What Sun Tzu’s Art of War can Teach us about our Lives
Manipulating people to make them act and believe a certain way is not an obscure conspiracy theory, nor is it solely a modern phenomenon. Manufacturing worldviews is something that has been done for the benefit of political, religious and financial parties for Millennia. One group of people trying to make others believe something is an ordinary occurrence, which means everyone of us should be aware of it. Politicians try to convince they can make the best decisions so we’d elect them, churches say their religion is the true one, companies claim that their cola brand is the tastiest. In some cases the claims may be true, but if there are ten different choices, only one of them can be the best. Even then, the best may simply mean “not as bad as the others”. To make us accept their story as the true one, they resort to lies, deception, cajoling and bribery rather than trying to live up to their promises. It has always been the case. It will remain so until we wise up and cease buying their lies.
By manipulating the perceptions of the masses the few have managed to control the many since time immemorial. Conspiring did come into being with 9/11, the Kennedy assassination or even the foundation of the Bavarian Illuminati in 1776. The oligarchs of the Roman empire were quite adept at manipulating the masses. Divide et impera (Divide and Conquer) and Bread and Circuses are well-known phrases that highlight the very simple, yet very effective methods of social control practiced in Rome. Basically any society where a small Elite group controls the masses is evidence of them successfully having sold propaganda to the people. The nature of the propaganda may vary from “it has been ordained by God that this guy is king”, “this group of people is so much wiser than others they must be obeyed” or “only this group can protect the masses from the various threats lurking in the dark”. A combination of different excuses is also possible. A most brilliant example of social manipulation is Sun Tzu’s Art of War. It applies both to illustrate how lies and deception have been used in history and how they are still used.
This article examines some of the ways The Art of War can be used to understand current events and the war on perception. The version of the book used here is the English translation by Samuel B. Griffith, a bright red book with 兵法 written on it in golden letters. It should be available across the world.
War is Deception
First of all it should be made clear that war is not limited to armies killing each other with swords and spears, guns and bombs or planes and tanks. Psychological warfare is war as well. The best generals win their wars without fighting a battle or anyone getting killed. Sun Tzu makes this very clear. He states: “All warfare is based on deception. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity. When near, make it appear that you are far away; when far away, that you are near. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him. When he concentrates, prepare against him; where he is strong, avoid him. Anger his general and confuse him. Pretend inferiority and encourage arrogance. Keep him under a strain and wear him down. When he is united, divide him. Attack where he is unprepared; sally out when he does not expect you.” (Chapter 1.)
Notice Sun Tzu did not say “All warfare is based on having the soldiers with biggest muscles and the loudest guns.” Those things are important too, but one must be able wield them properly. War is first and foremost a mindgame, a feat of strength a second. Sun Tzu says it is of supreme importance to attack the enemy’s strategy, next best is to disrupt his alliances, then to attack his army, the worst option is to attack cities. (Ch. 3.)
Obvious wars of recent years have been fought by the United States, Israel and the Coalition of the Willing in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Now it seems as if they are eyeing to invade Iran. Syria and Pakistan are among possible targets as well. However no country is a monolithic entity where all the people wittingly work toward a single goal. The government nowadays does not represent the wishes of the majority of the people. That is the case in most countries. There are political, corporate and religious lobbies that try to manipulate the government to do things their way. Many organizations, think-tanks, corporations and secret societies are not confined to a single country, but rather operate in several different nations. It could be said that each group are engaged in a war to realize their own agenda. Some groups are major players, others very minor and there are ones which are somewhere in between. Due to the unpredictable nature of war, you never know which groups are working together and who is really fighting who, unless you are consciously paying attention. In addition to the political factions there is one rather loose one: the people. They are caught unwittingly in the power struggles, many of them do not even know it.
Let’s take a few examples on the Iraq war from chapter II. “Victory is the main object in war. If this is long delayed, weapons are blunted and morale depressed. When troops attack cities, their strength will be exhausted. When the army engages in protracted campaigns the resources of the state will not suffice.” Later on Sun Tzu states: “For there has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.” He also says: ” When a country is impoverished by military operations it is due to distant transportation; carriage of supplies for great distances renders the people destitute.” That is exactly what has happened in America. Although the military has left Iraq for the most part, the war was protracted with no sign of victory anywhere to be seen, which ended up hurting the people and the country. One might say the American military leaders were incompetent. They did not even understand the basics of Sun Tzu’s doctrine. However that seems somehow unlikely. The US has the most expensive and advanced military the world has ever seen. They wouldn’t be so stupid without a reason. Perhaps there was another war in the shadows that lead the US to shoot itself in the foot. One should look at who benefited from this. Was it Israel, Iran, the secret world government, the banksters or someone else?
The US with their international coalition is still in Afghanistan. They seem to be controlling at least the parts of the country they need (the poppy fields?). Libya was not too difficult to take over even though the Western forces had (admittedly) no troops on Libyan soil.
What can Sun Tzu teaches about the possibility of the Western powers and Israel going to war against Iran? He says: “When the enemy’s envoys speak in humble terms, but he continues his preparations, he will advance. When their language is deceptive but the enemy pretentiously advances, he will retreat. When the envoys speak in apologetic terms, he wishes a respite. When without a previous understanding the enemy asks for a truce, he is plotting.” US politicians and presidential candidates have been using pro-Israel “war against Iran” rhetoric in their campaign. However they may not qualify as “enemy’s envoys”. What is the official policy on Iran? Perhaps all of the anti-Iran war mongering is just an example of “When their language is deceptive but the enemy pretentiously advances, he will retreat.” Then again Iran is acting blusterous as well, for example when it comes the Hormuz Strait. Are they being deceptive? The tensions have been rising on both sides in recent months, but that does not necessarily spell outright war between US and Iran. It looks likely, and that is why we should not jump to hasty conclusions.
Manipulation of Perception
As has been already mentioned, war is not restricted to men killing each other. War is ultimately about trying to make the opposition submit to your will by controlling their perception and consciousness. If the opposition perceives that it must do as you say “or else”, then it is likely to comply. If a group of men point guns at unarmed villagers and tell them to dig a well, they will comply, because they perceive they must comply or die. This is the most blatant use of war on the consciousness of others. If a group of politicians manages to convince the people by rhetoric and chicanery that the unpopular new laws and policies are needed for the security and stability of the nation, they have managed to alter the perceptions of the people. The problem with both examples is that the people are unhappy with the situation and will try to change it if given the chance. Making the opposition submit willingly to your will is the ultimate form of warfare. If the slave thinks he is free he will not rebel. If the down-trodden thinks he is happy he will not try to change his situation. Sun Tzu says: “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” (Ch. 3.) When the opposition does not realize it is even involved in a war, it will be hard for it to fight back. The best generals know how to accomplish just that.
“Generally, he who occupies the field of battle first and awaits the enemy is at ease; he who comes later to the scene rushes into the fight is weary. And therefore those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him. One able to make the enemy come of his own accord does so by offering him some advantage. And one able to prevent him from coming does so by hurting him.” (Ch. 6.) Reading this passage reminds of the Occupy Wall Street and the whole Occupy Movement. It has been suggested over the internet that the Occupy thing was started by the same Elites that the movement is protesting against. What the actual benefit for doing so would be is somewhat unclear, yet it does go along with Sun Tzu’s ideas by granting a small advantage to the protesters, but ultimately, even though huge crowds of people have demonstrated across the world, it has not had many practical benefits for them. The desire for change for most of the people is genuine, but many do not seem to have any clear idea of why things are as they are, and what they should do to fix it. That’s why they are venting their anger on the streets.
Understanding the Nature of War
The Art of War starts with the sentence: “War is a matter of vital importance to the State”. Later on in the chapter Sun Tzu makes clear that war is based on the deception. The final 13th chapter of his book is dedicated to secret agents and spies who provide you with information and sow disinformation to the enemy. Sun Tzu describes various types of agents such as double agents, expendable pawns and infiltrators. He says: “Of all those in the army close to the commander none is more intimate than the secret agent; of all rewards none more liberal than those given to secret agents; of all matters none is more confidential than those relating to secret operations.” A bit later he adds: “There is no place where espionage is not used.” And this was written over 2000 years before James Bond.
The Art of War begins with deception and ends with deception. The alpha and omega of warfare is deception. Wars are won, and lost, in the minds of the people involved in them. That is the essence of war. Swords clashing against swords, bullets flying in the air, the blood that is spilled, battles are merely one aspect of war. As such we regular folks, should understand both the positive and the negative side of this message. The bad thing is, our minds are under constant attack from advertisements, political propaganda and other manipulative garbage. We are involved in a war or several wars whether we know it or not. The upside is that, since most of us civilians are pretty powerless in normal battles (I’m certainly very far from Conan the Barbarian or John Rambo), we can wield great power in the intellectual and moral battles we face. We can turn even fervent opponents to our side if we are wise and determined enough. We can win wars to shape the world the way we think it should be. No violence needed.
Whatever the nature of the war you want to fight is, knowledge is power. Whether you are most concerned with social injustice, environmental destruction, “oil wars”, government lies, spiritual degradation, cultural degeneration, global dumbening, corporate greed, or all of the above, you should first know what you are fighting for and against. Sun Tzu says: “Know the enemy, know yourself; your victory will never be endangered. Know the ground, know the weather; your victory will then be total.” (Ch. 10.) That means if you want to save the world from pollution and nuclear power it does not do much good merely joining Green Peace and start repeating their slogans. You have to find out the truth for yourself. What is actually happening? Who is doing it and why? If it was to stop, what could replace it? What sort of opposition would you have to face? How to combat what is happening? And so on. You have to provide the solution, don’t expect others to do it for you.
“War is a matter of vital importance to the State”, says Sun Tzu. (Ch. 1.) Whereas Thomas Hobbes writes in his book Leviathan :”The natural state of men, before they were joined in society, was a war, and not simply, but a war of all against all.” From Sun Tzu’s claim we can infer that any even relatively successful state must engage in war every now and then to survive. Although he does not necessarily mean that there would be no war, if there was no state. Hobbes says almost the opposite, that without a state, a government, man would be in perpetual war.
Joseph Goebbels says: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” The state needs war to exist. War is deception. The truth is the enemy of the state, which would make lie its friend. For the state to exist it has to wage war on the minds of its subjects, for any rationally thinking person who understands what is true, would not accept the authority of any government, which is ultimately a parasitic entity. Having government that takes care of practical stuff like fixing and cleaning the streets is probably a good thing, however it has no right to dictate to the people how to live their lives. Contrary to what Hobbes claims, the state turns life into a perpetual war, not the natural state. However the war is not “a war of all against all”. In their natural state people are free, thus they do not need war. Only when that freedom is taken away they crave for war.
Accepting any foreign ideology into one’s thinking without verifying its validity with personal experience and reason, can be viewed as an act of war on your mind. This is not an exaggeration nor creative use of language. War is deception; to allow yourself to be deceived is to be conquered. Of course there is a difference between having a friend pull a practical joke on you by deception, and accepting the ideas fed by a church, corporation, government or any political movement to rule over your life. Sun Tzu says: “Generally, management of many is the same as management of few. It is a matter of organization. And to control many is the same as to control few. This is matter of formations and signals”. (ch. 5.) The same principle applies to both troops willing to serve you and fools convinced to obey you.
The first thing we should learn from Art of War is that one has to know himself, his enemy and the battleground (minds of people or an actual battleground) to be victorious. To learn more I suggest you pick up the book yourself.