The Art of War by Sun-Tzu

The cover of the edition I read. I did like the simplicity of it.

Ok, bear with me for a boring book review. Considering the author, I feel like it has some relevancy. Besides, books are important to me, so deal with it.
Those that know me well will tell you that I am a strong anti-traditionalist. If your reason for doing something is ‘tradition’, then you need to re-evaluate your reasons. This isn’t to say that something that is old, or exists mostly because of tradition can’t be of worth, it is just to say that we have to first establish that there is worth there, before we can then say ‘also, this thing has a long standing tradition’. Literature is filled to the brim with books like this, and I feel like we can toss away many of them. Despite what that friend of yours with a comparative literature degree will tell you, the Iliad and the Odyssey are great examples of this. Saying that those two books are the corner stone of western civilization is a lot like saying that some single celled organism is the corner stone of human evolution. No, it is not the case, and frankly we have come a very long way since the writing of that story where Achilles gave Paris the James Byrd Jr. treatment. Sure, that story is exactly as our society is. Yup.Safe to say, I don’t like ‘classics’. Not the books themselves, the title. Some of them deserve to be called great, but the notion that they will last the test of time is just silly. Society will change, and these things will become irrelevant.  And when you consider that all the research points to the fact that we are living in a better and better world, this one is particularly outdated.  Why should we keep reading? Just how many of us are in the war business anyway? Now, I am no expert, but even if I was in the war business, the actual information here didn’t really strike me as being terribly relevant to modern warfare.
Instead, the book is filled with deepities and obvious statements. The obvious statements are the worst: “Be sure of victory/ by attaching/ the undefended” Really? How about that. Never would have established that on my own.  “In War / Victory should be / swift” Oh, come on! Did that really need to be said? Did anyone ever really believe the contrary? Did Agamemnon say to his troops “Alright guys, let’s hang out at Troy for a decade. That would be the best way to show those trojans and get Helen back. Let’s all just really prolong this war.” Seriously, this isn’t advice. “Exhaust/ a fresh enemy;/ Starve/ A well-fed enemy;/ Unsettle/ A settled enemy.” This is nothing that needs paper. We all know this stuff without being told. And its the majority of the book. “There are five ways to/ Attack by fire” Really? Go on. “The first is to burn/ Men;” Oh wow, let me go find a pen I need to get this shit down “The second is to burn/ Supplies;” Burn Supplies! Genius! “The third is to burn/ Equipment” How is that different from Supplies? “The forth is to burn/ Warehouses” Well where the fuck do you think the supplies and equipment are going to be when I burn them? If not in the warehouses, then on the people carrying them, thus referring to your first point. “The fifth is to burn/ Lines of communication” Wait a fucking second. This book was written well before the advent of the internet, where lines of communication are technological. Back then communication was either people or paper. So how is this different from your previous points. Applying the same principles the great american philosopher George Carlin use don the ten commandments, I can distill this as follows “There are two ways to Attack by Fire/ Set fire to people/ set fire to things.” Suck on the Master Sun.

Fig. 2. Photo from the Hangzhou Tea Museum. Caption: An old man is drinking Tea. You don’t fucking say. In other news, tautological signs are tautological.

But what is even more annoying are the deepities; those things that sound deep but really are not. My friends here often joke that every caption you see in a Chinese museum is a tautology (see fig 2), wonderful little statements that contain no actual information. That is exactly the kind of statements you get in this book. Things that don’t actually say anything. He starts the book like this “There are five fundamentals/ for this dilberation,/ for the making of comparisons/ and the assessing of conditions:/ The Way / Heaven/ Earth / Command / Discipline ” So let’s take a look at that last one. I could use a little extra discipline in my life. “Discipline is / Organization, / Chain of Command, / Control of Expenditure.” Yea, I think I already knew that. In fact, in this context, what the hell else could discipline be? I don’t think that was terribly helpful. But you know what else, I am confused about what he meant by “Heaven” in that previous passage. Let’s take a look at how he elaborates on it: “Heaven is / Yin and Yang / Cold and Hot / The cycle of the seasons” What the fuck does that mean? What am I meant to learn by that? That give me zero practical information about anything relating to War or anything else. The point is never returned to here or later in the book.
In short, the book is not a classic, it is a dated piece of drivel

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