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The Art of War | Chapter 2 : Waging War | Summary



Sun Tzu discusses the equipment, provisioning, and support of an army sent into battle. He emphasizes the use of both speed and decisiveness to ensure victory, something that cannot be achieved without solid preparation and organization ahead of time. In the interests of making full use of the allocated resources, Sun Tzu strongly recommends that "those adept in waging war do not require a second levy of conscripts nor more than one provisioning." The commentators weigh in on this idea by providing examples of past campaigns that were successful because the general kept track of both the physical strengths and the state of mind of his troops. They also provide examples of generals who ignored or miscalculated factors such as hunger, thirst, attachment to accumulated loot, or outrage at an injustice that impaired the ability of their troops to fight with decisive speed. The chapter concludes with some overall procedures to follow when capturing enemy troops and their equipment, to maximize the preservation of resources and sustain a well-equipped army.


This chapter reads almost as if prepared by an accountant, and rightly so. Waging war costs money, a point made abundantly clear by Sun Tzu and his commentators in this chapter. Li Ch'uan states, "Now when the army marches abroad, the treasury will be emptied at home." The goal is to organize a campaign so that a minimum of effort and resources are consumed, while taking measures to see to it the resources of the enemy can be used instead of wasted. If this can be accomplished, Sun Tzu indicates that a successful campaign becomes sustainable with "one provisioning"—that is, fresh supplies of food for the men and horses, camp supplies, weapons, armor, transport, and so forth.

This planning should not require repeated levies of resources from the people back home, a move that weakens support for the war. Samuel B. Griffith claims that the commentators reach a common conclusion: a well-designed campaign requires no more than two shipments of supplies—the first should supply everything the troops will need at the onset and the second to make it back home again. Over the duration of the campaign, the commanding officer must arrange for his troops to live off of the resources of the enemy.

The ratio of the chain of command is, by Griffith's estimate, three combat troops to one administrative officer. The chain of command must be direct and clear, with the commanding general responsible for the entire army.

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