Sun Tzu, whose book, The Art of War, was written some 2,500 years ago during a period of constant war, and popularized in the West some 100 years ago (just in time for industrialized warfare), is the leading example of what's wrong with digging up ancient platitudes as guides for action today in the areas of war and peace.
"That the impact of your army may be like a grindstone dashed against an egg -- this is effected by the science of weak points and strong."
This "wisdom" provides nothing to the modern warmonger on his own terms, and even less to the advocate for peace; yet it's imagined to be relevant to both, to create common ground for both, and to embody deep timeless meaning.
"But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life."
Read that solemnly as if discovering amazing new insights. If you can, you are a better war artist than I.
"The anti-war movement needs to study the philosophies of those who have mastered the art of conflict, from Caesar to Napoleon, from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz," says Scott Ritter. And Paul Chappell tells us that the U.S. military is learning from the common wisdom of Sun Tzu and Gandhi. Yet, as Chappell points out, the lesson that war should be avoided doesn't work for a war-making institution and cannot be applied to a permanent hostile occupation.
Sun Tzu imparts the following wisdom: It's better to capture a country intact than to destroy it in the process. (Chorus: Ahhhhh! Ooooooooh!) But countries are not captured on the 21st century global game board. Occupations are not tolerated.
In Sun Tzu there are nine types of ground to fight wars on: your own ground, ground a short distance into foreign territory, ground that's advantageous to either side, open ground, intersecting highways, the heart of the enemy's territory, difficult terrain, ground that's hard to get to, and desperate ground where a fight for survival is immediately required. None of which is of the least value to the U.S. Air Force or the U.S. peace movement.
In an updated version the U.S. military would have the following nine types: ground with men, women, children, and a government to be overthrown; ground with men, women, children, and a government to be propped up; ground with men, women, children, and both a government and its resistance to be destroyed; ground with men, women, children, and suitable for demonstrating new weapons; ground with weapons customers to be spared; ground with oil or opium production to be spared; ground with the risk of killing white people; ground with anti-aircraft weaponry; ground with nuclear missiles.
The world is too different, war is too different, and peace is too much unlike war for Master Sun to help us. Yes, of course, Chappell is right that avoiding war is still better than fighting war. Yes, of course, Ritter is right that a peace movement should think strategically. But the models for such thinking most likely to help us are those of successful nonviolent movements that have changed cultures, not ancient sages who tell us not to attack while the enemy is in a river. This bunk doesn't even help us as metaphors to which we attribute insights we already had.
"It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy, not to oppose him when he comes downhill."
What does that add to our knowledge? Or, rather, what does it take away? That's the problem. There is some actual content in Sun Tzu's scribblings, and it is disastrous and incompatible with ending war or making peace. Sun Tzu's entire effort is based on the idea that war can be done right. When a "progressive" senator like Al Franken or congressman like Tom Perriello tells you that the 2003-present war on Iraq "should have been done right" in order to "win," they are being perfect war artists.
But "winning" doesn't actually exist anymore as a state of affairs that can be described. One doesn't win the bombing of people's towns. One keeps doing it or quits doing it. That's all. Yet Sun Tzu fans will tell you that the key to "winning" is to keep everything secret, to lie about everything, to deceive constantly, and to use "diplomacy" as a servant of war.
"O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible, and hence we can hold the enemy's fate in our hands."
Unless you leak our f#^%!@7%9*! emails you g^%$#d%^&* $@$!$%!O(!!
"Be subtle! Be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of business.