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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 12.5-12: Five Developments)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 12.5-12: Five Developments

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XII. The Attack by Fire


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
5. In attacking with fire, one should be prepared to meet five possible developments:

There are five factors described here which should be taken into account when attacking with fire.
6. (1) When fire breaks out inside to enemy's camp, respond at once with an attack from without. Fire in the camp may set the soldiers busy trying to put the fire out, making them vulnerable to external attack.

Also, realizing this possibility, they may take to fanning out to find and punish the fire-starting culprits.

In business, this principle may be described as attacking competitors when they are distracted.

7. (2) If there is an outbreak of fire, but the enemy's soldiers remain quiet, bide your time and do not attack. Action is the natural response to a disturbance such as fire. If there is no action, then this is not natural. When the enemy behaves in any way that is not natural, they may be acting a cunning way, perhaps expecting you to use the alarm of the fire to attack them. If they are ready for you in their own camp, then attacking them could be hazardous for you.

In business, when competitors act strangely, be suspicious.

8. (3) When the force of the flames has reached its height, follow it up with an attack, if that is practicable; if not, stay where you are. When the flames are at their height, the enemy's disarray will also be at its height. If the flames are dying down, then they will be feeling calmer and be more ready to fight. Hence it is best to attack when there is most disarray.

Attack after creating fire is not always a good idea, especially if you will be going into an unknown situation. Fires create fear and exhaustion all by themselves and so gain you advantage without your attack.

9. (4) If it is possible to make an assault with fire from without, do not wait for it to break out within, but deliver your attack at a favorable moment. You do not need to go into the enemy's camp to set the fire. You may be able to set this with projectiles in advance of your attack.

Timing of the attack, as always, should coincide with the moment of greatest advantage.

10. (5) When you start a fire, be to windward of it. Do not attack from the leeward. Fires create smoke, which is blown by the wind. The fire also will travel in the direction of the wind. Hence you should be behind the fire, with the wind behind you, not in front of it.

If the wind is swirling and unpredictable, starting a fire can be hazardous for you. It is always better to take action where the outcomes are more certain.

11. A wind that rises in the daytime lasts long, but a night breeze soon falls.

Understand the nature of wind, and not just for fire. Winds can carry dust and other particles as well as smoke.

Winds can also carry sounds and smells. Just as when tracking wild animals, it is better to be downwind than upwind.

12. In every army, the five developments connected with fire must be known, the movements of the stars calculated, and a watch kept for the proper days. Understand fire and how to control it. Understood, it can be your ally.

Movement of stars provides location information. Knowing where you are at all times is essential.

A watch outwards lets you know more of what is happening all around you. The further you can see, the more land you can command.



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