Sunzi's《Methods of War》- War

by lsusr1 min read19th Nov 20204 comments

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This is a translation of Chapter 2 of The Art of War by Sunzi.


孙子曰:凡用兵之法,驰车千驷,革车千乘,带甲十万,千里馈粮,内外之费,宾客之用,胶漆之材,车甲之奉,日费千金,然后十万之师举矣。

The ordinary methods of war demand:

  • 1,000 teams of 4 horses each,
  • 1,000 wagons,
  • 100,000 shields,
  • provisions to march 1,000 miles,
  • domestic and foreign expenses,
  • hospitality for guests,
  • construction materials for siege weapons,
  • armored vehicles,
  • salaries

…and an army of 100,000 soldiers.

其用战也胜,久则钝兵挫锐,攻城则力屈,久暴师则国用不足。

A long war is an expensive war.

夫钝兵挫锐,屈力殚货,则诸侯乘其弊而起,虽有智者,不能善其后矣。

An expensive war will cause your vassals to rebel against you.

故兵闻拙速,未睹巧之久也。夫兵久而国利者,未之有也。

There is no such thing as a beneficial protracted war.

故不尽知用兵之害者,则不能尽知用兵之利也。

If you do not understand the costs of war then you do not know which wars are worthwhile to fight.

善用兵者,役不再籍,粮不三载,取用于国,因粮于敌,故军食可足也。

Do not conscript troops more than once. Do not resupply your army with grain more than twice. Take what you need from the enemy. The enemy has ample grain and an army of troops.

国之贫于师者远输,远输则百姓贫;

Resupplying an army over long distances impoverishes a country.

近师者贵卖,贵卖则百姓财竭,财竭则急于丘役。

Prices soar in wartime. Levying the peasantry under such circumstances will impoverish them while extracting only forced labor.

力屈财殚,中原内虚于家,百姓之费,十去其七;

The central plains will go unfarmed. Seven tenths of the peasantry's labor will be wasted.

公家之费,破军罢马,甲胄矢弩,戟楯蔽橹,丘牛大车,十去其六。

Supplying an army out of the public purse slows the army down. Horses sicken. Shields split. Oxen tire. Six tenths is wasted.

故智将务食于敌,食敌一钟,当吾二十钟;萁秆一石,当吾二十石。

The wise general eats the enemy's food. A captured bowl of enemy food is worth twenty bowls of your own. A captured ton of enemy grain is worth twenty tons of your own.

故杀敌者,怒也;取敌之利者,货也。车战得车十乘以上,赏其先得者,而更其旌旗,车杂而乘之,卒善而养之,是谓胜敌而益强。

Let your troops kill the enemy in anger, plunder the enemy in greed. A captured enemy combat vehicle is worth no fewer than ten of your own. Reward your first soldier to capture one. Replace its flag. Mix it in among your own.

A good soldier steals victory from the enemy.

故兵贵胜,不贵久。故知兵之将,生民之司命,国家安危之主也。

A valuable victory is a quick victory. A general who, understanding this, issues orders to the people—thereupon is the fate of a state determined.

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4 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 6:05 AM
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Still liking it; I'm enjoying the "straight to the point" tone. Still no useful feedback to give.

Thank you. 

A good soldier steals victory from the enemy.

This is the sentence I will use as the title in my insights Anki deck. The key insight is that in a conflict keeping up ones own 'supply' is more expensive than taking even a little from the enemy. I think that generalizes.

I love all the insights here, and curious - what did you find it to generalize to?

My head's been on startups lately; reading "enemy" as "competitor" it might be that poaching their employees is worth more than a normal hire? (This was one internal theory about why Google retains so many engineers who don't do that much). If "supply" is "ideas", it's not obvious that copying ideas from the competitor is any better than finding them from any other place, though.

reading "enemy" as "competitor" it might be that poaching their employees is worth more than a normal hire? 

Yes, I was thinking about generalizations like this. Or when competing in a moral maze you might want to try to get subordinates of a manager on your level to work for you - even if only a bit. Not saying that is ethical but those are the things it generalizes to.