The Art of Military History

Is Sun Tzu’s Art of War Useful Today?

Authored by James Muñoz

The Art of War written by Sun Tzu is a philosophical view on the establishment of an Army and methods of winning wars. After reading The Art of War one may contemplate the value it still holds after thousands of years and into the modern age of military thought. Although it may reference archaic methods from its time, Sun Tzu’s principle for War still adds value in today’s world. His five constant factors that govern the Art of War are determining factors for life and death in battle and determining factors that ensures the success or failure of and outcome such as a battle. Sun Tzu further gives us five major faults of a general that may affect the outcome of being overthrown or being a successful leader. Finally, his most brilliant aspect over all his thoughts of war is his direction to obtain foreknowledge above ordinary circumstances, which is the use of spies. All these maxims from Sun Tzu bring forth a philosophical military thought of war which retains its value with modern warfare or modern society.

Sun Tzu’s five constant factors that govern the Art of War begin the planning phase of determining the outcome of an army and the condition of an army to succeed or fail. The five principles are core areas for success or failure and are basic fundamentals that stand true to this day, due to its simplest yet complex philosophical form. The five principles are: “(1) The Moral Law, (2) Heaven, (3) Earth, (4) Commander, (5) Method and Discipline.”[1] All these principles give the modern day warrior the ability to forecast success or failure when applied in a philosophical stand point. In a modern day philosophical approach these military thoughts would be in most core military values such as maxim 1could be interpreted as loyalty, maxim 2 battle conditions, maxim 3 topography and movement, maxim 4 Leadership, maxim 5 chain of command and logistics. These are all key elements that encompass a broad spectrum to modern day warfare and if overlaid onto a social aspect such as management its theoretical principles would apply such as loyalty, conditions of the corporation, the future movement of an organization, its climate and methods, its CEO, and an organizations Chain of command and logistics power.

Sun Tzu further gives us five major faults of a general that may affect the outcome of being overthrown or being a successful leader. These general principles are definitely wisdom that may translate too many aspects not only to a general of the past or present. These five principle faults are; “ (1) Recklessness which leads to destruction; (2) cowardice which leads to capture; (3) a hasty temper that can be provoked by insults; (4) a delicacy of honor that is sensitive to shame; (5) over solicitude for his men which exposes him to worry and trouble.”[2] We can again interpret these principles of faults to modern day warfare for a leader or even any leader by looking at these maxims in a more philosophical approach. We may overlay the following for a modern concept from Sun Tzu; Maxim 1 leadership or management careless approach or decisions; maxim 2 leadership and management fear to lead which leads to failure, maxim 3 leadership or management that are temperamental causes organizational systemic problems; maxim 4 leadership and management that are too sensitive for its organization; maxim 5 leadership and management who are overzealous for its people causes company and organizational losses. Once again Sun Tzu’s Art of War translates into modern aspect of leadership and management.

Finally, his most brilliant aspect over all his thoughts of war is his direction to obtain foreknowledge above ordinary circumstances, which is the use of spies. Foreknowledge is the key to success which determines victory. In military translation this would be intelligence, in a corporate setting this would mean intelligence. To gather intelligence would mean to employ a network of assets that allows for complete access of your enemy or corporate rival’s capabilities to include but not limited to; infrastructure, political climate, economics, and military threat or for a corporate spin, it would mean the ability to know its securities. Sun Tzu explains five types of spies or intelligence gatherers which are: “(1) Local spies; (2) inward spies; (3) converted spies; (4) doomed spies (5) surviving spies.”[3] Therefore all may be interpreted for modern warfare and for society’s leadership capabilities such as; maxim 1 utilizes human intelligence within the indigenous, society uses surveys and local companies to find out more of its local consumers; maxim 2 is turning a general or key personnel to gather intelligence for your cause and in a social setting using key individuals to gather information for the organization or group and using that information to your advantage; maxim 3 is creating a double agent and this would be viable for gathering knowledge in a society for better understanding the social norms from their own group or organization’s intelligence gather a more cost effective solution; maxim 4 would mean tactical deception in military terms and social information gatherers in the open which affect the methods of other groups or organization due to its open nature; maxim 5 under modern warfare this would be our CIA, NSA, Special operations methods, while under a civilian application this would be contract or primary companies that gather information for other groups for a fee or contract which could be overt or covert.

All these maxims from Sun Tzu bring forth a philosophical military thought of war which retains its value with modern warfare or modern society. Its principles and philosophical attributes retain its value and can still be utilized in modern day society or military. The Art of War contains great philosophical outlooks for military warfare and for leadership roles past, present, and future.

Notes


[1]T.R. Phillips, Roots of Strategy The 5 Greatest Military Classics of all Time. PA, Stackpole

Books, 1985, 15.

[2] Phillips 41.

[3] Phillips 61.

Bibliography

Phillips.T.R, Roots of Strategy The 5 Greatest Military Classics of all Time. PA, Stackpole

Books, 1985, 15-63.

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