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« One Month | Main | Why Kill Moussaoui? »

April 19, 2006


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You've said it all, and very well. :)

the most famous line is 将在外君命有所不授,(which is actually not by Sun Zi), but it only means civilian do not interfere on the military execution of the goal.
To Sun Zi, military strategy is only one portion of the grand strategy (which is mainly political, but also including economical/etc), civilian could participate in the grand strategy but should not 'micro-manage' military operations, esp when the generals are on the field already.

Ah its much more subtle than that.
And on many levels this is the beauty of this gift.

On the basic level I see it: China and America are definitely sizing each other up for war for the past decade. And while I don't think war will break out between china and America, both sides are planning as if it could( I remember a Chinese general in a lecture telling us five years ago how china will defeat us in a war in 2012... or how in west point they are training cadets to think about such war possibilities.) scary in itself. And the political war has been waging for years. You have to love the shot across the bow this represents.

But the message is clear from the viewpoint of the political sense. In giving bush the Art of War in my opinion is China's way of saying you have lost already, here take this book to understand why. Part of the mind game in the political war. Sun Tzu would have been proud of the tones of this gift and the ripples it will cause Bush and the pentagon.


Interesting intepretation. If you are right and Hu is giving Bush the book to say that America has lost already, then it must be supposed that Hu thinks whatever America has lost can never be recovered by reading Sun Zi's book on the Art of War.

What do you believe Hu thinks America unrecoverably lost?

China is patient, they will wait for United States to slowly destroy itself.

Why go to war, when your enemy is already at war with itself?

Handing the book to Bush was actually a sign of politic respect also. Bush clearly showed a lack of disrespect back. How could a country with no respect ever hope to learn from Sun Zi's Art of war?
Especially when the ruling party's (Bush's) culture lacks the respect
required to understand what the Art of war teaches?

America has lost before the battle even begun, from this perspective.

I don't even know where to begin to list how many ways Bushes administration works in ways contrary to what the Art of war teaches. Strangely Bushes practices policies exactly opposite of the "Art of War".

Let's get real - China and the US are never going to have a military war. MAD will work as well with the Chinese as it did with the Ruskies. Anyone who appreciates the awesome destructive power of Edward Teller's spawn (compared with the firecrackers that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki) understands that a hot war between major nuclear powers is unthinkable. It is akin to launching a good sized asteroid or comet into the Earth.
Now, an economic struggle - that is a different story. But the entanglements that exist in the 21st century global megacorporate world between, for instance China and the US, render the pronouncemnets of the ancients (Sun Tzu) rather limited in their applicability. Sure, one can find the paragraph that seems quite germane and prescient in its applicability. But, the larger, full picture is something that cannot possibly be captured by the ancient mind (in my humble opinion). I recently read Tacitus on the reign on Tiberius. It was uncanny how so many of the political intrigues and personal failings seemed so completely 21st century white house. Unfortunately, taken in its entirety, the analogy soon broke down.

I agree with you the chance of war is slim in my mind also (I said as much). But that doesn't stop the war machines of either country from posturing, or mistakes from getting out of hand, or the stupid amount of resources both countries place into their military.

I also agree that in many senses a battle front has move to a economic front:

In fact in a sense China snubbed Bush, when it first visited Bill Gates over the White House. China fully realizes the game its playing is in first and foremost currently in the economic front.

But I also do believe Sun Tzu is still relevant. If you have ever worked with commodity traders you will quickly discover there is a huge similarity between their practices and the military. In fact the US military works with wall street traders in war games at times, turns out they make excellent tacticians. So I believe the symbols here are very important as a small pattern which represents the larger picture very well.

Thanks for the great comments, all. Let me take up Bruce's point: of the limited applicability of ancient texts. Ouch! My whole purpose here is to try to demonstrate the modern applicability of ancient texts. Yes, you are right, after a time the analogies might break down. But, surely, there is still some relevance (President Hu seems to think so...), no? Tacitus said something to you, right? In fact, the more I read the ancients the more convinced I am that, even in a very different scientific and technological context, there is little that is new for humanity under the sun. Maybe I need to get out more....

Its about social patterns. In that the art of war is still very valid, as those patterns are still present in todays societies. Yes some new layers have been added over 2000 years, but those are just that: layers. The base lines are still very much there and as such the ancient texts are still important and relevant.

Actually, I think I agree with everything you guys have said. I sincerely believe in the wisdom of the ancients on many fronts since human nature has not changed in the 10000 years of civilization. The beauty of spring, the guile of adversaries, the lust for power, the egos, the moon over a dark calm ocean - all these things have not changed and thus there is an infinite number of things to learn and appreciate in the ancients. This is true on so many levels. However, there are features of 21st century life that, I believe, are more than just layers. For instance, the ability to completely and totally annihilate your enemy (including his history, ecosystems and population) is unprecedented (notwithstanding how close Europeans came to just this scenario with native Americans before nuclear weapons). Further, the deep and multifarious economic entanglements as well as the huge billions of people are also something never seen by the ancients. Sometimes changes in scale yield qualitative differences ne c'est pas ?

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