Sun Tzu’s The Art of War – An Overview

As we move into Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, it is helpful to understand the general layout of the text, and highlight how different chapters relate to each other. While these relations will be noted as we move through the text, an initial overview is helpful in setting the various bits of knowledge into a larger tapestry – in the same way that seeing the picture of what a puzzle is supposed to look like will help guide us in putting the 1000 pieces together.

The Book:

The translation I am using was done by Roger T. Ames, and can be found in The Book of War. I have chosen this specific translation because of the translator; Roger Ames is the foremost scholar of Chinese Philosophy. I have also had the privilege of studying this text under him as a graduate student at the University of Hawai’i. The translation offers a heavily cited and indexed text, accompanied by the original Chinese text. However, it is also written in a highly accessible style, that notes the use of major terms within the translation. Although the translated text is only some 50 pages, the introduction is 60 pages, and covers the history, terms, and context necessary to draw out the full scope of lessons offered by Sun Tzu. Most of these can be found in the earlier articles posted here.

The Layout:

The Art of War presents the military ideal against which commanders are to be measured, and against which the military strategy and operations can best be judged. It is important that we note this ideal nature early on, and avoid the criticism of The Art of War as an unattainable goal. By understanding the text as an ideal, we instead use it as a means of determining our current situation, ideal situation, and finding ways of getting from here to there. Clearly, absolute perfection is not always possible, but having a clear understanding of what the ideal is, we can continue to act is the best way, and make at least incremental gains, while aspiring to perfection.

Andrew R Wilson of the U.S. Naval War College, breaks the text of the Sun Tzu into 4 parts:

Chapter 1: Deals with the critical calculations necessary for engaging in war.

Chapter 2: Deals with identifying the costs and dangers of war.

Chapters 3-12: Deal with the ideal skill of a commander (a how-to portion).

Chapter 13: Deals with the use of spies/intelligence gathering (foreign and domestic).

Interestingly, it is intelligence gathering that makes possible the entirety of the preceding chapters, since the idea of acting in the best way requires knowledge of the various aspects of the enemy – which must be ferreted out, and without which even the best strategic mind is confined to guesswork.

For our purposes, while chapters 1-12 deal primarily with the Information Security, chapter 13 deals with cyber-threat intelligence (CTI), and makes possible the extraordinary and ideal skills of the commander. Informational superiority makes possible the operational initiative, by which victory is achieved. For this reason, it is my firm belief that InfoSec and CTI cannot be functionally decoupled, and that the future of InfoSec is so dependent on CTI as to make them a single concept.

As we make our way through the text, we will concentrate on those portions that seem to be the most functionally relevant to InfoSec/CTI, and will provide markers on the crucial intersection points between the two.