the Orient accessible to all seekers of professional achievement and personal excellence. 20 halftones, 35 illustrations.

Sun Tzu's strategy is based on the laws of nature - both human and environment. His treatise is a universal template that shows the way to triumph over conflicts from interpersonal to international. The strategy follows a direct path that escalates until victory is assured. From analysis and projection, through planning and positioning and on to confrontation. Sun Tzu explains such techniques as the use of camouflage the creation of illusion and gathering intelligence. A true victory can be won only with a strategy of tactical positioning so that the moment of triumph is effortless and destructive conflict is averted. Sun Tzu pointed out "Those who win one hundred triumphs in one hundred conflicts do not have supreme skill. Those who have supreme skill use strategy to bend others without coming to conflict".

Sun Tzu explores the psychological motivations for power and discipline in ‘Art of War’. His work is ostensibly about tactics and day-to-day practice of warfare. As Sun Tzu was a keen observer of human nature, ‘the Art of war’ is filled with advice useful not only for those engaged in war but also for those carrying on their normal lives.

The strategic and tactical doctrines expounded in ‘The Art of War’ are based on deception, the creation of false appearance to mystify and delude the enemy; the indirect approach; readily adaptability to the enemy situation’ flexible and co-ordinate maneuver of combat elements and speedy concentration against point of weakness. The best policy is to attack the enemy plans to prevent him from acting; then disrupt his alliances; creating a wedge amongst the people in state.

In the ‘Art of War’ the underlying tone is discipline. The general has to spend considerable amount of energy in emphasizing the need for discipline. Discipline via fear is however useful only up to a point. There must be a motivating force for all people who aspire to succeed, whether in the field of business, politics, administration, government or warfare. Wars cannot be won by just mere strength but it is on a conglomeration of factors, which need to be accounted. Sun Tzu emphasizes the need to take the moral of oneself and its enemy, the environment and other barriers into consideration. The moral strength and intellectual faculty of men were decisive in war, and that if these were applied war could be waged with certain success. Never to be undertaken thoughtlessly or recklessly, war was to be preceded by measures designed to make it easy to win. The master conqueror frustrates his enemy plans and breaks his alliances; he creates cleavages between the sovereign and minister, superior and inferiors, commanders and subordinates. His spies and agents are active everywhere, gathering information, sowing dissention and nurturing subversion. The enemy needs to be isolated and demoralized and his will to resist broken, thus without battle his army is conquered his cities taken and his state overthrown. Sun Tzu is a very vigilant and keen observer on human psychology.

The commentaries and annotations inserted preceding each chapter by R.W.Wang were lacking in depth; thought and any structure. They are more of an irritant than interesting read. I found myself skipping over his annotations. I found that his annotations had grammatical mistakes and I didn’t find an introduction about the author.

Review by Muhammad Ali Zaidi