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Are the deliberations of Sun Tzu applicable to modern warfare?

This is a discussion on Are the deliberations of Sun Tzu applicable to modern warfare? within the Military Strategy and Tactics forum, part of the Global Defense & Military category; I was reading the words of Sun Tzu. I agree with his thoughts on warfare thoroughly, or the quotations which ...


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Old June 3rd, 2009   #1
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Are the deliberations of Sun Tzu applicable to modern warfare?

I was reading the words of Sun Tzu. I agree with his thoughts on warfare thoroughly, or the quotations which I have read. His thought,"one must fight, only when it is crucial" is very apt. If every soldier, only did, that which is crucial in his operation, then that soldier would not be vanquished. What about his other sayings?Are they applicable in modern warfare? Please do share your thoughts.
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Old June 5th, 2009   #2
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I was reading the words of Sun Tzu. I agree with his thoughts on warfare thoroughly, or the quotations which I have read. His thought,"one must fight, only when it is crucial" is very apt. If every soldier, only did, that which is crucial in his operation, then that soldier would not be vanquished. What about his other sayings?Are they applicable in modern warfare? Please do share your thoughts.
I suggest reading a well translated version of "on war" by carl von clausewitz

this in my opinion is the epitome of a text on war. Written during the napoleonic wars
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Old June 11th, 2009   #3
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B. H. Liddell Hart

Admittedly, I have never finished On War. However, I have read the Art of War and I have read Strategy by B. H. Liddell Hart as well as some other books.

Hart seems to claim that Clausewitz was on the verge of doing an about face in his theories before he died, and that his unfinished manuscripts would have turned out very differently if he had lived to complete them.

That said, from everything I have read, I have been led to the conclusion that there are two overarching "strategies" to war. Attrition and Maneuver, maneuver being the smarter and hopefully less bloody strategy. I have also been led to believe that any good strategy of war must be based on a more abstract strategy of conflict. One that treats war between superpowers the same as it does a fist fight between two individuals.

So to answer your question, I believe that Sun Tzu is still extremely relevant and still has the power to revolutionize modern strategies, but that it is also an incomplete book that fails to deliver any comprehensive theory other than War is Deception. Sun Tzu also advocates an extremely top down command approach that is typically Asian but that has so far proven, in my opnion, to be less effective than a more dispersed command structure. He talks about beheading an officer for taking initiative, which in my opinion is counterproductive (then again this is an asian culture which is typically much much less individualistic and more communal than western cultures so...)
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Old June 20th, 2009   #4
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While I havn't read the primary text, I remain sceptical.

Most of it seems, at least to me, to quite detached from the "practical execution". F.ex. "Decieve your enemy" - well yes, but how? - that's the question worth answering.

Secondly the concept of war at Sun Tzu seems quite limited in scope. The example mentioned above that individual initiative is discouraged, more than implies that Sun Tzu wrote in a time of "direct command" ie. in a time where the scale of warfare was such that one talented commander could effectively and in person direct the war effort on the battlefield. The war has moved far beyound that point hundreds of years ago, and today discourageing personal initiative is a sure way to render any army useless.
Another couriousity is his idea that the enemy should be left with an exit, completely contenary to modern war in which you aim at destroying the enemy not meerly chase him away. Again the thing is the obesoleteness of Sun Tzu: In his time routing an enemy army and throwing him on the retreat was proably as good as destroying it - to day (and the last 100s of years) such an army would simply regroup and fight again due to it's more sturdy organisation.

Thridly While Sun Tzu is historical interesting there are much more elaborate and practical works. In the historical department, I can recommend some of the byzantinee "war-manuals". In which you probably get a climpse of the classical roman concept of war. Here you see that the byzantine concept of war was much more than defeating the enemy on the field - the field battle was not the objective of the strategos, rather it represented the failure of the strategos to defeat his enemy using more safe (and inexpensive) means to get his way (f.ex. by diplomacy, treason, deception, pay offs etc etc).
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Old July 16th, 2009   #5
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Under Waging War "If the campaign is protracted, the resources of the state will not be equal to the strain"

I believe this is why the former Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, established the 10-30-30 war fighting concept. Under his plan, the services would have 10 days to deploy a major force anywhere in the world, 30 days to fight and decisively win the war, and then 30 days to be ready to fight again. source http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/NAVPALIB/...nderwater.html
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Old August 1st, 2009   #6
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What Sun Tzu deliberated, is very interesting. He perhaps intimated, that only soldiers should decide, when to go to war. Perhaps in his time, the King was as much a soldier as the members of his army. It is imperative, that soldiers decide when to enter into a conflict, and how to enter into a conflict. Adolf Hitler was a soldier, but he had retired from active conflict a time before, whereby a length of time had passed before the Second World War, and his retirement. Also, he was not well versed on how to lead an army. If I had been Adolf Hitler, I would not have sacrificed prudence and started a war. All Germany needed to do was rearm, and integrate her society with the rest of Europe, through peaceful means. The armed forces is the most valuable asset of a national leader, because the armed forces recruits the best resources in personnel, through the voluntary initiative of the personnel, before recruitment.
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Old March 12th, 2013   #7
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Another couriousity is his idea that the enemy should be left with an exit, completely contenary to modern war in which you aim at destroying the enemy not meerly chase him away. Again the thing is the obesoleteness of Sun Tzu: In his time routing an enemy army and throwing him on the retreat was proably as good as destroying it - to day (and the last 100s of years) such an army would simply regroup and fight again due to it's more sturdy organisation.
When Sun Tzu said that the enemy should be left with an exit he did not mean that you allow them to escape. He merely meant that you should make it look like there is an escape. In Chapter 11, Verse 51 he said, "For it is the soldier's disposition to offer an obstinate resistance when surrounded...".
He also said in Verse 2, "Soldier's when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear"
An example comes from the 1941 German Invasion of Russia. Germany used their Blitzkrieg Tactics sending their tanks deep behind enemy lines and trapping hundreds of thousands of Soviets in pockets. Now the Soviets of course tried to escape and quite a few did. However one Battalion when they found out they were encircled and had no way out, resorted to human wave attacks. They supposedley linked arms with their Bayonets hooked inside their arm and then rushed the German positions managing to cause quite a few casulties on the German side.

Sun Tzu also said in Chapter 3, Verse 1, "It is better to capture an army entire than to destroy it...".
And that is why many Generals and Tacticians encircled armies so that they could force them to surrender by attrition. Now if the men trapped inside the pocket think they can escape they won't fight with as much determination as men who know they can't escape. Some people liken it to a dog with its back against a corner. It will suddenley turn vicious and attack because it is desperate to get out. Leave it an opening and you will be able to catch it much easier. It is a tactic basically designed to reduce casulties on both sides because obviously the main goal in any war is to reduce the ammount of casulties you take.
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