The Brilliance Of Sun Tzu: Leadership & Courting Defeat

Chapter 10 titled ‘Terrain’ has a brilliant small essay (No. 10) on the six ways in which men court defeat.  It was left to a brilliant commander who lived during the time of Sun Tzu who became a commentator on this very chapter.  His name is Chen Hao and he elaborates on the six:  A commander courts defeat when he:

1.  neglects to estimate the strength of the enemy

2.  acts for want of authority

3.  demonstrated defective training

4.  possesses and acts on unjustified anger

5.  demonstrates non-observerance of discipline

6.  failure to use picked men in front line of engagement.

Concerning our tactics in our AfPak engagement in Central Asia, Sun Tzu reveals that ‘the natural formation of the country is the soldier’s best ally.” (Chapter 10 No. 21.)   The Sinic commentator Chen Hao wrote “the advantages of weather and season are not equal to those on the ground.”  WHY IS THIS SIGNIFICANT?  This is most fascinating simply because throughout all of Sinic Civilization their is no mention or cultivation of a ‘self’ as there is in the west after Christianity.

Chen Hao continues in western fashion to advise that “a general should always utilize, but never rely wholly on natural advantages of terrain.”  This is a supreme weakness that encapsulated the fault line of all enemies that resisted the United States in counterinsurgency campaigns, for superior firepower in mechanized conflict nullifies geography, especially in regions that don’t demonstrate political craft.

The American Founding Fathers mandated Civilian control over the military, this is in direct contradiction to Chapter 10 ‘Terrain’ No. 23.  This is another fault line in Sun Tzu’s text.  Truman disciplined MacArthur for his political recklessness in Korea by engaging the Chinese, not to mention the banter of using nuclear weapons.

Sinic commentator ‘Huang Shis-Kung’ wrote that a commander has total control over political and tactical, strategic efforts during war.  This undivided command was used by the Third Reich, all Fascist commanders, and Soviet Totalitarian commanders.  ALL FAILED. In this regard, Clausewitz is superior to Sun Tzu in defining ‘War as politics by other means.”  This insight regarding the superiority of policy was missing from Sun Tzu’s text and culture.

How does one prevent the courting of defeat, especially when raising a child or commanding a soldier?  Li Ching had the answer:  “INJURY COMES OUT OF KINDNESS.”

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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