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The Art of War - Chapter 2. Waging War

1. Introduction

2. The Text of Sun Tzu

3. The Commentators

4. Appreciations of Sun Tzu

5. Apologies for War

6. Bibliography

7. Footnotes

8. Chapter 1. Laying Plans

9. Chapter 2. Waging War

10. Chapter 3. Attack By Stratagem

11. Chapter 4. Tactical Disposition

12. Chapter 5. Energy

13. Chapter 6. Weak Points and Strong

14. Chapter 7. Manuevering

15. Chapter 8. Variations in Tactics

16. Chapter 9. The Army on the March

17. Chapter 10. Terrain

18. Chapter 11. The Nine Situations

19. Chapter 12. The Attack by Fire

20. Chapter 13. The Use of Spies


[Ts`ao Kung has the note: "He who wishes to fight must
first count the cost," which prepares us for the discovery that
the subject of the chapter is not what we might expect from the
title, but is primarily a consideration of ways and means.]

1. Sun Tzu said: In the operations of war, where there are
in the field a thousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots,
and a hundred thousand mail-clad soldiers,

[The "swift chariots" were lightly built and, according to
Chang Yu, used for the attack; the "heavy chariots" were heavier,
and designed for purposes of defense. Li Ch`uan, it is true,
says that the latter were light, but this seems hardly probable.
It is interesting to note the analogies between early Chinese
warfare and that of the Homeric Greeks. In each case, the war-
chariot was the important factor, forming as it did the nucleus
round which was grouped a certain number of foot-soldiers. With
regard to the numbers given here, we are informed that each swift
chariot was accompanied by 75 footmen, and each heavy chariot by
25 footmen, so that the whole army would be divided up into a
thousand battalions, each consisting of two chariots and a
hundred men.]

with provisions enough to carry them a thousand LI,

[2.78 modern LI go to a mile. The length may have varied
slightly since Sun Tzu's time.]

the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment
of guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on
chariots and armor, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of
silver per day. Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000
2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long
in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will
be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your
3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of
the State will not be equal to the strain.
4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped,
your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains
will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man,
however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must
5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war,
cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

[This concise and difficult sentence is not well explained
by any of the commentators. Ts`ao Kung, Li Ch`uan, Meng Shih, Tu
Yu, Tu Mu and Mei Yao-ch`en have notes to the effect that a
general, though naturally stupid, may nevertheless conquer
through sheer force of rapidity. Ho Shih says: "Haste may be
stupid, but at any rate it saves expenditure of energy and
treasure; protracted operations may be very clever, but they
bring calamity in their train." Wang Hsi evades the difficulty
by remarking: "Lengthy operations mean an army growing old,
wealth being expended, an empty exchequer and distress among the
people; true cleverness insures against the occurrence of such
calamities." Chang Yu says: "So long as victory can be
attained, stupid haste is preferable to clever dilatoriness."
Now Sun Tzu says nothing whatever, except possibly by
implication, about ill-considered haste being better than
ingenious but lengthy operations. What he does say is something
much more guarded, namely that, while speed may sometimes be
injudicious, tardiness can never be anything but foolish -- if
only because it means impoverishment to the nation. In
considering the point raised here by Sun Tzu, the classic example
of Fabius Cunctator will inevitably occur to the mind. That
general deliberately measured the endurance of Rome against that
of Hannibals's isolated army, because it seemed to him that the
latter was more likely to suffer from a long campaign in a
strange country. But it is quite a moot question whether his
tactics would have proved successful in the long run. Their
reversal it is true, led to Cannae; but this only establishes a
negative presumption in their favor.]

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from
prolonged warfare.
7. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the
evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of
carrying it on.

[That is, with rapidity. Only one who knows the disastrous
effects of a long war can realize the supreme importance of
rapidity in bringing it to a close. Only two commentators seem
to favor this interpretation, but it fits well into the logic of
the context, whereas the rendering, "He who does not know the
evils of war cannot appreciate its benefits," is distinctly

8. The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy,
neither are his supply-wagons loaded more than twice.

[Once war is declared, he will not waste precious time in
waiting for reinforcements, nor will he return his army back for
fresh supplies, but crosses the enemy's frontier without delay.
This may seem an audacious policy to recommend, but with all
great strategists, from Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte, the
value of time -- that is, being a little ahead of your opponent --
has counted for more than either numerical superiority or the
nicest calculations with regard to commissariat.]

9. Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the
enemy. Thus the army will have food enough for its needs.

[The Chinese word translated here as "war material"
literally means "things to be used", and is meant in the widest
sense. It includes all the impedimenta of an army, apart from

10. Poverty of the State exchequer causes an army to be
maintained by contributions from a distance. Contributing to
maintain an army at a distance causes the people to be

[The beginning of this sentence does not balance properly
with the next, though obviously intended to do so. The
arrangement, moreover, is so awkward that I cannot help
suspecting some corruption in the text. It never seems to occur
to Chinese commentators that an emendation may be necessary for
the sense, and we get no help from them there. The Chinese words
Sun Tzu used to indicate the cause of the people's impoverishment
clearly have reference to some system by which the husbandmen
sent their contributions of corn to the army direct. But why
should it fall on them to maintain an army in this way, except
because the State or Government is too poor to do so?]

11. On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes
prices to go up; and high prices cause the people's substance to
be drained away.

[Wang Hsi says high prices occur before the army has left
its own territory. Ts`ao Kung understands it of an army that has
already crossed the frontier.]

12. When their substance is drained away, the peasantry
will be afflicted by heavy exactions.
13, 14. With this loss of substance and exhaustion of
strength, the homes of the people will be stripped bare, and
three-tenths of their income will be dissipated;

[Tu Mu and Wang Hsi agree that the people are not mulcted
not of 3/10, but of 7/10, of their income. But this is hardly to
be extracted from our text. Ho Shih has a characteristic tag:
"The PEOPLE being regarded as the essential part of the State,
and FOOD as the people's heaven, is it not right that those in
authority should value and be careful of both?"]

while government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses,
breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields,
protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to
four-tenths of its total revenue.
15. Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the
enemy. One cartload of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to
twenty of one's own, and likewise a single PICUL of his provender
is equivalent to twenty from one's own store.

[Because twenty cartloads will be consumed in the process of
transporting one cartload to the front. A PICUL is a unit of
measure equal to 133.3 pounds (65.5 kilograms).]

16. Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused
to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy,
they must have their rewards.

[Tu Mu says: "Rewards are necessary in order to make the
soldiers see the advantage of beating the enemy; thus, when you
capture spoils from the enemy, they must be used as rewards, so
that all your men may have a keen desire to fight, each on his
own account."]

17. Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more
chariots have been taken, those should be rewarded who took the
first. Our own flags should be substituted for those of the
enemy, and the chariots mingled and used in conjunction with
ours. The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept.
18. This is called, using the conquered foe to augment
one's own strength.
19. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not
lengthy campaigns.

[As Ho Shih remarks: "War is not a thing to be trifled
with." Sun Tzu here reiterates the main lesson which this
chapter is intended to enforce."]

20. Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the
arbiter of the people's fate, the man on whom it depends whether
the nation shall be in peace or in peril.

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