Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Bible and Sun Tzu's "Art of War"

Defending kids in Edworld calls for some fighting, and so I study Sun Tzu's The Art of War, as well as Mao Zedong's On Protracted War and anything else that gives guidance on how the weak may thwart the strong.

The second of Sun Tzu's 13 Chapters, "Waging War," begins thus:

Generally, operations of war require one thousand fast four-horse chariots, one thousand fast four-horse wagons covered in leather, and one hundred thousand mailed troops.

That was doubtless good advice in China 2500 years ago; it wouldn't work too well for any modern army today - not just as written.  However, if we see how this advice fits in Sun Tzu's world, the universal principles expressed in these time-bound particulars will be as applicable as those stated in more universal terms.

For instance, these opening words of the first chapter, "Estimates" or "Calculations," applies today without change:

War is a matter of vital importance to the state; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin.  It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.

And especially so, Li Ch'uan's comment:

Weapons are tools of ill omen.  War is a grave matter; one is apprehensive lest men embark upon it without due reflection.

It struck me the last time I read this that it gives guidance on how to read the Bible.  For instance, the advice in 1 Corinthians 11 that a woman's head should be covered was written to people in Corinth, where at that time women without veils were prostitutes showing their wares.  That's not how it is in most places in the world today.  Where it is, it applies, but elsewhere, the principle will apply with different specifics, just as Sun Tzu writing today would not advise going to war with one thousand fast four-horse chariots. 

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