Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Art of War

I was in Iraq when I first read The Art of War and I immediately loved the book for its many insights into military tactics and strategies. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the advice given in that book still applies today – even in the unconventional operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. I saw how the terrorists used tactics that were almost straight from the ancient book with their ambush styles and setting of IED's [1]; I believe this helped discern where trouble may be when I was out and about.

I decided, should I ever get my sergeant rank, that I would do my best to be a leader as described in Sun Tzu's masterpiece [2]; a leader not seeking glory, benevolent, willing to do as my men would do, and not quick to anger. I am so inspired by this book that I grade all of my leaders (from team leader to commander) by Sun Tzu's standard – some have passed, others have failed. My team leader in Iraq was such a one who passed, and I will never forget his example of what a leader should be.

It is clear to me that plenty of elements of The Art of War are in the Army's modern tactics of today, and I wish that tactics and strategies were taught at the lower levels instead of just a few leadership skills. When I went to Warrior Leader Course (WLC, formerly PLDC) I was taught and evaluated on a few things such as my ability to march soldiers, give orders, and adapting and overcoming when my situation suddenly changed; but I was not taught any strategy or tactical skills - aside from the basic stuff the Army is pushing out. I'm talking using terrain features to your advantage, when to attack and when to pull back, how to attack and other such essential things. I believe that if the lower echelon is taught everything that is contained in this book then we would have a much better fighting force than we have now.

I was pretty surprised when I found out that a lot of soldiers (even those combat and combat support jobs) have never read The Art of War; I can understand some one who has a purely supportive job (such as supply, commo, signal, and cooks) and has not read a book on military strategy, but for those who's job it is to go out and fight (i.e. infantry, and MP's)? They should be teaching this stuff at Basic Training! I mean really they should be; one thing I always heard was that soldiers should know the job of two people above them and one below them, so for example I should know the job of my team leader and the job of my squad leader as well as the job of my driver/gunner. How can I properly know the job above me if I only have the minutest bit of knowledge concerning strategy and tactics?

My mind was truly boggled when I ran across a few officers and cadets (OCS, ROTC) who had not even read or heard of The Art of War. These men were to become my leaders and they hadn't read the book? I was even more taken back when I found out that it is recommended that each unit has a copy of the book in their library available for soldiers to read and I have yet to see a copy (or a library) in the units I have been in.

I must applaud Military Intelligence (an oxymoron, I know) and the CIA since MI recommends reading the book and it is required reading for CIA officers. It is good to know that those types of people are reading such a great book written over 2500 years ago and still applies to modern warfare.

Now, I know that much of what we have in the way our military works is derived from The Art of War and I know plenty of higher ups have read the book. I know that usually it is up to those higher ups to decide the strategical and tactical side of things, but I do not believe that it would hurt those of us lower down on the totem pole to know these same things in case something unexpected were to happen and we had to improvise and step up to take charge.

If I am ever in charge of a team, squad, platoon, company, etc. I will require my soldiers to read the classical book of warfare, from the leaders down to the guy who is always on KP. So, I encourage any and all military who happen to read this particular post to please read The Art of War. I leave you with two of my favorite quotes (aside from the footnotes).

“There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.”
“In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace.”

If you want, you can read The Art of War. 

All quotes are taken from The Art of War.
[1] “If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, 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. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”

[2] “Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.”

A leader leads by example not by force,”

The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.”

He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.”

“Management of many is the same as management of few. It is a matter of organization.”

“The art of giving orders is not to try to rectify the minor blunders and not to be swayed by petty doubts.”

Post a Comment