The Art of War
Sun Tzu, edited by James Clavell. New York: Doubleday Press, 1983. 82 pp. $8.95 ($8.05).
Reviewed by Lieutenant Commander Roger L. Crossland, U. S. Naval Reserve
In the 6th century B. C., a Chinese strategist concluded that the successful military enterprise must harness the energy of two opposing forces to achieve victory—of cheng, the normal and direct in war, and of ch' i, the abnormal and indirect in war. That strategist, Sun Tzu—whose precepts have been applied or illustrated by the Chinese, the Israelis, the British, and the Soviets—allotted equal value to the orthodox cheng units which employed conventional tactics, and to the irregular ch' i units which fought less conventionally. No worthy leader fought using only one of these forces at his command; effectiveness and economy of force required both, often working in conjunction. The two mutually supporting forces fitted together like interlocking rings.
Sun Tzu's observations have been collected most recently in this edition by James Clavell. Best known for his fiction—King Rat (Little, Brown, and Co., 1962), Taipan (Atheneum, 1966), and Shogun (Atheneum, 1975)—Clavell developed an interest in the teachings of Sun Tzu while writing Noble House (Delacorte, 1981), in which he alludes to Sun Tzu frequently. Struck by the universality of Sun Tzu's advice, Clavell comments in the Art of War's foreword that he would make Sun Tzu an "obligatory study for all serving officers and men, as well as all politicians…"
Notwithstanding the ancient origins of the work, it has much to offer the modem strategist. Sun Tzu's emphasis on the psychologies of leadership and conflict, his fondness for subterfuge and deception, his respect for the value of an intelligence service, and his counsel against prolonged wars focus on areas of growing concern to today's national leadership. Few conflicts lately have been won by a one-dimensional show of military muscle. Perhaps Sun Tzu can offer alternative answers.
Critics are fond of contrasting Sun Tzu with Karl von Clausewitz. Superficially the two strategists might appear to be diametrically opposed. Clausewitz pronounces that "annihilation of the enemy is the midwife of victory" and "war is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds," while for Sun Tzu, "supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting." Yet it is a credit to both strategists that the differences are more a matter of emphasis than essence. Clausewitz advises that the successful strategy should destroy the enemy's will to fight, and Sun Tzu only refines that to say that the best strategy is the one that destroys the enemy's will at the least cost. Sun Tzu reads like a laundry list of fortune cookie platitudes, but his slender work complements Clausewitz and fills the gaps in the 19th-century strategist's much longer treatise.
There is a cynical, shadowy aspect to Sun Tzu. Perhaps that is why he has been overlooked here and yet has appealed to our enemies and potential adversaries. Can it be simply coincidence that the Soviet Spetsnaz forces and Germany's World War II Brandenburgers—units trained to speak their enemies' languages, wear their enemies' uniforms, seize targets with a minimum of force, and create a maximum of confusion—are logical outgrowths of Sun Tzu's counsel? Most of Mao Tse-Tung's advice on warfare was derived from Sun Tzu, and General Giap's handiwork showed the Sun Tzu influence, too.
The emphasis is on the methods of warfare which Western democracies characterize as "shady"—intelligence, sabotage, and deception. These methods are given short treatment in our leaders’ education, yet they are of pivotal importance to any military operation. On the other hand, Sun Tzu stresses the importance of certain qualities, which we as democracies cultivate unconsciously and can use to our advantage—moral leadership and individual spirit.
Political strengths may be translated into military strengths. Totalitarian, heavily regimented military organizations can never place much trust in unorthodox units: such units require too much freedom of action, their maneuvers are too intricate, and they place too much faith in individual initiative. It is a longstanding rule that oppressive armies cannot afford to send out skirmishing parties because their desertion rates are too high. A careful reading of Sun Tzu suggests that only moral leadership can prevail in the long run, because only moral leadership can truly use cheng and ch'i. He recommends paternal leadership which wins loyalty through example, fair play, and mutual confidence.
"Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical. No ruler should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no general should fight a battle simply out of pique. Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life."
Sun Tzu is a strategist whose thoughts seem singularly appropriate today. However, the reader must be prepared to winnow out the chaff. Much of the Art of War survives simply for historical interest. Clavell is sensitive to this drawback, and his edition contains considerably less historical background than the popular translation by Samuel Griffith. Many see Griffith's translation as more useful purely from a military reader's point of view. Clavell, it appears, chose a more abbreviated presentation to underscore his sense of the universal application of Sun Tzu's advice in warfare—and in other aspects of life.
Sun Tzu's greatest contribution to strategy lies in his stress on the value of the indirect and unorthodox in warfare. Clausewitz tells us that it is important to attack the enemy at his center of gravity and destroy his will to fight with superior force, while Sun Tzu tells us to use guile to achieve tactical superiority and not to rely exclusively on physical strength. He further stresses that coordination of the orthodox and the unorthodox will increase a strategist's flexibility and his ability to attack that center of gravity.
We may choose to ignore Sun Tzu's advice and to place our faith in conventional forces alone. In any event, Clavell has done us a service. For it is in the interest of every Western military leader to know the counsel of alternate strategies. Only then can he anticipate the moves that his adversaries may use against him.
Commander Crossland was commissioned at the Columbia University NROTC unit in 1970. As a member of SEAL Team One, he was engaged in unconventional warfare in Vietnam. He is now a corporate attorney, residing in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Prologue to Nuremberg: The Politics of Punishing War Criminals of the First World War
James F. Willis. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982. 292 pp. mus. Ind. $29.95 ($26.95).
The American Road to Nuremberg: The Documentary Record, 1944-1945
Bradley F. Smith. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1982. 259 pp. Ind. $24.95 ($22.45).
Justice at Nuremberg
Robert E. Conot. New York: Harper and Rowe, 1983. 593 pp. IIlus. Ind. $22.50 ($20.25).
Reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel W. Hays Parks, U. S. Marine Corps Reserve
At the conclusion of World War I, an international "Commission on the Responsibility of the Authors of the War and on Enforcement of Penalties" met at Versailles. In March 1919, the commission recommended the establishment of an international tribunal "appropriate for the trial of…[German] offenses" in World War I.
Yet the international trials never occurred. Prologue to Nuremberg is the first published account of the post-World War I conception of an international war crimes tribunal. James Willis is successful in reporting and analyzing the complex interrelationships among the politics and diplomacy of World War I, the peace settlement, and the development of new concepts of international war crimes responsibility and punishment. The book also dissects the failure to implement international war crimes trials and the influence that had upon Allied decisions to institute war crimes proceedings after World War II. Using official records from Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States, Willis has produced a well-written, highly readable account.
The author is less successful in examining the significance of the relevant events. For example, he repeats Allied allegations regarding the illegality of submarine warfare as if the issue had been black and white; it was not. Some of the less-contentious rules of naval warfare had been codified at the 1907 Hague Peace Conference, but the more controversial areas such as blockade, capture, prize, and neutrality remain uncodified in acceptable form to this day. Post-World War I attempts to prohibit or regulate submarine warfare also were unsuccessful, leading to universal unrestricted submarine warfare during World War II. Such analysis of the state of the law vis-a-vis alleged violations would have afforded the reader a better context for the events reported.
Bradley Smith is a familiar name in the war crimes trials business, having broken new ground with his Reaching Judgment at Nuremberg (New American Library, 1979), followed by The Road to Nuremberg (Basic Books, 1981), which provides a look at the manner in which the Allies finally agreed to try the surviving Nazi leaders for their violations of the law of war, rather than summarily execute them, as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had proposed. The post-World War I trials had faltered partly because U. S. representatives at Versailles had dissented from the commission's recommendation because it lacked precedent. This concern persisted in developing the Nuremberg concept 25 years later, and Smith deftly maneuvers the reader through the labyrinthian struggles between the War Department and the Departments of State and Defense.
Realizing the extent of his effort to locate all relevant documents, Smith has edited a separate volume, The American Road to Nuremberg, in which he includes major U. S. documents which only recently were declassified. American Road should facilitate any new research.
The publisher of Justice at Nuremberg touts Robert E. Conot's work as "the first comprehensive dramatic account of the trial of the Nazi leaders," a claim that does not survive cursory scrutiny. Both Eugene Davidson's The Trial of the Germans (1966) and Werner Maser's Nuremberg: A Nation on Trial (1977) are as comprehensive as the current volume.
Conot provides more detail of the trials than Davidson does, but curiously does not refer to Maser in an otherwise substantial bibliography. Conot has combed the myriad personal accounts of the trials, reviewed the record of trial and associated documents, interviewed approximately a dozen of the participants, and assembled a reasonable narrative of the trials from the late planning stages to the executions of the condemned. Conot's apparent anti-Nazi bias and lack of military background, however, color his account. For example, he dismisses Admiral Karl Donitz as having a "mind [that] was shallow even when measured by Nazi standards." He pays scant attention to the charges against Donitz for waging unrestricted submarine warfare, charges of which he was acquitted. Trial testimony is commingled with subsequently disclosed information as if it were part of the evidence at trial. Thus, the reader is given the impression that Donitz testified regarding the effect of the Ultra code breakers on U-boat operations, facts of which he would not be aware until almost three decades later.
Justice at Nuremberg is the latest Nuremberg account, but it is far from comprehensive in its treatment of that page in history.
Colonel Parks, a frequent contributor to the Proceedings, has been selected to occupy the Charles Stockton Chair of International Law at the Naval War College during the 1984-85 academic year.
Crossroads of Modern Warfare: Sixteen Twentieth-Century Battles that Shaped Contemporary History
Drew Middleton. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1983. 321 pp. Maps. Bib. Ind. Append. $17.95 ($16. 15).
Reviewed by Major James Holden Rhodes, U. S. Army Reserve
Drew Middleton, the dean of military analysts, has written a text that is built around what he considers the 16 turning points of modem warfare. His criteria for the events selected were twofold: first, battles which altered the course of history; and second, battles which introduced or exploited a new technology in warfare and, consequently, changed the nature of war. He handles his task in a historical, factual, crisp, and readable manner.
The reader is drawn to review the events that the author presents, questioning their validity and weighing them against a self-determined list. The result is a consensus with the author.
Middleton starts with the battle of Tsushima which resulted in the fatal shaking of the Russian empire. Then he moves on to the Marne—a battle of maneuver that led to the slaughter in the "mausoleums of mud." He follows with Jutland, the last great battleline encounter. One is impressed with the cohesiveness of the text and by the fact that within approximately 15 pages per chapter, each event is comprehensively addressed.
Cambrai, says Middleton, with the large-scale introduction of the tank, took the power of the machine gun and restored decisive power to the offense. And, he argues, the Battle of France took the attacking Germans as much by surprise as it did the French and British, since the former did not expect such swift results.
The battles of Britain and Midway are well covered, a remarkable feat given the reams that have been written on each.
Stalingrad and Imphai-Kohima are given their just due. The scope and magnitude of the former are not fully appreciated by the Western world even today, and the latter is little known. Fought in northeastern India and northwestern Burma, the battle spelled the greatest defeat ever suffered on land by the Japanese. Not only were some 53, 000 Japanese counted as casualties, but of greater importance was that the myth of Japanese superiority in jungle-fighting was destroyed. Further, the battle was a landmark in the development of air transport to support troops deprived of normal land supply lines. Ironically, ten years later the French would build their strategy at Dien Bien Phu around this concept—and fail. Middleton does a fine job of painting Khe Sanh and Dien Bien Phu in proper perspective. The former engagement, a military defeat for the enemy, was, in the same breath, a resounding political victory for the enemy. This is a lesson that may well be lost on our top military and political leaders today.
"The Battle of the Bridges, Hanoi," and the "Yom Kippur War" round out the book. Middleton describes the introduction of the "smart bomb," and he argues that this weapon has irrevocably changed the face of war. He ends his coverage of the Middle East conflict wondering if future generations will realize the futility of future conflicts there.
For the military professional or the layman, Crossroads is rewarding because, in a brisk dissertation, frequently spiced with an "on the scene" approach, he brings home the full impact of the battle and its far-reaching effects on the world as we know it today.
Major Rhodes is finishing up his doctorate in Military History at the University of New Mexico.
Patrick O'Sullivan and Jesse W. Miller, Jr., New York: SI. Martin 's Press, 1983. 176 pp. Map. $19.95 ($17.95).
Reviewed by Lieutenant Commander James Stavridis, U. S. Navy
According to Napoleon Bonaparte, the first rule of warfare was simply, "Know the map!" Geography has had a continuous impact on international relations, both in peace and war, since man first undertook to systematically study the earth and the nation-states upon it. Patrick O'Sullivan and Jesse W. Miller, Jr., have written a slim volume that describes "the geography of preparing for and waging war."
Most great strategists are identified in legend, portrait, or photograph as poring over a table laden with maps and charts, planning their campaigns and battles. One opens The Geography of Warfare expecting to see some new embellishment of this idea, illustrated by clear and clever maps that give the interested reader some concrete examples of the use of geography. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The book has a single, small map of Lorraine which adds little to the reader's understanding of either geography or warfare. The book never settles into a coherent pattern to illustrate its basic theme. It moves with little organization from overly lengthy historical surveys to shallow commentary on the development of strategic thinking.
The first chapters, which cover geography, tactics, strategy, intelligence, and logistics, are filled with historical surveys of the development of warfare which illustrate the attention that must be paid to geography. The authors do little beyond making this same point repeatedly.
The authors cover geopolitics and grand strategy. The current popularity of terms such as "geostrategy" and "geopolitics" illustrates how such buzzwords can capture the imagination of many readers. However, the authors give only a cursory explanation of the concepts of Alfred Thayer Mahan and Sir Halford John Mackinder (generally regarded as the grandfathers of geopolitics) and launch into a simplistic and shallow explication of the domino theory. They comment that "It is possible, without straining the imagination too far, to interpret Soviet foreign policy as a thoroughly Russian quest for secure borders," ignoring the Soviet presence in Cuba, Angola, Nicaragua, Chad, and Grenada. Such adventurism has little to do with border patrol.
The final chapters of the book are equally uneven. "Guerrilla Warfare" and "Urban Warfare" are both adequate treatments of the problems of warfighting in cities and rural areas. Yet their final section is filled with flawed reasoning and weakly structured arguments about the global hotspots for the next decade or so. The authors seem unwilling to offer a concrete geopolitical assessment of the situation in Europe beyond pointing to controversy over the Pershing II Euromissiles. They dismiss Indochina as a "backwater with no great resource base" that is "strategically irrelevant" to American interests. In Southwest Asia, they wonder "why the Soviets would want Pakistan?" One wonders whether O'Sullivan and Miller have considered the possibility of a geopolitical interest in oil to the south, an outlet to the Indian Ocean, or the destabilization of the pro-U.S. Government.
The book concludes by pointing out that "distance and terrain" offer protection in "keeping our aggressive drives apart." One, wishes it was that easy in an era of cruise missiles, stealth bombers, and satellite weapons, to say nothing of airborne divisions. Geography offers us less protection with every passing day and each new invention. The Geography of Warfare fails to rise above the level of banal cliché, both in style and substance.
Commander Stavridis, a frequent contributor to the Proceedings is completing a PhD in international relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and is also a visiting lecturer in national security at Tufts University.