Sunzi's《Methods of War》- War

post by lsusr · 2020-11-19T03:06:12.343Z · LW · GW · 4 comments

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


The ordinary methods of war demand:

…and an army of 100,000 soldiers.


A long war is an expensive war.


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


There is no such thing as a beneficial protracted war.


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


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.


Resupplying an army over long distances impoverishes a country.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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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comment by adamShimi · 2020-11-20T17:37:11.016Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Still liking it; I'm enjoying the "straight to the point" tone. Still no useful feedback to give.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2020-11-20T00:37:39.779Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by Austin Chen (austin-chen) · 2020-11-20T08:41:16.849Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2020-11-20T14:36:33.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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.