Sun Tzu: The Art of War (VIII): Variation in Tactics

I will use this easily accessible translation version
to comment on the Art of War, and I will pretend that Sun Tzu was indeed a historical person. 
This source website offers its own commentary (focused on ancient China) and is still freely available - unlike the previously-used source website.
My parts are in cursive as always.
Sun Tzu artist's impression from Qīnggōngdiàn Cánghuàběn
清宮殿藏畫本 / 清宫殿藏画本


Sun Tzu said: In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign, collects his army and concentrates his forces.


When in difficult country, do not encamp. In country where high roads intersect, join hands with your allies. Do not linger in dangerously isolated positions.

In hemmed-in situations, you must resort to stratagem. In desperate position, you must fight.


There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must be not attacked, towns which must not be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.

This is still relevant, and much needless expense and suffering has been inflicted by unnecessary actions. Thousands of Germans died in 1871 because some a-hole general absolutely wanted to capture a besieged and neutralized fort long after the war was de facto won. The American Pacific War was extended and 15,000 men died needlessly in the stupid Battle of Peleliu. German cities were bombed long after WW2 had been decided - and the destruction actually impeded the ground forces' advances.

also, see /2011/03/elegance-in-warfare.html

The other part of this sentence is about the need for the forward commander to think by himself. Preferably, the commander should do what's necessary and use his remaining freedom of action to suit what he understands is his superior's intent. This intent is not necessarily the same as the last order given by him. The knowledge about the situation is changing often times, and the forward commander has to act accordingly - not stick to obsolete orders given with a very different set of information in mind. There are anecdotes about this, notably by Frederick II the Great and and Royal Navy (Fisher after Battle of the Dogger Bank). Basically, senior troops-leading officers were told for centuries that they were made officers because it was believed that they'd know when it's the time to not follow orders.


The general who thoroughly understands the advantages that accompany variation of tactics knows how to handle his troops.

The polar opposite was quite often seen on the Eastern Front. A Soviet assault failed, the Soviet commander was pressured to succeed, a 2nd assault failed, 3rd, 4th, 5th, ...


The general who does not understand these, may be well acquainted with the configuration of the country, yet he will not be able to turn his knowledge to practical account.


So, the student of war who is unversed in the art of war of varying his plans, even though he be acquainted with the Five Advantages, will fail to make the best use of his men.


Hence in the wise leader's plans, considerations of advantage and of disadvantage will be blended together.


If our expectation of advantage be tempered in this way, we may succeed in accomplishing the essential part of our schemes.


If, on the other hand, in the midst of difficulties we are always ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from misfortune.

A.k.a. "recon pull"; first see, then devise your action to suit the situation (and possibly exploit an opportunity). To be honest, my personal experience is that I'm unable to do so when I'm unprepared for the situation.


Reduce the hostile chiefs by inflicting damage on them; and make trouble for them, and keep them constantly engaged; hold out specious allurements, and make them rush to any given point.


The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.
Back in the old days an army usually didn't need to do more than set up camp and position on a hill to deter attack because uphill melee fights were losing melee fights. Few armies were able to supply themselves with water on a hill (the Romans did dig wells in such situations), so opponents could usually simply wait till the hilltop army had to move.


There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general: (1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction; (2) cowardice, which leads to capture; (3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults; (4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame; (5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.

"cowardice" is rather meant as timidity according to the source website. 

Temper and honour superficially don't seem to be of much relevance in modern warfare any more, but timidity sure has. Then again, temper and honour provocation are exactly what UBL exploited to make the Americans -and to a lesser degree the Europeans - go batshit crazy and hurt themselves in a myriad of ways.


These are the five besetting sins of a general, ruinous to the conduct of war. 
It's weird that he doesn't mention lack of loyalty as a general's possible sin. That caused unfathomable harm both to the Western Roman and the Chinese empires and still plagues the developing world.


When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will surely be found among these five dangerous faults. Let them be a subject of meditation.

So this chapter is overall not yielding so many opportunities for me to comment. Much of it seems to be quite obvious to the modern reader.




Stupid partisans

I want to share the insights from a little social experiment of my own.

Liars and bullshitters piss me off, so I stopped the false politeness in face of their impoliteness* entirely. 

So I looked up evidence to refute their misinformation (lie), provided the link and then I proceeded with something like 

"That was a LIE. xy told a LIE. xy is a LIAR."

There were up to four or five such responses of mine to some particularly offensive liars at once. Some people seriously tell five falsifiable lies in eight lines and proceed to call you a retard.

The reactions were interesting.

Long story short; the reactions taught me to doubt that they were plain liars or bullshit artists. Their attempts to counter what I said/wrote lacked logic, relevance, and were often goalpost-moving.

My conclusion was that these people aren't simple liars or bullshit artists. They were stupid partisans.

The reaction was not like

"Oh, he brought arguments. Now I need to counter with arguments."

and it was not like

"Oh, he may have convinced some bystanders. Now I need to be convincing in my reply."

Their attempts to counter were very clearly like

"Oh, he hit me. Now I have to fling whatever shit back, hit him as well. Ugh, caveman, ugh!"

Even those who admitted to stand corrected on one point (of several) proceeded with just more lies (and non-arguments based on faulty thinking). It was obvious that they weren't intelligent enough to even only understand the evidence for their lying.

So how could discourse be won against stupid partisans, to push society onto a better path?

Frankly, I gave up on those who are already stupid partisans. I doubt that anyone ever fully recovers from that. We might push back hard against propaganda/indoctrination that turns stupid people into stupid partisans. That's not going to be easy (possible), for the indoctrination doesn't originate from a handful sources. Some 'zombie' lies lingered for forty years after being debunked over and over again after being obvious BS even when they were new. They showed how difficult it is to get rid of old poison, and new poison is certainly in the making at all times. It's no wonder that history is a string of failures, and progress is usually coming from few people pushing along anyway.

So on a positive note, let's help those few who drive progress!

Meanwhile, people with a large platform (such as TV personalities should be held to a high standard; they must not allow their audience to be lied to. I've observed that people who don't shy away from exposing liars get treated much more respectfully and not be lied to the face in interviews. See Jon Stewart's old interviews with known serial liars and propagandists, for example. Indoctrination of stupid people with bullshit cannot be prohibited, but there's no reason to leave doors wide open for it.


P.S.: You have not paid attention to how countries get into wars if you don't see how this blog post relates to  "Defence and Freedom".

*: Lying is impolite and offensive. Telling the truth is NEVER offensive (impolite maybe). Most of all the Americans have the terrible cultural defect that they consider it bad manners and prohibit to call out liars, while they tolerate lies if they like them. Look what this got them into. 'Karma is a bitch.'



Military punditry and think tanking


I was tempted to write a response to yet another navy fanboi pseudo-intellectual drivel that made the rounds on the internet, but I saw with great satisfaction that many comments already pointed out that playing fantasy navy with an imaginary doubled budget and magic asterisks is hardly impressive or worthwhile thought.

The time is overdue for a radical change (that totally won't come, so many terrible issues will persist).

The interested public should stop paying attention to the fanboyism and professional lobbyism / agitation (a.k.a. arms industry- or military-sponsored think thanks). I pushed this point for years, but it deserves repetition: The principal-agent model explains many woes. The colloquial equivalent that applies here of it is "It's hard to understand if your pay check depends on not understanding". There are so many people in the 'play' whose income or whose passion drives their opinions that most opinions are outright worthless because of such systemic bias.

Accordingly, ordinary punditry on military affairs uses a very restricted repertoire

  • always using status quo as starting point, which causes a path dependency bias*
  • uncritical acceptance of threat scenarios
  • pointing out new tech
  • criticizing popularly criticised failures (LCS, for example)
  • being smart AFTER the fact
  • usually one pet topic (obsession) per pundit

Very rarely do they make a case against the bureaucratic group self-interest of the armed bureaucracy

  • calls for less and smaller staffs, fewer flag rank officers, fewer privileges/prestige for flag rank officers
  • calls to disband established structures
  • rejection of pathos or delusional self-praise
  • calls for a smaller budget
  • pointing out that the emperor has no clothes**
  • calls for bloated establishment to be shrunk harshly (such as German military medical sector)
  • calls for old systems to be decommissioned (ships, aircraft, AFVs)
  • actual critique on specific named active duty flag officers***


Link drop February 2020


- - - - -


- - - - -

www.openculture.com/free_certificate_courses (NOT spam; maybe there's something for you in there)

- - - - -

 I considered to write a mil history post about the anomaly of Japanese warriors not using shields in an age of intense archery threats (Samurai body armour was very much like shields attached to the body). Then I learned that they did use some shields, after all:


Those looked rudimentary, though the pavise-like big shields for arquebusiers seem like a pretty good idea.

- - - - -

Read this powerful account, please:


This is one of its links:


I have absolutely no doubt that the tonfa is more loose in Germany when opposed to left wing activists than with right wing activists. The exception may be large anti-nazi counterprotests.

- - - - -

[German] www.der-postillon.com/2021/02/von-der-leyen.html