The Art of War


Sun Tzu writes:

Those skilled in war cultivate the Tao and preserve the laws and are therefore able to formulate victorious policies.

To which Tu Mu adds:

The Tao is the way of humanity and justice; ‘laws’ are regulations and institutions. Those who excel in war first cultivate their own humanity and justice and maintain their laws and institutions. By these means they make their government invincible.

What if the public’s revulsion to the casualties incurred by U.S. forces (as well as allies and innocents) in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other “theaters” in the long war isn’t a result of the casualties per se but the reason underlying those casualties? In other words, is it possible that the public is really upset that their fellow citizens are dying for reasons that aren’t entirely clear?

It seems that this may be the case. Looking back on the revolution, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the public understood that death happens as a result and, though they didn’t want their citizens to die, they weren’t as upset by it as they have seemed over this current war.

If that is true, then governmental attempts to hide the death and destruction are misguided. Those officials who think it is the deaths themselves that upset the public instead of the cause for which they are dying are missing the point of the disaffection. Furthermore, that they do not address this real grievance illustrates either a lack of understanding of that difference (at best), or see it as a necessary deception required to cover up the real reason behind the war, which they are unwilling to address (at worst).

Many are aware that the invasion of Iraq was predicated on lies – this is indisputable given the plethora of evidence. The so-called intelligence failure wasn’t a failure on the part of intelligence analysts failing to show that Iraq had no WMDs, but that analysts were complicit in the lies certain ideologues were promoting; their integrity failed, not their ability. In terms of public support the war in Iraq was a failure – and Sun Tzu’s analysis allows us to understand why.

Furthermore, that we dehumanize our opponents and the killed/maimed civilians, referring to the latter as “collateral damage;” that we ignore international laws that have been set up over the decades to enshrine and ensure that certain universal ideals will be respected and protected, even in war; that we compromise deep-rooted principles and laws for a dubious security, and all while hiding it from us and lying to us about it when it initially comes to light – none of this suggests a country that cultivates humanity or justice, or one that maintains its laws and institutions. And perhaps this is why this “war” is so unpopular (and unwon); that people are upset about the surveillance state being set up behind their back; and that these government policies are not victorious in the eyes of the people.

This is not an apology for those criminals who committed acts of terrorism against the U.S., or those that commit these acts against others around the world – there is not justification for these acts. This is an entreaty for national self-reflection. Sun Tzu urges disciples of war to know yourself, lest you lose your war; but maybe he should have also said know yourself, lest you lose yourself in the war. Perhaps Nietzsche was right – maybe we’ve been battling monsters for so long that we have, ourselves, become a monster.