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As we near the 149th Anniversary of the bloodiest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere I would like to present an updated summary of Mark McNeilly’s publication entitled “Sun Tzu and The Art of War”  six principles from the art of modern warfare found @


Mr. McNeilly’s publication “Sun Tzu and The Art of War”  was published by Oxford University Press ISBN-10: 0195161084  or  ISBN-13: 978-0195161083.

This summary will act as an introduction of Sun Tzu’s writing entitled “The Art of War”, written nearly two thousand five hundred years ago, it provides valuable insights into the reasons why the greatest American General ever to graduate from West Point, Robert E Lee, was defeated at Gettysburg.

This posting will provide an introduction to my subsequent posting on “The Battle of Gettysburg” on June 1-3 1863.

McNeilly’s six principles are:

 1. Win All Without Fighting: Achieving the Objective Without Destroying It

 2. Avoid Strength, Attack Weakness: Striking Where the Enemy is Most Vulnerable

 3. Deception and Foreknowledge: Winning the Information War

 4. Speed and Preparation: Moving Swiftly to Overcome Resistance

 5. Shaping the Enemy: Preparing the Battlefield

 6. Character-Based Leadership: Leading by Example

An updated excerpt follows:

  • The first principle, Win All Without Fighting: Achieving the Objective Without Destroying It,  discusses the goal of strategy (covered in Chapter 1). Many  city-states, countries, and empires have been built by leaders who  leveraged their nation’s unique history, geography, and assets to  control that state’s environment and sphere of influence. Thus, these  leaders were able to ensure their states’ ability to survive, become  stable, expand, dominate their neighbors, and ultimately prosper for hundreds of years.

The goal of all these empires has been, like a living organism, to first  survive, then to prosper. Today that goal remains for all countries,  first to survive as an entity, and then to become prosperous.

If the goal of a country is to survive and prosper, then what is the goal of its strategy? Sun Tzu offers this advice:

Your aim must be to take All-under-Heaven intact. Thus your troops are not worn out and your gains will be complete. This is the art of offensive strategy.

The second principle is an important tenet of this philosophy: avoid  strength, attack weakness. This principle discusses how to win  All-under-Heaven intact.

Now an army may be likened to water, for just as  flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army  avoids strength and strikes weakness.

Although many generals prefer to attack each other head-on, this approach is very costly. As discussed earlier, wars of attrition can  last for months and even years, leaving both sides in a weakened state.  Instead, using the method of avoiding strength and attacking weakness  maximizes one’s gains while minimizing the use of the nation’s  resources. This, by definition, increases prosperity.

  • This principle is  discussed in detail in Chapter 2, Avoid Strength, Attack Weakness: Striking Where The Enemy Is Most Vulnerable.

To find and exploit an enemy’s weakness requires a deep understanding  of their leaders’ strategy, capabilities, thoughts, and desires and a  similar depth of knowledge of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. It is  critical to study the minds of the opposing generals and understand how  they will react to one’s moves. It is also important to understand the  environment and terrain which will be contested.

Therefore I say, “Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred  battles you will never be in peril.”

It also demands a corresponding masking of one’s plans.

All warfare is based on deception.

  • Chapter 3, Deception and Foreknowledge: Winning the Information War, sheds light on these topics. To fully utilize deception and foreknowledge effectively, it is critical to be able to act with blinding speed.

Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.

To move with such speed does not mean to do things hastily. In reality, speed requires much preparation:  mastering the art of logistics. Reducing the time it takes to make decisions, develop new weapons, implement strategies for equipping and supplying troops to respond to the enemy’s moves is crucial. To think through and understand the opponent’s reaction to one’s possible moves also is essential.

To rely on rustics (antiquated equipment and weapons) and not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of Virtues.

  • Chapter 4, Speed and Preparation: Moving Swiftly To Overcome Resistance expands on these topics. Putting all these factors into play successfully does not occur naturally. One must be able to “shape” the enemy.

Therefore those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.

Shaping the enemy means changing the rules of the contest and making one’s opponent conform to one’s desires and actions. It means taking control of the situation away from the enemy and putting it into one’s own hands. One way of shaping the enemy is by the skillful use of alliances. By building a strong web of alliances, the moves of the opponent can be limited. Also, by eliminating one’s enemies’ alliances, one can weaken the enemy.

Look into the matter of his alliances and cause them to be severed and dissolved. If an enemy has alliances, the problem is grave and the enemy’s position strong; if he has no alliances the problem is minor and the enemy’s position weak.

  • Chapter 5, Shape The Enemy: Preparing the Battlefield, tells more about this subject.

By keeping plans and strategy closely held and using tactics to deceive the enemy about one’s true intentions, one can continue to shape them by employing direct and indirect approaches.

He who knows the art of the direct; (Cheng) and the indirect (Ch’I or Qi) approach will be victorious.

A direct attack is one that occurs in an expected place at an expected time (a battle of attrition). An indirect assault is one that comes as a surprise, both in location and timing. By combining direct attacks on the enemy to fix their leaders’ attention and deceive them, one can then use indirect attacks to win complete victory. By utilizing the indirect and direct approaches and skillfully crafting alliances the opponent can be put on the defensive and made more vulnerable to future attacks.

  • Chapter 6, Character-based Leadership: Leading by Example.

To achieve everything discussed so far takes a special kind of leader; one who can see the correct course of action and take it immediately, who can relate to the military forces, other civilian leaders and the population and gain commitment, who can empower subordinates to carry out the nation’s strategy and who can use all personnel wisely.


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