American Experience and Sun Tzu
Highlights of ways
Americans have felt the impact of Sun Tzu's philosophies
Written by the author of
Understanding Sun Tzu on the Art of War
Art of War: Sun Tzu
Strategy Card Deck.
Yamamoto, the planner of the
attack on Pearl Harbor, was a known student of Sun Tzu's philosophies. The
intent behind the Pearl Harbor attack was to surprise and destroy the U.S.
Pacific Fleet and force a quick end to the war before the power of U.S. industry
could come into play. It did not work.
Mao Tse-Tung made Sun Tzu’s
philosophies part of his own and used the in his successful campaigns to gain control of China
through a protracted
guerilla war. In this guerilla war, Mao masterfully fought Japanese and
Chinese Nationalist forces and played Chinese Nationalist, Allied, and Japanese
forces against each other to obtain his goals of a peasant supported worker
state. Chinese and American forces fought against each other directly in
Korea. America stays committed to the defense of Taiwan, where the
previous U.S. supported government fled after Mao’s revolution succeeded on the
Mao's Little Red Book and
his books on guerilla warfare are filled with ideas taken directly from Sun Tzu.
See below. To understand Mao, it is important to also understand Sun Tzu.
Understanding Sun Tzu on the Art of War at Amazon.com.)
All the guiding military
principles of military operations grow out of the one basic principle: to strive
to the utmost to preserve one’s own strength and destroy that of the enemy.
Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (The Little Red Book)
If you have never read Sun Tzu before, see
our free e-book version or the original English translation of
Sun Tzu on the Art of War.
Gen. Giap, the military mastermind
behind victories over French and the American forces in Vietnam, was an avid
student and practitioner of Sun Tzu’s ideas. Americas defeat here, more than any
other event, brought Sun Tzu to the attention of American military thought
leaders. It also emphasized the difficulty inherent with trying to
liberate a country from itself that has caused America, since the Vietnam war,
to be cautious about the commitment of troops to other conflicts.
From the 1960s, through the collapse of the
Soviet Union, leftist guerilla forces threatened a number of governments
supported by America south of its border. Guerilla leaders, such as Che
Gueverra, took note of fighting methods espoused guerilla leaders, such as Mao
Tse-Tung, who had in turn used Sun Tzu as a foundation. American Green
Berets and other forces involved in countering Latin American guerilla fighters
also studied the lessons of Sun Tzu in quite some detail.
The F-16 fighter was the
brainchild of Col. John Boyd, who is one of the greatest American strategists
few people have ever heard about. Boyd proved that the ability of fighter
planes to afford clear observation for pilots and outmaneuver opponents outweighed raw
speed and power. Boyd studied Sun Tzu, and his ideas on high tempo warfare
and rapid decision cycles stem directly from Sun Tzu and Boyd's own experiences
as a pilot.
The quality of decision is like the
well-time swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.–
The U.S. Marine Corps
embraced John Boyd’s ideas more than the Air Force from which Boyd belonged. The
U.S. Marine Corps book of strategy Warfighting, published in 1989, is in
many ways an updated version of Sun Tzu on the Art of War. (Understanding Sun Tzu on the Art of War, the book associated with this Web
site, is available at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Quantico book
Warfare by maneuver stems
from a desire to circumvent a problem and attack it from a position of advantage
rather than meet it straight on. The goal is the application of strength
against selected enemy weakness. By definition, maneuver relies on speed
and surprise…Tempo is itself a weapon. – U.S. Marine Corps
Japanese business success in
the 1980s spurred the interest of western businesspeople in Sun Tzu's Art of
War as studied by Japanese businessmen. The rise of Chinese business
power causes a similar interest for similar reasons. Sun Tzu's ideas
are deeply imbedded in Asian culture and understanding them is key to
understanding how to conduct business in Asia successfully.
The opening phase of Gulf
War II provide a text book example of high-tempo maneuver warfare. “Shock
and Awe” is essentially a media friendly term for effects-based operations (EBO),
a military theory that places Sun Tzu's ideas at its core. EBO puts
greater emphasis on psychological aspects of war fighting than more traditional
material aspects, and puts more emphasis on the idea of shocking an enemy into
submission without necessarily killing him or destroying his surroundings.
No conventional military can
stand toe-to-toe against an appropriately sized U.S. military task force, no
matter whether using EBO, more traditionally American methods of overwhelming
force (Powell Doctrine), or some combination of the two. Of course for
this reason, enemies have taken to other ways of fighting.
The flaw in shock and awe in its late use
is that the targeted enemy in Iraq adapted and did not present much in the way
of targets. This is a risk any time a nation attempts to
liberate another nation from itself where is is easy for the enemy to melt into
the population. Though shock and awe can result in gaining a lot of ground
quickly, it is not as useful in holding ground once you succeed, particularly
without the support of the population. Soldier-to-soldier fighting may
ultimately prove the only way to finish the job, where even Sun Tzu advocates
the benefits of numbers.
For a victory to be
declared, the loser also has to acknowledge his defeat or the loser has to be
destroyed so he can no longer resist. If he is not accepting in his defeat
and yet not destroyed or otherwise negated, he will fight back.
Sun Tzu is a textbook for guerilla fighters, as well as
for those who might fight a guerilla insurgency. Warfare characteristic of
insurgencies involves attacking respective physical, psychological-behavioral,
and moral weaknesses in opponents. If an insurgent cannot win militarily,
he may chose to attack the economic or moral base that supports that opposing
military, or opt to avoid losing, which can exhaust the other force.
Those who study Sun
Tzu understand that although Sun Tzu advocated winning without fighting, his
text fully acknowledges that when fighting, if an enemy will not surrender and
yet must be defeated, you ultimately have to destroy that enemy. If you
cannot destroy that enemy, you must isolate him, integrate him, or negate him.
If you cannot do any of those, then you have a serious problem.
There is a reasonable
probability that the war in Iraq will be the last major non-nuclear war.
Since no enemy can stand toe-to-toe against an appropriately sized U.S. military
task force, hostile entities will seek some form of deterrent to serve as a
mitigating factor in conflict. However crude a device might be, nuclear
weapons can provide that deterrence.
A military theory of "Ever
Present Yet Mostly Absent," whereby overwhelming force can be applied and
removed exceedingly fast, will prove important for achieving result while
minimizing the growing risk associated with both nuclear and non-nuclear WMDs.
Sun Tzu's text deals very well with how to make such apparently conflicting
states of being as "present yet absent" a reality.
Globalization, and the
integration of multi-national businesses, plus the increasing proliferation of
nuclear devices in both developed and developing countries, has made 20th
century style warfare too mutually costly to be a viable way to resolve
conflicts between states. The battleground has shifted to the economy
where the United States is currently suffering some significant, if
unrecognized, setbacks. One can only imagine the delight of United States
economic rivals, such as China, plus the terrorists themselves, at the enormous
costs the United States has burdened itself with to protect its interests.
This is a rarely discussed but very real threat to U.S. status as the world
The tipping point of the
"war" with China occurs if or when China obtains the economic and intellectual
power base to produce equivalently marketable ideas to those coming from
traditional U.S. strongholds. It is likely to happen, just as it did with
Japan, though to stay optimistic, this does not mean that China's rise, just
like Japan's rise, cannot ultimately benefit the U.S. However it
must be noted that China has actively engaged the U.S. in a form of commercial
warfare up to and including economic espionage that most U.S. businesses have
yet to take seriously enough. (This author has spent over ten years on the
business side of competitive intelligence to have first hand experience with
this threat.) It is a different kind of war because as China and the U.S.
engage each other, they also need each other's respective economies to stay
vital. Sun Tzu's ideas are important in this war because Sun Tzu deals so
well with the ambiguity and duplicity that is a significant part of business, and also
for the reason that the Art of War is a text of Chinese origin that is a
significant part of the Chinese strategic philosophy Chinese business people employ in
way of doing business.