Two and a half millennia ago lived Sun Tzu, possibly the greatest military mind in the history of the world. Sun Tzu was a Chinese philosopher, but that in no way means that his method of thought is applicable only in the East. Twenty-five hundred years after writing, Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War remains the most important treatise ever written on military strategy. But is it? Can Sun Tzu’s tactics still be applied to modern military operations, when warfare has changed so much since? At time of writing, Chinese forces were still using weapons like the Qiang (spear) and Ji (halberd). These primarily close-ranged bladed weapons bear no semblance to modern firearms of explosive weapons whatsoever. In the last century especially, the technology of war has advanced so rapidly that on the surface, it would seem like there are practically no similarities between war in the 5th century B.C.E. and war in 21st century C.E. After all this time, can The Art of War still hold up, or has it gone the way of chariots and archers?
One thing obviously has not changed: war is still an ongoing part of the life of a nation. The United States especially has been involved in so many wars and conflicts from its formation that one begins to wonder whether or not ongoing war has become embedded into American society. According to Sun Tzu, “Warfare is the greatest affair of state, the basis of life and death, the Way (Tao) to survival or extinction. It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed.” Sun Tzu stated that there are five factors to take into account when considering who will come out of a conflict victorious. These are: The Tao, Heaven, Earth, the generals and the laws for military organization and discipline. These five overarching themes found in Chapter I are probably the easiest concepts in the book to understand in terms of modern warfare and military tactics. Breaking these down one by one, it becomes obvious that they have held up quite well.
The Tao is described as having “the people to be fully in accord with the ruler”. Surely this is still as important now as it was then, and will likely stay relevant forever. Under no circumstance in history has a successful campaign been waged by any army when the citizens of the nation did not support the war or the motives of the nation’s leader. A popular example for this would be the United States campaign in Vietnam in the latter half of the 20th century. Support for the Vietnam War was anything but strong in the United States, and the War was eventually a total failure.
Heaven and Earth, the movement of the skies and the terrain of the ground are also just as important now as they were then. Weather has always been a major factor in determining the outcomes of battles. Picture one army trained to fight in the blistering cold, and the opposing army having been trained in mild, temperate climates. Chances are if it starts raining and the temperature drops, the former army will have an advantage over the...