Art of War Applications - Part 1: Strategic Assessments

Art of War Applications – Part 1: Strategic Assessments


The Art of War is a famous book written from words of Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general and strategist. Divided into 13 chapters, different aspects of “war being considered as a necessary evil that must be avoided when possible” are considered. Sun Tzu acknowledged response needed to changing conditions, and laid out different scenarios and strategies. This work has provided inspiration to many well-known military leaders in history, including Mao Zedong, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, and even Imperial Japanese leaders. This is remarkable, considering the author lived around 500 B.C.

In this account as well as related parts in future, a summary per section, typically in master’s words, is considered – with a modern-day example which may be applicable (in certain cases).

Past and Present

The format undertaken is listed as a concept, e.g. from strategic assessment standpoint or other section from Sun Tzu’s teachings, followed by a more modern example.

  1. Military action is important to the nation – as a path of survival and destruction – so must be examined. We have learned many lessons from recent wars in the United States, and continue to do so… hence the preface for undertaking this project.
  2. There are 5 assessments to measure: the way, the weather, the terrain, the leadership, and the discipline.
  3. For the way: Uniting people with the vision of their leadership (or at least familiarizing them and “inducing them” per Sun Tzu is important so they share death and life, without fear of danger – this lesson was learned by the United States most prominently in perhaps Vietnam and more recent wars which did not have the overwhelming popularity, for example, as did World War 2. Perhaps having internal support could have led to either not proceeding or proceeding more effectively.
  4. For the seasons: war should not be carried out in winter or summer. Sometimes inevitable, as noted in some of the winter in WW2 (and inevitable for any war lasting more than a few months), nonetheless elements result in both sides being similarly affected,and both so negatively.
  5. For the terrain: assessed in distance, difficulty or ease of travel, dimension, and safety. Our remote wars put this into perspective, often in desert terrain in the Middle East or jungle terrain in Veitnam, where none of the above parameters applied as being easy.
  6. For the leadership: intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and sternness. The divergence noted in the book states that “kings considered humaneness foremost, whereas the martial artists considered intelligence foremost amongst these.” The book notes intelligence critical to adapt. Such a pattern is often seen in the most effective leaders who are intelligent – in the United States, the presidential elections including the party primaries, then the national primaries, and then election, requires adaptation and “humaneness” to contenders after defeating them, as well as exhibiting the other qualities to the voters and/or contenders – something each President in recent memory has achieved.
  7. For the discipline: organization, chain of command, and logistics. Self-explanatory, lack of these can mean the difference between surviving and not; the typical careful organization of the U.S. military has likely been a reason why there are not recent examples of these. However, smaller but very important issues such as the Secret Service-related problems with an intruder entering the White House questioned organization, led to changes in command chain, and altered logistics (e.g. placement of dogs to guard the White House in the lawn, for example).
  8. Sun Tzu mentions the contradicting tactics used – as told by Li Quan – “when you are going to attack nearby, make it look as if you’re going a long way… and vice-versa… drawing them in by gain prospect, taken by confusion.” The idea of “when you are strong, appear weak” may have been apparent in the first presidential debate between Romney and Obama, where despite Obama’s known oratory skills in the prior election that allowed him to win, Romney’s party appeared to acknowledge these skills and almost acquiesce – hence, Romney appeared weak but was knowledgeable when it came to facts, which surprised Obama and led to many feeling that Romney had the edge in first debate, until Obama came back with other tactics in subsequent debates.
  9. When they are fulfilled, be prepared against them; when they are strong, avoid them. – this implies that in a period without war, one should replenish, and also that if an enemy is fulfilled, one should not attack. This was an important and costly lesson, perhaps learned by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor against an American nation that “had gaps” with the depression ongoing, but the difference was that the United States then “became fulfilled” over the course of war, which led to its economy being bolstered.
  10. Angering the enemy leads to their being in disarray – resulting in not following their original strategy. This has been used in overthrown governments where protests anger the rulers into doing something rash (like shooting protesters, which was probably not a pre-protest strategy) – this compounds problems, and eventually leads to problems for the leaders, also as seen in the non-violence movements.
  11. Use humility to make them haughty – this was likely the case of why some bank CEOs have kept their positions (and their bank’s positions among shareholders) while others have not – in the recent “London Whale” crisis, for example, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon conceded mistakes made, even in front of a televised Senate Hearing – which led to some of the questioners coming across as “haughty” in the eyes of the American public, and hence support went accordingly.
  12. Tire them by surprise – the U.S. Navy Seal mission where the Captain of the Maersk was being held by hostages resulted in 3 hostages being shot by sharpshooters within approximately a second of each other – the likely reason for this effectiveness was the lack of knowledge of the pirates who were the hostage-takers to anticipate in the night that such forces had been delivered to the adjacent ship and were actively targeting them – resulting in an immediate ending to a crisis, and one of many such examples.
  13. Cause division among them – Introduction of an idea, such as has been done to totalitarian-ruled nations (via televised ways of life or more recently social media, as examples), have resulted in uprisings – sometimes suppressed, sometimes not… many countries with rulers have suffered as a result.
  14. The one who figures on victory at headquarters before doing battle wins; the other loses.


Future Applications

The above lessons in strategicassessments will likely be used in the future. Whichever the countries involved, an understanding of the relationships between governors and the citizens (in order to intercede and create chaos), appearing different than actual status when the other side is strong, and the ideas of all noted from the way, terrain, leadership, etc. continue to play out. Recent wars including the cold war involving Cuba and Russia, the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, conflicts in economic terms, religious terms, and the use of propaganda, all appear to be fueled by some such perturbative techniques.

The contrast of Sun Tzu’s techniques now being implemented by social media such as Twitter, where protests are encouraged, continue to propagate a strategy that worked in 500 B,C, — because the common element to both, humans, remained humans – despite any technology, it must be remembered that while technologies as tools change, the strategies remain the same.


((Information above has been acquired from numerous sources, including Sun Tzu/Cleary (translated): The Art of War, Shambla, 1988,, and others)