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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 9.18-28: Enemy Tactics)


Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 9.18-28: Enemy Tactics

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IX. The Army on the March


Sun Tzu said: Commentary
18. When the enemy is close at hand and remains quiet, he is relying on the natural strength of his position.

An enemy that does not attack or does not flee is likely confident where they are. If you cannot see their advantage, be very wary.

It is also possible that they can see no advantageous action. To know this, look for signs of confusion in their camp.

In business, if a competitor is not taking competitive action, ask yourself why.

19. When he keeps aloof and tries to provoke a battle, he is anxious for the other side to advance.

An enemy that avoids an all-out fight does so for a reason.

If they repeatedly provoke you and then retreat, they clearly want you to follow, perhaps to a place of their choosing for the battle or into an ambush.

Beware of business competitors who make weak provocation. They may be testing you or seeking to drain your resources in ineffective responses.

20. If his place of encampment is easy of access, he is tendering a bait. Beware an enemy which seems relaxed. If it seems easy that you can walk into their territory and especially into their encampment, they are either very foolish or are seeking to ambush you.
21. Movement amongst the trees of a forest shows that the enemy is advancing. The appearance of a number of screens in the midst of thick grass means that the enemy wants to make us suspicious. Watch for signs of movement, not just of their troops but also of undergrowth where they may be hiding.

Also be suspicious of what appears to be natural cover in an area where there is no other cover.

22. The rising of birds in their flight is the sign of an ambuscade. Startled beasts indicate that a sudden attack is coming. Birds will rise when startled, not just when men are around. The arrival of a large force will startle a large number of birds. Even a few birds rising may indicate an unknown number of troops moving in the area. 

Learn to read the signs that nature offers you about the presence and movement of troops, both near and afar.

In business, look for the weak and indirect indicators of competitive action, such as busy suppliers and silent customers.

23. When there is dust rising in a high column, it is the sign of chariots advancing; when the dust is low, but spread over a wide area, it betokens the approach of infantry. When it branches out in different directions, it shows that parties have been sent to collect firewood. A few clouds of dust moving to and fro signify that the army is encamping. When the ground is dry, men and machines will kick up dust and send signals that can be seen many miles away.

Learn to read the distant signs of different types of activity.

24. Humble words and increased preparations are signs that the enemy is about to advance. Violent language and driving forward as if to the attack are signs that he will retreat. The enemy will try to deceive you in their speech and visible actions, most typically by trying appear they are deciding what they are not. Appearing to leave is hence intended to relax you, while appearing to prepare for battle is intended to make you pause.
25. When the light chariots come out first and take up a position on the wings, it is a sign that the enemy is forming for battle. Light chariots, like light modern armor, are a combination of fast and powerful, intended to race to more distant places. In particular when they are on the wings, they are likely to be used for flanking or encirclement.

They could also, of course, be used just to make you think this will happen.

26. Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot. In a military arena where both sides agree to a tacit code, then both will likely follow that code, but nothing else. Where the code says that a sworn covenant will be followed, but anything else is allowed, then only the covenant can be believed.

Understand the codes that your enemy will follow, including of honor and dishonor. If the code is 'All's fair in love and war' then do not even believe a covenant.

One thing that may happen is where an enemy has different codes to you, but acts as if they follow the same codes, so deceiving you.

In civilian life, codes are equivalent to values.

27. When there is much running about and the soldiers fall into rank, it means that the critical moment has come. Running about and apparent disorder may be a sign of actual disorder, but it may also be a ruse. Watch for the disorder turning into order.
28. When some are seen advancing and some retreating, it is a lure. Armies tend to advance or retreat in unison unless the majority take fright and a few suicidally brave souls remain.

Watch also for any retreat that does not make sense. If the enemy seems to be gifting you, then it is very likely a deceit that is designed to entrap you.



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