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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 11.20-28: Motivating Soldiers)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 11.20-28: Motivating Soldiers

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XI. The Nine Situations


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
20. The following are the principles to be observed by an invading force: The further you penetrate into a country, the greater will be the solidarity of your troops, and thus the defenders will not prevail against you.

When soldiers are close to home, any who are thinking of deserting may do so. But further away, this is not likely to be a successful option.

Even if not considering desertion, troops keep a mental map of where they are and will naturally feel more isolated and fearful to some extent when further from home. The natural tendency at such times is to stick together as they are now clearly bound to a common fate of victory or likely capture or death.

Now the troops depend on you, their leader. They look to you a a savior who will lead them to victory and then back home again.

21. Make forays in fertile country in order to supply your army with food. 'An army marches on it's stomach' is a common truism. Fresh food will cheer the troops and help conserve supplies.

Taking food in fertile country may also mean that you can allow enough left over for the local population. When passing through places, it does no harm to keep the locals onside.

22. Carefully study the well-being of your men, and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength. Keep your army continually on the move, and devise unfathomable plans. Whilst soldiers may expect to work hard, they are also biological machines which can be worn out by too much marching, fighting and stress.

Understand the dynamics of the healthy body and, whilst keeping your troops fit (marching helps this), beware of wearing them down. In this way you can sustain energy for battle, wherever it appears.

Unfathomable plans not only confuse the enemy, they also keep your own people on their toes and constantly ready for the next move.

23. Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve. Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength. If soldiers may be motivated to fight less than their best, then the alternative of death will bring out the best in them.

Even those who are motivated, will fight with an extra desperation when they believe there is no alternative.

In this way, you may engineer situations where they believe there is no way back and so will fight on to the bitter end.

24. Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in hostile country, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help for it, they will fight hard. This can also be seen in animals who are normally fearful and will run away, yet will fight like demons when cornered.

The life drive is a natural instinct and we will each fight until our last breath. This can be seen in people who are dying in their beds as well as those on the battlefield.

25. Thus, without waiting to be marshaled, the soldiers will be constantly on the qui vive; without waiting to be asked, they will do your will; without restrictions, they will be faithful; without giving orders, they can be trusted. 'qui vive' is seeking life. When soldiers see you as the route to survival, they will follow your orders without question. When they see no alternative, they will be unquestionably loyal. 
26. Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with superstitious doubts. Then, until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared. There are many superstitions about luck, in particular bad luck. When bad things happen, superstitious people assume they have not completed the right rituals and may go fatalistically to their deaths.

When superstition is abolished, facts can be seen and accepted more easily. Then the right thing to do is also more easily accepted.

27. If our soldiers are not overburdened with money, it is not because they have a distaste for riches; if their lives are not unduly long, it is not because they are disinclined to longevity. Being a soldier is to face death, sometimes on a daily basis. This changes how you look at life. It is unsurprising in such situations that the live for the moment and think less of saving for a future than may never be.

Soldiers do not sign up because they have a death wish. Nor do they often sign up for the booty. More often it is mundane, such as because they see no other prospects. Perhaps it is about seeking adventure. Maybe it is to do with seeking meaning. For some it might even be about king and country.

28. On the day they are ordered out to battle, your soldiers may weep, those sitting up bedewing their garments, and those lying down letting the tears run down their cheeks. But let them once be brought to bay, and they will display the courage of a Chu or a Kuei. Children are often shocked by the prospect of having to earn their living only on the last day of school.

People who lose their jobs when a times get tough are often surprised, even though it it is clear redundancy is coming.

Soldiers likewise may be horrified by the sudden realization that within a day they may be dead. The shock may well bring tears and it is good idea to let them weep away their terror.

Yet, the next day, children become adults and those who lose their jobs get on with their lives. And soldiers, faced with death in all directions, step up to the mark and fight like heroes.

In fact soldiers inculcated in the psychology of honor would rather die than be thought a coward. They fight for the person next to them, for their platoon, for their regiment. And to avoid at all costs the specter of dishonor.



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