Sunday, October 26, 2008

On Warriors & War

From a translator's preface of Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War', published by Shambala in 1991, comes the following:

The Art of War, compiled well over 2000 years ago by a mysterious Chinese warrior-philosopher, is still perhaps the most prestiguous and influential book of strategy in the world today, as eagerly studied in Asia by modern politicians and executives as it has been by military leaders and strategists for the last two millenia and more.

In Japan, which was transformed directly from a feudal culture into a corporate culture virtually overnight, contemprary students of the Art of War have applied the strategy of this ancient classic to modern politics and business with similar alacrity. Indeed, some see in the successes of postwar Japan an illustration of Sun Tzu's dictum of the classic, "To win without fighting is best."

As a study of the anatomy of organizations in conflict, The Art of War applies to competition and conflict in general, on every level from the interpersonal to the international. Its aim is invincibility, victory without battle, and unassailable strength through understanding of the physics, politics, and psychology of conflict.

This translation of the Art of War presents the classic from the point of view of its background in the great spirual tradition of Taoism. What is most characteristically Taoist about the Art of War in such a way as to recommend itself to the modern day is the manner in which power is continually tempered by a profound undercurrent of humanism. The Art of War is thus a book not only of war but also of peace, above all a tool for understanding the very roots of conflict and resolution.

Why would one imagine the lessons of Sun Tzu apply only to an actual war?
It seems to me that he believed, as I do, that actually fighting war was an indication of the failure of every other option.
Of course, Sun Tzu was always prepared for that eventuality and ready to fight fiercely and bravely if it came to that.
But, to him the ultimate success was to achieve a 'victory' by avoiding the fighting!
One certainly has to have a better grasp as to what constitutes a 'victory' than our current leaders, including President Bush and Senator John McCain.

I have the highest respect for Senator McCain, but he is not acting like the legitimate hero he is.
Maybe that's because he is trying so hard to match or surpass the careers of his father, grandfather and earlier ancestors, all of which had very distinguished military service.
And with my own Scottish heritage and limited Navy service, I do have many common beliefs and values that I share with John McCain.
But, I feel he is going about playing the hero, fear and anger cards too strongly, and at the expense of seeing the broader scope of conflict that Sun Tzu saw.
One does not have to fight in a war to be an effective warrior.
In fact, there may be a real danger in having a President whose first instinct is to fight!

The English language expression 'silver spoon' is an expression for wealth; someone born into a wealthy family is said to have "been born with a silver spoon in his mouth".
I think John McCain was born a 'brass spoon' because of his family's Navy and long military heritage.
That can be a blessing and a curse, as McCain himself seems to imply in his book 'Faith of my Fathers'.

McCain's military heritage is even broader than his father's and grandfather's Naval careers.
He also claims ancestral links to royalty; the famous fighting Scot, Robert the Bruce; a General in Washington's Continental Army and another grandfather, William Alexander McCain (b. North Carolina, 1812 – d. 1863), who died in the Civil War while serving as a private in Company I, 5th Regiment, Mississippi Cavalry, Confederate States Army.
During his life, this grandfather owned a 2,000-acre plantation in Carroll County, Mississippi known as "Teoc", as well as 52 slaves.

With that kind of background, who could doubt John McCain's patriotism and bravery?
Warriors of his dedication and skill are important to the future security of our Country, as are the US troops now serving in our military.
But, Amercia was established for peaceful purposes, to be governed by citizens and civilians, not professional military leaders.
It is important that our military be kept strong and ready, but also in check to be used only as necessary, and then as a last resort.
That is what Sun Tzu learned and has passed along to us through his teachings.
I think it would behoove us to pay attention to those ancient words of wisdom, be guided by them and adopt them as our National policy.