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Sunzi in the news

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  • Douglas Henderson
    http://www.sgbci.com/news/newsdetail.asp?n=59 SOURCE: AAP BYLINE: Peter Harmsen BODY: Almost 2500 years after his death, China s pre-eminent military
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 25, 2003
      http://www.sgbci.com/news/newsdetail.asp?n=59

      SOURCE: AAP

      BYLINE: Peter Harmsen

      BODY:
      Almost 2500 years after his death, China's pre-eminent military
      philosopher Sun Tzu is profoundly influencing how US and British
      field commanders in Iraq think and act, analysts say. Peter
      Harmsen of AAP reports.

      Tenets of Sun Tzu's classic The Art of War inform the broad outlines
      of the strategy intended to lead to the fall

      of Baghdad, and have even inspired

      the minutiae of deception

      and deployment.

      "This is definitely not a coincidence," said Mark McNeilly, a former
      infantry officer and the author of the book Sun Tzu and the Art of
      Modern Warfare.

      "The Art of War is required reading at the higher-level military
      schools and has been integrated into the doctrine of both the US Army
      and Marines," he said.

      Sun Tzu, a stern and sometimes cruel commander, helped the king of
      the ancient state of Wu to a series of victories in the late 6th
      century BC, at one point defeating 300,000 with a force of just
      30,000.

      Generations of officers have internalised Sun Tzu's psycho-logically
      refined and subtly oblique approach, including General Tommy Franks,
      the US commander in the Iraq campaign, who often
      quotes the Chinese thinker.

      Franks is not alone. In light of the progress of the war so far, the
      ancient philosopher's ghost seems to hover over all levels of the
      military machine now making its way across the Iraqi desert.

      "Some of the early tactical moves of the coalition forces directly
      relate to Sun Tzu's teachings," said Tom Stovall, of Virginia-based
      consult-ancy Stovall Grainger, a regular speaker on Sun Tzu at
      the

      US Air Force Air Command and Staff College.

      "The early show of force and capability would make most people
      question whether there is an opportunity for victory, and perhaps
      rethink their own approach,"

      he said.

      Despite the immense firepower displayed by US and British forces so
      far in the campaign, it is when they decide not to shoot that they
      emerge as true disciples of Sun Tzu.

      In one of his most famous statements, Sun Tzu argued that the ideal
      commander does not 'win 100 victories in 100 battles' since 'to
      subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill'.

      "This is exactly the approach

      the Coalition leaders are using,"

      said Mr McNeilly.

      "The focus is not on widespread fighting and destruction, but on
      wisely chosen targets that, if eliminated, will rapidly lead to the
      fall of Saddam Hussein's regime."

      An early attempt to kill Saddam himself, as well as precision
      attacks against infrastructure targets in Baghdad and Republican
      Guard units reflect this approach, he said.

      The US-led coalition's rush north, interspersed with fighting over a
      select handful of key objectives, also appears to mirror Sun Tzu's
      advice to avoid cities and use speed, said

      Mr McNeilly.

      "For the most part Coalition generals have avoided committing
      significant troop strength to take major cities in street-to-street
      fighting," he said.

      "Instead, the aim has been to control key airfields, bridges and
      roads that will enable fast movement towards the ultimate objective."

      What has gradually crystallised as a very personal battle against
      Saddam Hussein himself also seems lifted from Sun Tzu's two-millennia-

      old textbook.

      Sun Tzu urges generals to divide a united enemy and cut him off from
      his allies, just as the US forces seek to separate Saddam from his
      supporters within the Iraqi regime.

      "Sun Tzu says that you can defeat a competitor by taking something
      that is precious to him," said Mr Stovall.

      "In Saddam's situation this might be his position of power."

      Sun Tzu is fine in theory, but the bloody battles that constitute
      the military history of China shows he did not always work in the
      real world, said David Graff, an expert on medieval Chinese
      warfare at Kansas State University.

      "One can craft a strategy that might bring about the enemy's undoing
      without physical combat, but it is much more difficult to accomplish
      that in actual practice," he said.

      "I think recent developments in Iraq are confirming this."

      A great deal of what the US and British commanders have done in the
      Iraqi desert and what Sun Tzu advised 2500 years ago, also simply
      seems to be the logical way

      to go.

      "There is much in Sun Tzu that the US military would be doing
      anyway, even if they had never read the book," said Mr Graff.

      Most obvious is the notion that one should concentrate one's own
      forces against selected weak points in the array of an opponent who
      has been led to disperse his forces too widely, he said.

      "This is more common sense than philosophical profundity."

      Even if some of the similarity in approach may be spurious, there is
      a growing acceptance of eastern wisdom by western military
      establishments.

      "It's true that the Western approach to warfare in general, and the
      American approach in particular, has often been direct

      and based on superior technology," said Mr McNeilly.

      "However, what you are seeing now is the combination of the
      technological superiority of the West coupled with the indirect
      approach of the East."

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