Attack by Stratagem
In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact.
- Shattering and destroying it is not so good.
- It is better to recapture an army, a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy it.
Supreme excellence is in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. It is not in fighting and conquering in all your battles.
Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans. The next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more.
The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege.
Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting.
- He captures their cities without laying siege to them
- He overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.
With his forces intact, he will dispute the mastery of the Empire.
- Thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete.
This is the method of attacking by stratagem.
The rule in war is that if our forces are:
- 10 times the size of the enemy, then surround him
- 5 times the enemy, attack him
- 2 times the enemy, divide our army into two
- equally matched, we can offer battle
- slightly fewer, we can avoid the enemy
- if unequal in every way, we can flee from him.
Hence, an obstinate fight may be made by a small force. But in the end, it must be captured by the larger force.
The general is the bulwark of the State.
- If the bulwark is complete at all points, the State will be strong.
- If the bulwark is defective, the State will be weak.
There are three ways a ruler can bring misfortune to his army:
- By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.
- By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier’s minds.
- By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.
But when the army is restless and distrustful, trouble is sure to come from the other feudal princes. This is simply bringing anarchy into the army, and flinging victory away.
Thus, there are five essentials for victory:
- Knowing when to fight and when not to fight.
- Knowing how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
- Being animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.
- Being prepared, waiting to take the enemy unprepared.
- Having military capacity that is not interfered with by the sovereign.
Hence the saying:
- If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
- If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
- If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will lose in every battle.