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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 12.17-22: Waste Not)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 12.17-22: Waste Not

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XII. The Attack by Fire


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
17. Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.

There is a difference between action and advantageous action. A need to act without seeing the advantage of doing so greatly risks disadvantage.

This applies to such as movement, using troops and fighting. Action without advantage is waste.

18. No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique. It is not unknown for rulers to be ruled by their emotions more than their heads, though emotional decisions in war kills many people and may lose the war.

The same happens with business managers who make decisions out of personal ambition or ill-founded 'gut feel'. This is a key reason why many Mergers & Acquisitions fail, despite expenditure of many millions.

19. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are. Move when there is advantage to be gained and where this outweighs the ever-present risk of moving.

The underlying principle is to constantly understand advantage and disadvantage, and to keep acquiring information that will give you the knowledge as to how to make this decision.

20. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. Emotions do not stay. Anger fades, as does happiness, sadness and other emotions. We each have a temperamental level of good and bad feeling.

So if you are moved to action by your feelings, wait.

21. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life. Whilst a kingdom may be built again, it is not the same kingdom and will never operate in quite the same way. Defeat changes people. So be careful in conquest, lest you destroy that which you seek to gain.

When you spend the lives of soldiers, they are gone forever. Yet it is a commander's job to send people to their deaths. So do so wisely and for worthwhile advantage.

22. Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good general full of caution. This is the way to keep a country at peace and an army intact. Fight only when you need to. Destroy only that which you must. Seek always to avoid unnecessary damage and to bring the war to a rapid conclusion.



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