The earliest known writings on war did not take the form of treatises but narratives. Poems, such as those by Homer and the Epic of Gilgamesh glorified heroes while prose accounts carved into Egyptian, Assyrian, and Babylonian monuments described individual campaigns and battles. However, these tales with their gods and godlike heroes may or may not have contained any historical truths. In China a third type of military writing emerged. After the fall of the Chou (c. 400 BC) China divided into principalities that continuously fought each other and developed professional standing armies which produced expert generals. Between 400 and 200 BC many generals began writing down their methods or had other authors write the methods for them. The governments of China kept these texts secret because they claimed to hold the strategies that led armies to the ultimate victory. Of these treatises, none are more famous than The Art of War, by the famous Wu general Sun Tzu.
Sun Tzu’s work has gained the most renown in the West, due to its use by Napoleon in France and by certain members in high command of the Nazi Party in Germany. It has been the most imperative military treatise in Asia for over 2,000 years, used by Chinese, Japanese and Korean theorists and professional soldiers. The Art of War is still on the “Required Reading” list of many military colleges and academies across the world and contains more than observations on combat. This little book with a simple title applies to business and according to Thomas Huynh, provides an insight to the spiritual nature and everyday life.
Sun Tzu was most likely born in the late “Spring and Autumn Period” of China and served the king of Wu, King Helü around 512 BC. China, during this period, was ripe with war between seven nations: Zhao, Qi, Qin, Chu, Han, Wei, and Yan. One of the most famous stories of Sun Tzu relates to the incident involving a test laid down by the King to train a harem of 180 concubines. Sun Tzu divided the concubines into two companies and appointed the two most favored as the company commanders. Sun Tzu ordered them to face right, to which they did nothing but giggle. According to Sun Tzu the failure to follow the order was his fault as the general because he was responsible for ensuring that the “soldiers” understood his command. When the women fell into giggles the second time his command was given, he ordered the “commanders” executed, much to the king’s displeasure, stating that if the soldiers understood the command and did not obey, the fault fell to the officers. Sun Tzu appointed two new concubines to commanders and both companies performed their maneuvers without mistake. The Shiji reports that Sun Tzu applied his methods and tactics in battle and proved that they were effective. Based on these incidents of success, Sun Tzu achieved a triumphant military career and composed The Art of War.
The book contains only thirteen chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of...