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The Artist of War



The Artist of War


David Hill 18 Oct 2003


The Artist of War

You've got me right where I want you...

Introduction :

Having a little time on my hands, I found myself drawn to complete a critique of Samuel B. Griffith's faithful and accurate translation of Sun Tzu's Classic on Military Strategy (Oxford Univ. Press; London; 1971). This critique will not really touch upon Tzu's principles per se, but on Griffith's understanding of the work, overall. I will keep it as short and concise as possible, with no redundancy, and, in the process, restore a Unity to the work that was lacking in his translation.

There are several major points that he presents that need to be corrected so as to understand Sun Tzu's work and the environment that he lived in which produced this classic; but which really does not affect his teaching but solely increases one's respect for the man that wrote the classic in the Science of War, which has remained the same for 2600 yrs, as I present an insight on his work that will challenge most of the accepted views on his book.

Date of Writing :

There are two views as to the time that Sun Tzu wrote his work. One views it by the ancient belief that it was written circa 500 BC and the other around 300 BC. Because this affects my overall view concerning the author, this point needs to be addressed. The internal evidence is his reference to the affairs of the states of Wu and Yueh in the 7th century BC, which supports the earlier date of writing (pgs 100,135). This alone should be conclusive, and the arguments the translator presents for the later date are not conclusive enough evidence to discard this ancient belief, whether taken singularly or in the aggregate.

The first argument (pg 2) is that if Sun Tzu did defeat Ch'u, then the historian Tso should have mentioned this great Warrior. However, the historian, as is usually the case, would have given credit for the victory to the Emperor himself, and not his general. This point is strengthened by my theory that Tzu was a foreigner. Further, this argument is presented by Yao Ch'i-heng in 1647 AD, or roughly 2,000 yrs after the fact, whereas the ancient date for the book was stated by the historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien only about 400 yrs removed from the time of writing (as near as I can tell), and is much more likely to be correct.

Other internal evidence supports this; as in Tzu's reference to the current agricultural climate of the Ching-t'ien or 'slave' economy and his reference's to the Hegemonic King (pgs 144, 138), both of which were the prevailing climate in the 7th and 6th cent. BC; and his lack of reference to cavalry (pg 11) which came into use in the third cent. BC.

The second argument against the earlier date (pg 7) is that the size of the armies mentioned by Tzu (100,000 pg 72) were unknown in China before 500 BC. However, this point is also brushed aside by the translator's own statement that documentation for all those years is noticeably deficient and thus impossible to make dogmatic statements concerning them. Further, Tzu's work was well known in the fourth century BC, before the printing press, and thus strongly argues for the earlier date (pg 15, 169).

The translator (pg 7) then says that these slave peasants could not possibly have been capable of the trained military maneuvers that Sun Tzu describes, which is actually an argument from silence as he presents no proof that this was actually true, and is thus solely his inference. He then points out (pg 8) that Tzu's philosophy of generalship was completely inconsistent with traditional thought (which, in itself, is no argument against an earlier date knowing the tenacity of traditions in general), and this will emphasise my theory that it is extremely obvious that Sun Tzu was not a native of China, but was an outsider. In general, closed societies very seldom change in any major way and thus change, if it does come, usually does so from without. Some of the areas in which Sun Tzu differed from the culture of Wu will bear this out.

He despised divination (pg 8); taught that the general should be able to act independently of the Sovereign when necessary (pg 8); used the word Chin as a generic term for money (pg 9); emphasised the use of the crossbow (pg 9) and armoured troops (pg 10); incorrectly uses certain phrases (pg 10) as they were employed at the time; introduces a new philosophy of elements (pg 10); and, of course, his superiority in the Martial Arena far and above that of the culture of the day all suggest that he was an outsider and one who had (at that time) world class professional training and experience in the field of War (pg 12 etc).

When we examine these points further, it answers all questions concerning the earlier date and give us further background on this strategist. Many will, no doubt, disagree with my conclusion; however, it is obvious to me that Sun Tzu must have been involved in the Babylonian Army in some way, which was the world ruler at that time. And, if you look at his use of the word Chin and look in a Strong's concordance at number 7073 (also 7069, 7075, 7066) you will see that Chin, in Hebrew, is money and specifically money used to pay soldiers.

My theory is solely that Sun Tzu was from the Lost Tribes who had been deported by the Assyrians in 740 BC to Persia and other places, who were then amalgamated into the Babylonian Empire as they expanded eastward and by 500 BC produced an individual of Sun Tzu's caliber and military training which caused him to seek employment in Wu. His book is actually his Employment Application, which was subsequently filed away in the Emperor's Personal Records and Archives which itself answers the question (pg 4) of there being no books of private origins at that time.

His disdain for divination cannot really be explained outside of an Israeli background in the culture of the world of his day. Further, his use of the word armour (which, like the crossbow, he would have been familiar with as an outsider) in the word Chia (pg 10), is also phonetically close to the Hebrew Keliy (#3627) which comes from Kalah (#2488), where the L would have been silent in the Chinese (if I am not mistaken) or lost in translation. His misuse of certain words and phrases also support his foreign origins, as his philosophy of the elements which hints of the Cabala or Babylonian Philosophy, and explains why the historian would not have mentioned him and thus give the credit of the rise of the WU Empire to a foreigner.

It is extremely interesting that there were major changes occurring in China at this time which is highly indicative of outside influence. The translator mentions Iron Smelting (pg 26), Confucianism (Monotheism again indicative of Hebraism - pg 8, 126, 136), Slave-to-Feudal system (pg 5, 33), the advent of the use of Money (pg 9), New Weapons (armor and crossbow - pgs 9,10), Tactics (pgs 10, 20, 30, 33, 35, 36) including Conscription (pg 33) and Nationalism (pg 39).

It is, to me, also much more than significant that Sun Tzu divided his employment application into exactly 13 chapters, indicative of one from the Tribe of Ephraim; who had made his way to Wu for a reason.

This, as the translator states (pg 24) was a dynamic age in which hundreds of these warriors-for-hire wandered these countries in search of employment and, next to Love, the other universal language is that of War, and certainly a Warrior of Tzu's standing would have no problem seeking employment in a foreign country, or of actually gaining that employment. Sun Tzu was a westerner from Ephraim seeking a position in an Army in China. This can further be emphasised by this critique, for I will explain a unity to Tzu's book that even the Chinese have not noticed (as far as I know), as this continues.

Internal Unity :

Tzu's use of the Ch'i and Cheng (pgs 42-43), which he explains as the Unpredicted use of forces and the Normal use of forces which he divides up into two groups or armies; can be compared to the Left and Right hands respectively, where the left is the hand of Control and the right is that of Power, which makes his philosophy a little easier to understand (pgs 91 etc).

His execution (pg 58) of the two concubines (which some Chinese historians questioned as to its actual occurrence), has yet to be fully understood.

First off, the Emperor embarrassed Tzu by sending him an army of women to test his ability as a general. This showed Sun Tzu that the Emperor himself needed some discipline if he was to hold onto his empire, much less expand it (note Tzu's reply, pg 59, that the Emperor only liked empty words and was not capable of putting them into practice).

His choice of the leaders of the Concubines was assuredly because they were, obviously, spies for a foreign government (pg 147 There is no place where espionage is not used and note that he sets the stage for this very event in that same chapter by referring to two female spies in Chinese History) and a threat to the country that Sun Tzu had already decided he wanted to mold into a Hegemonic Empire. In the process of ridding the Palace of these spies, he disobeyed a command from the emperor (he had no choice in this so as to save face from the embarrassment offered by the Emperor) and earned the fear of the Emperor's entire household and the respect of the Emperor's entire Army, all at the same time. Thus he is already disciplining the Emperor and his Army for the future that he envisions for them, which will be further seen as we proceed.

Sun Tzu was not just filling out a job application, nor was he solely concerned with writing down a composite account of his knowledge of the Martial Arts so as to impress the Emperor and gain employment. If you read through his words (and ignore, for now, the notes by the commentators that the translator included - highlight all Sun Tzu's words), you will see that Sun Tzu had done a careful background investigation of the two countries of Wu and Yueh (and assuredly that of the other countries in the area) and probably the Emperors themselves, before he decided upon which one he would support by procuring the position of general (pg 100 where I estimate the troops of Yueh as many).

He decided that the best chance of forming a Hegemonic Kingdom in the area, was to gain Employment as the General of the Wu army, then use that to overthrow the Emperor of Yueh, thus combining those two countries into a Kingdom (pg 135 Though the men of Wu and Yueh mutually hate one another, if together in a boat tossed with the wind, they would co-operate as the right hand does with the left), which would then be strong enough to engage Ch'u to the West and Ch'i to the North (pg 130 - When a state is enclosed by three other states its territory is focal. He who first gets control of it will gain the support of All Under Heaven or the Empire). He chose Wu primarily because their Flank was protected by the Eastern Sea of the Pacific Ocean (map pg 33).

What Sun Tzu was implying to the Emperor Ho-lu with his dissertation was that he could take his nation and turn it into an empire if he would allow him to do so (pg 138 When a Hegemonic King attacks a powerful state he makes it impossible for the enemy to concentrate). All of this is exactly what Sun Tzu went on to do (pg 2) when he defeated Ch'u to the west and entered Ying.

Thus, when we look at the chapters and discern their true meaning, we see that Sun Tzu laid out this plan in a concise form, in view of forging this Kingdom, from the start to the end of the campaign. The translators titles for the Chapters, due to the difficulties involved in translation, hide this overall unity.

I would suggest:

1) Tactics; 2) Logistics - where dangers on pg 73 should be costs and also enraged on pg 75 should read motivated; 3) Strategy; 4) Command; 5) Control; 6) Formation; 7) Maneuver; 8) Deployment; 9) Encampment; 10) Engagement; 11) Occupation; 12) Policy; 13) Intelligence.

Thus, he lays out the entire process of a Military Campaign against, lets say, Yueh, from the original assessment and conscription of troops to the maneuver and encampment in preparation for employment (deployment) and engagement and the resulting occupation of the conquered territory and finally ends in the gathering of intelligence on the next country, which is where the information would come from for a proper Assessment and the development of proper Tactics for the next campaign (or in other words, right back to chapter One).

Thus, as the translator states, though some of Sun Tzu's information seems to be redundant (the types of ground etc) it is addressed from a different point in the overall process (i.e. - Marching over ground, Encamping on ground, Engaging on ground and Occupying captured ground). And what he did with this employment application was to give the Emperor a specific blueprint and plan of attack to bring his nation to Empire status and thus to bring Order to the Region where Chaos was having its sway.

So, this is not just a book on the Art of War, as important as that subject is to the State. It is actually a discourse of controlling the Power of the Necessary Evil in order to bring Order out of Chaos and thus to bring Peace and Civilization to a Nation or group thereof.

And since that Power is controlled by the General as the Precious Jewel of The State than this book is, actually, a Self-Portrait of

The Artist of War...


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See my 'translation' of his classic.


The first comment on the harmony of this old post with my recent one on the translation, so far, is the title of chapter five which would be the Control of the Energy of an Army.


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