I should have read this book 25 years ago…Part 1

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” 
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

It is an undisputed axiom.  In any “strategy” meeting, someone will invariably quote Sun Tzu with an air of sombre authority.  Around the table, a few will nod their heads sagely while others will suddenly be preoccupied with the papers in front of them.  Most have heard about Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.”  Only a few understand its significance.  I must confess that I do not fit into that esteemed category, even now having read and listened to it several times.

The title, in and of itself, dampened my enthusiasm.  I do not consider war an art form, not do I consider a book that revels in battle plans as one of my top picks for a book club.  And yet, here I am telling you that I should have read it twenty-five years ago.  What changed my mind?  When I read the following quote:

“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.” 
 Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I checked with my favourite hang-out – The Vancouver Public Library – and was able to obtain the book in audio form to go along with my freshly purchased copy of “The Art of War.”  The first lines gave me a fresh perspective of how we should consider conflict:

“Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State

It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.  Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

Sun Tzu, Sun Wu, or Sunzi (Master Sun) is an ambiguous, shadowy author of the earliest and greatest work of Chinese military thought.  Although “The Art of War” was written in the 6th century B.C., it came from an oral tradition dating back 2,300 years ago from an area that is now north China.  Europe discovered it when it was translated in French in 1782.  The strategy was radical: how to attain victory without going to battle.

Humanity longs for the end of war.  The only way to avoid violence is to understand conflict – what it is and how to respond in a way that promotes peaceful solutions and outcomes.  Conflict is a subject of inquiry which cannot be ignored, even in our personal lives.

The West adopted the title, “The Art of War.”  In China, the book is named the Sun Tzu, in honour of the patriarch of their lineage.

“The Art of War” is not a book to be read in one sitting.  Recall this is an oral tradition so it works well listening to an audio version.  In fact, I read some parts aloud and found that there is a subtle rhythm that gives breath to the words.

“He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight” 
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

6 thoughts on “I should have read this book 25 years ago…Part 1

  1. I am inadequate to comment on this valuable subject–must read the book along with a long list of books I should have read sixty years ago. I think a wise quote is fitting here. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Or some say: “Don’t do to others the things you don’t want done to you.” There has to be a way to make peace without war!

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    • I agree – there must be a better way! And I think that we participate every day with the choices we make to be inclusive, rather than exclusive, to be kind, rather than unkind….

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  2. I completely agree that this is a book to be read and re-read, and indeed absorbed thoroughly in the way that one can do via an audio version. It has such depth and so many layers, as is the case with many ancient Chinese texts. I have also found fascinating Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art – an exploration of barriers to creativity.

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    • Thank you for the lead on a great book!! I already placed a hold at the Vancouver Public Library. You know it is a good book when every copy is in use and I am 14th in the waiting list.

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      • 14th? Wow! It will be worth the wait though. By the way, to intrude on your dialogue with Frances, I read somewhere that, when asked to join a march against war, Mother Theresa answered ‘No, But I will join a march to promote peace’.

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      • I love when you intrude – that means something wonderful will happen. It is all about the perspective – a march for peace is affirming the possibility, the hope, the expectation, the anticipation….

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