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1. Introduction.

a. ‘The Art of War’ is a book essentially written for the military professionals. It is one of the ancient Chinese military treaties authored by famous Chinese general Sun Tzu during 500 BC. B H Liddell Hart, a renowned British military theorist, claims it to be the ‘concentrated essence of wisdom on the conduct of war.’ In 1772 ‘The Art of War’ was first translated into French and in the English in 1910. After that various translators have translated it in different languages. Samuel B Griffith, a Brigadier General in the United States Marine Corps, was an avid reader and keen researcher on Sun Tzu and his ‘The Art of War’ since 1960. Griffith’s ‘Sun Tzu: The Art of War’ was initially published from Oxford University Press (ISBN 0-252-06891-2) in 1963 as a revised version of his thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Later his book was reproduced from Duncan Baird Publishers Ltd in United Kingdom and Ireland in 2005 as ‘Sun Tzu: The Art of War – The New Illustrated Edition’

b. For more than 2500 years this book remains the source of knowledge, guidance and inspiration for military professionals and strategists. It is claimed that famous generals like Douglas MacArthur, Vo Nguyen Giap and Mao Zedong derived motivation and inspiration from it. Its validity and universal appeal amazes modern readers as well. After reading this book every reader realizes that war is the most important aspect for a country, and deserves thorough studies by the rulers and the generals. The most interesting part is that the readers of ‘The Art of War’ admit that as they grow elder, and gain experience and knowledge; the same text reveals more meaningful and useful.

c. Bangladesh got birth in 1971 through a great war of independence. Our army is also one of the unique armies which was born during this war of independence and witnessed the victory in his very first war. But it does not negate the possibility of another war in future. So we need a deterrent force in this region to secure our sovereignty and prosperity. Professionalism is the key to such aim and military professionalism badly warrants clear understanding on the procession of war. We are still nascent to have our own literature like ‘Seven Military Classics’ or ‘On War’; or military thinkers like Clausewitz, Liddell Hart or Milan Vego. So there is no alternative to seek knowledge and guidance from the existing military literatures from abroad. For the centuries it is proved that Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ is worth studying to acquire true military professionalism and wining the wars. So it is a must read book for every military professionals in Bangladesh army.

2. Summary of Content.

a. ‘Sun Tzu: The Art of War – The New Illustrated Edition’ accommodates the translation of the original ‘The Art of War’ and other relevant narrations and illustrations as well. ‘The Foreword’ is penned by famous military thinker B H Liddell Hart. Here Liddell Hart has attempted to draw the significance of studying Sun Tzu’s script in comparison to another famous military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz’s works. ‘The preface’ drafted by Griffith is very interesting. Besides highlighting the importance of studying ‘The Art of War’ for the rulers and generals, he doubted the reliability of Sun Tzu’s biography as well. ‘The Introduction’ of this book is well delineated and one of the best introduction to ‘The Art of War’, to my honest opinion per se. In the history of ancient china, sun Tzu is a disputed author. Griffith as a researcher surfaced the debate and opted to arrive at a conclusion, which is really very interesting. Regarding ‘The Text’ of ‘The Art of war’ Griffith aptly established the fact that it was written by a single mastermind, who had excellent military and literary knowledge to compose such a rich script. Under the head of ‘Warring States’ and ‘War in Sun Tzu’s Age’ Griffith demystified the locations and interrelation among the Chinese states during Sun Tzu’s age. These two rich articles, along with the maps, are excellent account of contemporary strategy, politics and tactics as well. ‘Sun Tzu on War’ is an article through which readers can realise Sun Tzu’s state of mind in authoring such well drafted script and its rationales. ‘Sun Tzu and Mao Tse-Tung’ is another rich part of the introduction which analyses Sun Tzu’s influence on Mao in prosecuting his campaigns. Reading this introduction carefully is urgent for the readers to be mentally ready to receive and interpret Sun Tzu’s verses ahead.  

b. ‘Biography of Sun Tzu’ is an interesting account where king Ho-lu desired to test Sun Tzu’s ability as a commander by offering him hundred and eighty beautiful concubines to command. Every turn of this biography leaves important lessons even before those thirteen chapters of the main text begins. Introduction of Sun Pin at the latter half of the biography is also equally interesting.

c. ‘Estimates’ is the first chapter of Sun Tzu’s thirteen chapters of ‘The Art of War’. Here Sun Tzu has described his ideas regarding the significance of war studies, factors and considerations influencing war decisions, and importance of deception and planning in war. The second chapter is ‘Waging War’ where issues like cost-benefit ratio, logistic estimation, and duration of war were discussed. Also, importance of victory and distribution of booties in war is highlighted here. The third chapter, ‘Offensive Strategy’, deals with the tips to attack by stratagem. ‘Dispositions’, the fourth chapter, discusses regarding whether to attack or defend. ‘Energy’, the fifth chapter, is on management, decision and employment. The sixth chapter is ‘Weakness and Strengths’, where Sun Tzu discussed regarding initiative, exploitation of enemy’s weakness, requirement of secrecy and innovation. The seventh chapter is titled as ‘manoeuver’ and describes the ‘Manoeuvrist Approach’ in war. The eighth chapter ‘The Nine Variables’ is on various types of battlefields from terrain point of view. ‘Marches’ is the ninth chapter and suggests on army’s role in different environment. The tenth chapter is on six types of ‘Terrain.’ ‘The Nine Varieties of Ground’ as the eleventh chapter describes nine types of situations in wars. ‘Attack by Fire’ is the twelfth chapter which deals with the use of fire in wars. The thirteenth and last chapter is on ‘Employment of Secret Agents.’

3. Analysis and Evaluation of the Book.

a. Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ surprizes for many of us who possess scanty ideas regarding strategy and tactics in ancient battles and wars. Reading the art of war is a unique experience. Depth of the content of this book and its validity hypnotises its reader who reads it for the first time. Once you read it again after a few months or year, you reveal the fact that you missed some facets of the same verses as you read last time.  

b. The appeal and validity of this book is universal. For more than 2000 years it is studied by the pupils of strategy and warfare. Many victor rulers and commanders have derived inspiration out of it. But modern military science and technology has advanced a lot. Revolution has occurred in the field of weaponry and communication technologies. For indirect fire support modern artillery and missiles have replaced the use of arrows. Latest assault rifles have replaced the swords ensuring effective close quarter battles from 300 meters away. Tanks are way faster than ancient chariots. Wireless and satellite communications are thousand time faster than human envoys. Today’s satellite images are incomparably accurate and informative than age old paper maps. So, worthiness of classic ‘The Art of War’ in modern and future battlefields is a rational dilemma. But the fact remains that still decisions are taken by human commanders and weather is controlled by the nature itself. So it is evident that so long training, planning and decisions will be controlled by human commanders; the strategic, operational and tactical aspects will be reiterating within few universal principles of war. Modern commanders will mere adjust their decision making process keeping the modern technological developments to their arsenals in mind.c. Military history and war studies educates a commander on the various aspects of the art of war. The lessons of previous wars help in formulating better plans. So it is indeed an important ability of a commander to interpret the principles and precedence of wars in light of present context. Knowledge on military history and theories differ from commander to commander. Such difference is the determiner of the victors and vanquished. At places Sun Tzu became specific in examples in his script. But Avid readers and smart commanders will ultimately find the hidden messages and lessons in it. 

d. the birth of Bangladesh is the result of a great war of independence in 1971. But historically we were not the warriors’ nation like the Greeks, Romans or Germans. Both ‘Mahavarata’ and ‘Ramayana’ are accounts of great feats in antiquity. Which indicates that the Indian history of practicing strategy and tactics was older than the Chinese. Again Indian history of secret operations by the spies is contemporary to the Egyptians. But unfortunately we failed to maintain the chronology. Chanakya’s ‘Arthashasra’ is our only document which we may claim as our own, yet it is hardly practiced by us. Also, we have great dearth in military theorist and thinkers of our own. But we all know that war in 1971 is not the last war for us and we always have to remain ready for the next war. It is evident that the next war is going to be way challenging than that of the previous one in 1971. In countries like us every war turns into a total war for us making the participation of the common mass almost inevitable. So rudimentary knowledge on military affairs is urgent for our people, and there is no alternative to reading books like ‘The Art of War’ per se.

e. war is also a competition among the belligerents. So the lessons of Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ have got pertinence in other competitive sectors like Strategic Marketing, Corporate Strategic Management, Competitive Analysis etc. So Sun Tzu is now in the class room of business schools and on the boards of corporate offices as well. So relevance of Sun Tzu’s lessons at present context has turned ‘The Art of War’ in to a book must be read for all.

4. Conclusion.

a. Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ is a book written by a military general for the military professionals. But today’s world is full of competition in every sphere of life and business. So it is urgent for a professional to be able to interpret Sun Tzu’s text to the proper perspective and derive the correct lessons. Here one must be imaginative enough to seek appropriate inspiration from it and creative enough to apply the lessons against present context.

b. Griffith in his ‘Sun Tzu: The Art of War – The New Illustrated Edition’ has researched on Sun Tzu and ‘The Art of War.’ Useful interpretation, explanations, commentaries and narrations from various sources have made this book rich and reader friendly. Various additional discussion on Sun Tzu, his time and ‘The Art of War’ helps readers to know and understand Sun Tzu and his ‘The Art of War’ better. Number of footnotes in the book and brief biographies of other Chinese commentators have helped in clarifying this ancient script and proved useful.

c. Sun Tzu’s text is quite valid and relevant in this century. Besides military professionals, its universal appeal attracts professionals from other walks of life and business as well. Reading experience of Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ is unique and deserves to read it again and again. So Griffith’s ‘Sun Tzu: The Art of War – The New Illustrated Edition’ is a book we must read. 

Delwar Hossain Khan (Del H Khan)
দেলোয়ার হোসেন খান (ডেল এইচ খান)

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