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If you were in the midst of a war to overthrow the enemy how would you win? Whilst this may seem to be a straight forward question it has troubled scholars and strategic war experts for centuries.
The ongoing debate can be dated all the way back to the teachings of Sun-Tzu, a Chinese military official born in 544BC. In his book ‘The art of war’ Sun-Tzu for the first time clearly lays out a strategic method for always obtaining victory in war. Amongst his acknowledgments, he advises us to always know our adversary like the back of our hands: “Know your enemy and know yourself and in 100 battles you will never be in peril”. The way to do this, as Sun-Tzu explains, is by using spies to retrieve information about the enemy. Next, Sun-Tzu incites officers to tell their armies to avoid aiming for the strongest part of the enemy and attack what is weak, for example if the enemy has excellent naval skills we should attack them on land and never when they are at sea.
Another piece of advice that many armies have adopted throughout history is to always attack uphill, never downhill and have your back to the sun. This way it is harder for the enemy to see you and easier for you to hit them with your arrows as you are aiming them downhill. Finally, Sun-Tzu says that we should surprise the enemy when possible and attack them when they least expect it. All of these are great traits any army would happily use, yet Sun-Tzu summarises how to win a war best in one simple sentence: “To win 100 battles is not the height of skill, to subdue the enemy without fighting is”. How could you ever win without fighting? Sun-Tzu believes you can undermine the enemy psychologically so they become so mentally fragile a war is not needed. Another way to conquer the enemy is to bite at their economy until it collapses – this way the enemy will not have the necessary means to launch a war!
Centuries later, in the 1800s, Prussian General Carl Von Clausewitz compiled a new war strategy that is completely different from the teachings of Sun-Tzu. Clausewitz dismisses any deceitful tactics like surprise attacks and instead evokes an open and just type of warfare. By this Clausewitz means that battles should be fought heroically in an open field and should involve direct combat, not ambushes and guerrilla tactics which would be approved by Sun-Tzu. For Clausewitz war is merely a continuation of politics by other means and death is the price to pay for a glorious conflict. This is quite an idealistic vision of warfare and it is quite right to say that today wars have incorporated mainly those factors noted by Sun-Tzu in their tactics. Secret agencies, spies, surprise attacks, fast vehicles, high technology and a cunning plan are no longer ideas confined to science fiction novels. Instead, these are the new attributes of war.
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