27 August 2015

A Better Job in Iraq if US Knows Sun Zi Art of War Rightly

According to Sun Zi, winning a war is just the start of rebuilding and gaining over the people. Planning for war is not just about how to win but also about how to takeover and rebuild after the occupation.
A typical misunderstanding on Sun Zi's Art of War is that it is about winning wars. But real scholar of Sun Zi will know that Art of War is about maximizing net-returns with minimum risks. Best strategy is not winning all the wars all the time but rather winning without even starting a war! War is the last resort when there is no choice. There are many ways besides war to resolve conflicts, such as by strategic development of one power, by foreign affairs of negotiations, economics and other social means. However, it one have too, Sun Zi's advice is to plan and calculate such that we can be sure of winning before we start it.  Winners plan to win first before starting it. Losers start a war and then try and hope to win it. By further extension, winning is not the final outcome of war. Winning is just a means to enlarge and increase one's original objective of maximizing net gains at minimum risks. There are much rebuilding after one has won and taken over the city or the country. This is what Sun Zi said in Chapter 12 Attack by Fire:

夫战胜攻取,而不修其功者凶,命曰费留。
故曰:明主虑之,良将修之。

It is not surprising that the US Generals did not understand Sun Zi's Art of War well. It is because the English translations did not translate the above correctly. Let's look at some of the translation. The authoritative one is by  By LIONEL GILES and it available here .

12v15. Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his
    battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating
    the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time
    and general stagnation.
16. Hence the saying:  The enlightened ruler lays his
    plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.

What to you mean by "without cultivating the spirit of enterprise"? Most people could not really understand it. How does one cultivate the spirit of enterprise after a city is destroyed in war?

So, other translators, such as "The Art of War in plain English By Sun Tzu" edited by A. N. Pearce change it to:
  • 12/10 Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without rewarding good deeds; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation.
  • 12/11 Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.
The "cultivate" 修 has been changed to "rewarding" 赏 the deeds 功.

The newer SonShi translation is:
  • [12.07] If one gains victory in battle and is successful in attacks, but does not exploit those achievements, it is disastrous. This is called waste and delay. 
  • [12.08] Therefore, I say the wise general thinks about it, and the good general executes it.
Here, "exploit" is used. This meaning is closer to "cultivate" but it has a bad connotation of plundering the defeated nation and people. Cultivate is in fact a better word. The word 修 has the following meaning of repair, build, decorate, mend, trim. Development of character is 修养 and hence Cultivate is a good word to use.

My Translation:
夫战胜攻取,而不修其功者凶,命曰费留。
After winning and taking over, if it is not followed by rebuilding on the achievements will lead to disaster. The eventual outcome, the destiny,  is called "waste and leakage of wealth".
故曰:明主虑之,良将修之。
Hence, the wise rule will consider it and the smart general will rebuild it.

Hence, victory is the end of a war but the start of a rebuilding phase.

What are there to rebuild?
Besides rebuilding the ruins caused by the war, a major effort is to take care of the defeated people. It is all about how to gain the support of them and how to provide peace, security and development for them. If not, the people will continue the war with sabotages and other rebellion activities and the war will continue requiring the conquering nation to continue to station their soldiers there to maintain order and peace. 

So, we can see that true long term victory is not just about winning a war but what to do to maintain peace and development for the people and the ruins after the war in won.

Hence, we can see that in Iraq, perhaps the US has underestimated the needs and difficulty for rebuilding the nation after the war. US has done well in WWII in helping to rebuild Japan and Germany that they became good allies for the US. Such experience point to the wisdom of Sun Zi's Art of War.

Lim Liat (c) 27 July 2015


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