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The Art of War | Chapter 9 : Marches | Summary

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Summary

This chapter addresses the organization of well-disciplined marches and the arrangement of troops facing an approaching enemy under a variety of conditions. Sun Tzu recommends taking advantage of the positions of sunlight relative not only to time of day but relative to rivers, mountains, salt marshes, and level ground. Ho Yen-hsi references a battle that took place during the Spring and Autumn Annals period. In this incident, the Duke of Sung, whose army had crossed the river, twice stopped his Minister of War from attacking the opposing force before it had crossed and gathered itself to fight on the other side. The result was that "the Sung army was defeated, the Duke wounded in the thigh, and the officers of the Van annihilated."

Sun Tzu cites the Yellow Emperor as having conquered "four sovereigns" because he took full advantage of encampment opportunities. He recommends taking "the sunny side and rest your right and rear on them." In addition, placement of an army facing "precipitous torrents" of rivers swollen with rains is an advantage, especially if the opposing army can be forced to place its back against it. This is followed by a list of observable signs that indicate deceptive tactics the enemy might employ. A column of dust, for example, indicates chariots are on the move, whereas infantry movement is indicated by low and wide dust.

Acute observations of signs in nature are important, but Sun Tzu and his commentators add that learning about the enemy's purposes through the behavior of envoys is also crucial. Commentator Chang Yu gives an example of deceit by T'ien Tan, defender of the city of Chi Mo, when he sent beautiful women and money to lure the attackers. Thinking this event would result in easy pickings, Ch'i Che relaxed his guard enough that T'ien Tan could rush out and "inflict a crushing defeat."

Ch'en Hao remarks on the effect a lax general has on his troops, stating, "When the general's orders are not strict and his deportment undignified, the officers will be disorderly." A general can conduct an interview with one of his spies to assess whether or not there is insubordination within the enemy camp. It is up to the general to maintain consistent and reliable orders down the chain of command to ensure solid support from the troops.

Analysis

The reference Sun Tzu makes to the Yellow Emperor (reputed to have begun ruling in 2697 BCE) and his conquest of four sovereigns is likely part myth and part historical fact. The Yellow Emperor was named Huangdi (also known as Emperor Huang-ti) and was revered as the "patron saint" of Taoism. He is credited with having stimulated advances in medicine, architecture, writing, and coinage to establish a utopian society. The people of the Zhou Empire during Sun Tzu's time regarded the Yellow Emperor as their "true" Chinese ancestor, and ruling houses claimed direct descent.

The advice to rest an army's right and rear flanks against an embankment has to do with the fact that most troops are right-handed, so they are trained to carry their shield on the left arm and strike with a sword or spear in their right hand. It is therefore a matter of balance to advance with the left foot against an enemy so that the strike of the spear or sword swinging forward is maximized. What this means is the left flank of any army is stronger than its right. If an army must defend its right flank, troops must turn to face attackers by presenting their left—or shield arm—side to fend off the opponent. Therefore, by resting a troop's right flank against an embankment, the embankment serves as protection against this detriment. A similar problem is presented by an attack from the rear. Troops must turn and defend when attacked from the rear instead of advancing forward in an attack. The need to defend the rear flank while continuing to press forward breaks an army in two, and divides its strength.

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