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Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare

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Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare . By Mark McNeilly. (Oxford University Press; Expanded Edition: 2003. Pg. 344.) ISBN: 0195161084

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - February 1, 2002

Over two thousand years ago, Sun Tzu wrote a treatise on warfare and statecraft that became an instant classic. Divided into thirteen chapters, this work is resplendent with quotations and examples that delineate how best to win at the art of war. Sun Tzu, a Chinese General, covered almost every topic conducted with war ranging from the use of spies to maneuvering your forces. For many, this has been an instrumental work in teaching them the fundamentals of military strategy, and offering philosophical advice that can help them to achieve victory.

The first English translation of The Art of Modern Warfare was published in 1905. However it was not until 1963, when Samuel B. Griffith's English translation of the work was published, that it gained a huge following among English readers, becoming a 'must read' for soldiers and executives alike. While Griffith's translation is authoritative and readable, the work can be difficult for western readers to understand. To make this work more accessible, Mark McNeilly has extracted what he considers the six key elements of Sun Tzu's holistic approach to strategy of warfare and statecraft.

McNeilly is a former U.S. Army Infantry Captain, and an industrial strategist. Using Griffith's translation as a foundation, McNeilly lists the six salient points found in Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare, and explains their importance, and implications, in regard to modern warfare. According to McNeilly, the six principal points contained in Sun Tzu's work are:
  1. Win without fighting.
  2. Avoid strength, attack weakness.
  3. Deception and foreknowledge - winning the information war.
  4. Speed & Preperation.
  5. Shaping the Enemy and preparing the battlefield.
  6. Leading by example.
McNeilly's narrative is fluid and compelling, and throughout, he has illustrated this book with historical examples that embody these six points. He draws from ancient battles plans, and from modern wars, including Vietnam and Desert Storm, to demonstrate how these principles have been put into use by military strategist through the ages. McNeilly concludes this book with a chapter devoted to a comparison of the Eastern and Western philosophies toward warfare, and the various writers who have discussed this topic. He also offers his insights and speculations on how advances in military armaments, and equipment, will have on how future wars are fought.

Sun Tzu and the Art of Modern Warfare was, according to McNeilly, written specifically for professional soldiers, military history buffs, and business executives. It will also be of interest to anyone seeking advice on how to 'get ahead' - in any situation. The principles outlined in this book can also be used as a self-help guide, as these principles can also be used to help you combat your own enemies - be they over eating or lack of self-confidence. By knowing your enemy, and learning its weaknesses, any foe can be overcome - on the battlefield, as well as in your own life.

Related Reviews:

Warfare and Society in Europe, 1898 to the Present, by Michael S. Neiberg.
A concise military and social history detailing 20th century warfare in Europe.

Reflections of Violence, by Georges Sorel.
A treatise on the necessity of violence as a means of social change, in which Sorel advocated for a revolutionary form of syndicalism.

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