Home » Book Review of Translation of “Sun Tzu: The Art of War” by Samuel B.

Book Review of Translation of “Sun Tzu: The Art of War” by Samuel B.

The translation of the “Sun Tzu: The Art of War” ancient Chinese text has been given by many different writers. Samuel B. Griffith, Brigadier General, retired, U. S. Marine Corps; is a proven strategist that studied the English commandoes war fighting skills as a Captain. As a Major, Griffith was hand picked to serve as Executive Officer under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Merritt Edson of the 1st Raider Battalion, one of the battalions that perfected the amphibious landings during World War II. Samuel B.

Griffith gives his in-depth study on “Sun Tzu: The Art of War” and how Mao Tse-tung used the strategies and teachings of Sun Tzu while commanding the Red Army of China. Griffith’s translation of Sun Tzu’s work is written in three parts: Introduction, Translation, and Appendix. PART 1: INTRODUCTION In his first chapter of his study titled The Author, Griffith gives many different possibilities as to who the actual author of the writings is. Griffith sites many theories from other sources trying to validate the origin of the author, but settles on one basic theory for the text.

The Art of War was written by a single author probably around the time of the Warring States and during the periods from 400-320 B. C. (p. 11) Furthermore, Griffith states that there is not enough evidence to positively say if a person named Sun Tzu actually wrote the book or if it was written as a tribute to him, and the case of the authorship remains unsettled. The second chapter, The Text, of Griffith’s study focuses on the text itself. There has been debate about how many chapters were originally in “The Art of War”: Eighty-Two or Thirteen. (p. 3)

Griffith gives a sound theory that the current thirteen chapters were the only writings. Based on copywriting errors, the eighty-two chapters were probably written into thirteen categories (or chapters) while trying to transcribe written work onto paper from silk or wood. Griffith also asserts that the text was used for entry-level war fighting studies in early Chinese military academies. The Warring States is the subject and title of Griffith’s third chapter, which gives an enlightening look at the life and times in China after the defeat of the rule of Chin at Ching Yang in 453. p. 20) The country was divided into eight individual warring sects (with the exception of Yen and Yeuh) that worked to build their empires by consuming one of the smaller sects. In the life of the warring states, Griffith examines the traveling modes, philosophies, businesses, legal and political structures, weaponry, and most important to this text war fighting scholars. Griffith compares these scholars to the likes of Plutarch and lists the penalties for those giving bad advice and the rewards for those that were talented.

The author of “The Art of War” was one such author, and although the author is still in question his works were successful enough to survive the ages. The fourth chapter, War in Sun Tzu’s Age, gives a brief historical description of how war was conducted prior to 500 B. C. , which was mostly considered civilized and with mutual respect. But during the era of Sun Tzu, war had become ferocious and Griffith shares an account of three thousand condemned men forced to commit suicide by cutting their own throat. p. 33) The more brutal warring became; the more insight of successful combating was sought. Sun Tzu’s doctrine includes the soldiers of the time with the armies composed of swordsmen, archers, spearmen, crossbowmen, and chariots who found themselves using techniques of tactical reconnaissance, to observation, flank patrolling, and security issues. (pp. 36, 38) Sun Tzu on War, chapter five, is Griffith’s description of Sun Tzu’s recommendations in strategy for winning battles.

The best way to win a battle is by not having to fight it at all, and when a war has to be conducted it should be “applied so that victory was gained in the shortest possible time, at the least possible cost in lives and effort, and with infliction on the enemy of the fewest possible casualties”. (p. 39) Griffith continues to explain the importance of surveillance, knowing what type of commander the opposition has, and using the opponent’s weaknesses against him. The strategy of Sun Tzu always includes the element of surprise either before operations have began or during the evolution of combat.

The sixth chapter, Sun Tzu and Mao Tse-tung, describes how the commander Mao Tse-tung took control of China with the Red Army. Mao started out with only a few thousand men and applied Sun Tzu philosophies to successfully implement the communist army over the country. Griffith gives a good relation of how many techniques Mao used were in direct scholarship of Sun Tzu’s writings. Griffith also sites Mao’s translation of Sun Tzu time and time again, and list not only the good but also the bad experiences of the Red Army commander. PART II: Translation

The preface of Part II, Biography of Sun Tzu, starts out with a demonstration of Sun Tzu’s leadership abilities over the concubines of King Wu. This leads to a story of one of the descendents of Sun Tzu, Sun Pin. The significance of the story of Sun Pin is that he was able to eventually defeat P’ang Chuan, the person that had his feet cut off, (p. 59) through patients and waiting for the element of surprise, which were the teachings of Sun Tzu. The first chapter, Estimates, deals with the five advantages of strategy: moral influence, weather, terrain, command, and doctrine, (p. 63) and Sun Tzu describes each category and the reasons for each.

Sun Tzu goes on to explain how deception is always present in war, and gives good example categories of deception. In the second chapter, Waging War, Sun Tzu speaks of the swiftness that is needed in order to end war without ruining the economics of the country. This is clearly stated in his words, “When an army engages in protracted campaigns the resources of the state will not suffice. ” (p. 73) The art of war should be conducted at a fast pace, and operations, only with the goal of victory, should never be drawn out. The third chapter of Offensive Strategy touches on the strategy of winning the war without having to fight.

When engaging with the enemy, the overall best strategy is to “know your enemy and know yourself”. (p. 84) Sun Tzu also gives fives elements in predicting a victory; knowing when to fight, knowing when to use small or large forces, ensuring that your ranks are unified, being careful when your enemy is not, and letting the generals fight the war (without interference from other political goals). Dispositions are covered in chapter four where Sun Tzu gives the best disposition: Making yourself invincible and waiting for your opponent to become vulnerable. p. 85) Invincibility lies in the defense and waiting to master the opponent. The elemental dispositions in the art of war are measurement of space, estimation of quantities, calculation, comparisons, and chances of victory. The fifth chapter, Energy, covers the topics of the management and control. In order to preserve energy a military unit should effectively use commands and signals. “Management of the many is the same as management of fewand to control many is the same as to control few”. (p. 0) The masters in the art of war are able to effectively apply opportunity and expediency by luring the opponent into a situation and then exploiting the situation. When it comes to Weaknesses and Strengths, chapter six; Sun Tzu teaches that the one that is waiting at the battlefield for the other has a great advantage in defense. Therefore, the commander must make his opponent bring the battle to him and not go into another’s battlefield. In order to increase your strength and utilize your opponent’s weakness, the commander must determine and study the opponent’s course of action.

In the employment of troops, discussed in chapter seven, Maneuvers, the following strategies should be utilized: Taking an indirect route to the objective, utilize natives of the area as guides, wait for the enemy to exhaust himself before attack and never engage while the opponent is fresh, and remain calm while the enemy is in disarray. Furthermore, Sun Tzu cautions not to engage your opponent’s high ground, elite troops, or withdrawal from the engagement and always allow for the opponent to have an escape route when surrounded.

There are occasions when the orders from the sovereign are not to be followed, and the commander can only know when and when not to follow direction by understanding The Nine Variables of chapter eight. Sun Tzu also lists five character traits that the commander should avoid. These five traits are devastating to operations: Quick tempered, reckless, cowardice, delicate sense of humor, and compassion. In chapter nine, Marches, Sun Tzu covers many different environmental cautions from the mountains to the rivers and all in between. The commander and subordinate behaviors are also discussed in the chapter.

The physical environment that the troops are in will have a lot to do with the group’s morale, relationships, and ability to fight. The commanders must “command them with civility and imbue them uniformly”. (p. 123) The Terrain is the topic of chapter ten, and Sun Tzu explains the many different situations that can be encountered and what can be gained or lost on each. There are six different principles of terrain and it is the highest responsibility of the commander to choose the right one. The six principles are accessible, entrapping, indecisive, constricted, precipitous, and distant.

Chapter ten also explains how weaknesses and strengths of the leader or group can affect the victory. In chapter eleven there are The Nine Varieties of Ground and Sun Tzu explains each one briefly. The first is dispersive, which means that a commander is fighting in his own territory. The shallow penetration of the enemy’s territory is known as the second variety, frontier. The third variety is key ground, which is a place that is equally advantages for both. The fourth variety is equally accessible to both, which is known as communication. The territory that is enclosed on three sides by other countries is known as the fifth variety, focal.

The sixth variety of serious ground describes the situation that a commander is in if he is deep in enemy territory far behind enemy towns and cities. When the army is forced to traverse over rough terrain it is said to be the seventh variety, difficult. The event of the enemy surrounded by a bigger force and being able to strike with a smaller force is known as the eighth variety, encircled. The ninth and final variety describes the situation when the army is fighting out of desperation and is known as death. After explaining all of these varieties, Sun Tzu explains how each one is hazardous or advantageous.

The twelfth chapter, Attack By Fire, describes five methods for attacking with fire. Sun Tzu covers many different factors in the use of fire, such as equipment, time of day, weather, and fires that are burning out of control. The five different methods of attacking by fire are to burn personnel, stores, equipment, arsenals, and the use of incendiary missiles. The final thirteenth chapter of Sun Tzu’s Art of War is Employment of Secret Agents. Sun Tzu describes the five different types of agents that should be used to simultaneously to defeat the enemy.

The first type of agent is a native, which means he is a citizen of the enemy’s country. An inside agent is an enemy professional. The doubled agent is an enemy spy that is now working for you. An expendable agent is given false information on purpose. And a living agent is one that returns to the commander with information. PART III: Appendix Griffith’s study also includes four different appendixes. The first is A Note from Wu Ch’I, the second is titled Sun Tzu’s Influence on Japanese Military Thought, the third is Sun Tzu in Western Languages, and the fourth appendix is Brief Biographies of the Commentators. Samuel B. Griffith’s translation of “Sun Tzu: The Art of War” is an inside look at military practices of today. I did not find one technique that is not or would not be utilized in modern military maneuver, leadership, or training. The most astounding fact is that the Art of War was written well over two thousand years ago, even at the most conservative date. Although most of the techniques in this text are already in practice today, the value of “The Art of War” is a never-ending treasure chest of knowledge, and it deserves a place as a required reading for anyone seeking knowledge about war fighting or the history of war.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Leave a Comment