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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 11.35-37: Secrecy)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 11.35-37: Secrecy

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XI. The Nine Situations


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
35. It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order.

In war, intelligence is critical. This means your enemy will use all means, fair and foul, to learn of your plans.

A secret shared is no longer a secret. Whilst some may be trusted, even the sharing may be overheard. The trusted person may also be captured and tortured for their knowledge. They may be blackmailed or bribed.

The more critical the knowledge, the fewer should know. It is hence often better to keep major plans to oneself. 

36. He must be able to mystify his officers and men by false reports and appearances, and thus keep them in total ignorance. A leader must communicate strongly to gain common purpose and coordinated action. But this does not mean laying bare all thoughts and intentions.

Tell people what they need to know and enough to keep them motivated and coordinated. But then cloak further intent.

People will naturally guess and will talk about their thoughts, which they will base on what you say and do. In this way, rumors will spread to enemy ears. When those rumors are wild and conflicting, the enemy will remain unsure and be unable to take positive action.

Likewise in business, people like to gossip and may be intrigued by ideas. Uncertainty hence also keeps people on their toes, alert and ready. It is better to conduct the gossip orchestra than be the victim of it.

37. By altering his arrangements and changing his plans, he keeps the enemy without definite knowledge. By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes, he prevents the enemy from anticipating his purpose. Even if there is no leakage of information from your soldiers, you should assume that the enemy are watching you.

Actions such as movements that have no particular purpose will be analyzed and purpose concluded. In this way, the true purpose may remain hidden and give the dual advantage of preventing readiness and creating surprise.



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