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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 11.15-19: Division, Moves and Speed)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 11.15-19: Division, Moves and Speed

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XI. The Nine Situations


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
15. Those who were called skillful leaders of old knew how to drive a wedge between the enemy's front and rear; to prevent co-operation between his large and small divisions; to hinder the good troops from rescuing the bad, the officers from rallying their men.

The wedge is a classic tactic for breaking a defensive line. Like a nail penetrating a hard wood, a focused force can break through a strong defense. In physics, pressure is measured as force per unit area. This means a small force at a single point can still cause tremendous pressure. In war it is sometimes called 'divide and conquer'.

A wedge from the side isolates the front-line troops from the rearguard, making each more vulnerable.

The wedge can also be used in business, for example in breaking up competitive alliances.

16. When the enemy's men were united, they managed to keep them in disorder. Unity and order are closely related. Hence if you divide their forces they will be inclined to disorder.

One reason for this is that you may well be able to separate men from their commanders. Thus isolated, they will become like headless chickens.

17. When it was to their advantage, they made a forward move; when otherwise, they stopped still. War is not just about advancing. It is about being in the place of greatest potential and advantage.

This principle can result in movement in any direction, including going backwards or remaining still.

18. If asked how to cope with a great host of the enemy in orderly array and on the point of marching to the attack, I should say: "Begin by seizing something which your opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will." Something that is 'held dear' implies an emotional attachment. When a person is attached to something, they make it a part of their identity. their self. Taking the attached thing is like stealing a part of their self. It feels like the basest abuse and creates anger, fear, loss and other strong emotions.

In war this may be a beautiful city, a famed person, critical armaments and more.

Greater than the sense of temporary loss is the fear that the taken item will be destroyed, leading to permanent loss and hence extinction of a part of the person. This threat can wean away any anger and lead to fearful compliance.

19. Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy's unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots. War is a game of positioning. Where you are at any time is critical. In between, as you travel to these places, you are vulnerable. Speed hence reduces the chance of dangerous attack.

Getting to strong positions earlier than the enemy expects also gives you the advantage of surprise and hence letting you attack them where they are weak.

Speed also lets you travel in circuitous routes to avoid detection and yet arrive in time.

Finally, speed gives you kinetic energy, which in physics is measured as half of the mass times the speed squared. An attack at speed hence is very powerful.



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