Tips from Sun Tzu for civilian leaders

Last month, SHAN was up on the border talking to students about Sun Tzu (also written Sun Zi) and his all-time classic The Art of War.

The Chinese warrior-philosopher, who flourished between BC 551-467, was opposed to war, according to commentators, as proven by this cardinal advice: To win without fighting.
That doesn’t mean leaders of a country could afford to be ignorant of military matters, as “Military action is important to the nation – it is the ground of death and life, the path of survival and destruction.” (Chapter One) Moreover, in times of crisis, it is imperative to move the people “to have the same aim as the leadership, so that they will share death and share life, without fear of danger.” (Chapter One)

Chapter Three also warns:

So there are three ways in which a civil leadership causes the military trouble. When a civil leadership unaware of the facts tells its armies to advance when it should not, or tells its armies to retreat when it should not, this is called tying up the armies. When the civil leadership is ignorant of military affairs but shares equally in the government of the armies, the soldiers get confused. When the civil leadership is ignorant of military maneuvers but shares equally in the command of the armies, the soldiers hesitate. Once the armies are confused and hesitant, trouble comes from competitors. This is called taking away victory by deranging the military.

All these sayings appear to go hand in hand with the military-drawn2008 constitution’s Article 59 (d): (The President and the Vice-Presidents) shall be well acquainted with the affairs of the Union such as political, administrative, economic and military.”

But, before you get angry, please take a breather. The charter doesn’t say a wannabe is required to be a former serviceman (or servicewoman) in the armed forces, only to be “well acquainted.”

One may say that’s a reasonable requirement for anyone who is expected to become the country’s supreme leader.

However, Sun Tzu didn’t seem to be satisfied with that. He went on to say, in Chapter Ten:

Therefore, when the laws of war indicate certain victory it is surely appropriate to do battle, even if the government says there is to be no battle. If the laws of war do not indicate victory, it is appropriate not to do battle, even if the government orders war. Thus one advances without seeking glory, retreats without avoiding blame, only protecting people, to the benefit of the government as well, thus rendering valuable service to the nation.

Which of course will bring one into mind the Burmese military’s refusal last year to obey the order from the President to call off the fighting in Kachin State. But one should not forget that, unlike Sun Tzu’s civilian ruler, the Burmese military is separate from him and his government. He doesn’t have the power either to appoint or fire the Commander-in-Chief.

One may also recall an episode in Burma’s history where a Burmese general who was punished for accepting a truce with the Chinese forces when the latter was actually getting the worst of it, because he knew like every non-Chinese commander in history, no neighboring nations had the enormous resources that the Chinese enjoyed and thus would be unable to successfully wage a war with it in the long run.

All these doesn’t mean SHAN is against The Lady becoming our President in 2016. But everyone reaching for the star should bear in mind all the odds against him/her and try to find ways to overcome them.

Not to forget, that’s one of the things Sun Tzu taught too:

To be beaten or not is in oneself
To be victorious or not is in the opponent

SHAN therefore hopes both the Lady and her advisers pay special heed to his counsel, because SHAN will be one of the saddest if the star just slips away while within her reach.


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