Sun Tzu and The Art of Prepping, by B.F.

Around 2,500 years ago, a Chinese general named Sun Tzu wrote a treatise called “The
Art of War
.” I first read it when I was in Officer’s Candidate School back in the 1970s. There are a number of translations and interpretations of the book available today. It is claimed that Marco Polo brought back a copy from his travels in the Thirteenth Century. I have also read where writers say that Von Clausewitz used Sun Tzu’s principles when he wrote “On War” and that (probably closer to the truth) Napoleon had a copy that had been first translated into French in 1782. I own a half dozen or so different versions of “The Art of War”, and find the most readable one to be a version edited by James Clavell, the author of Shogun, King Rat and other books of Asian historical fiction. Clavell’s book is available through Amazon and other outlets. I have used lessons from the book in the business world, and have provided copies of it to many of the managers who work for me. There is a local used book sale held annually by a non-profit here in town, and I usually pick up a couple of copies to have on hand (along with “Love and Profit, the Art of Caring Leadership” by James Autry) to giveaway.

JWR has used quotes from Sun Tzu in a couple of his novels in the Patriots series, and it seems to me that his protagonists also use Sun Tzu’s tactics at various points in the novel.

The lessons in The Art of War are still relevant today, and were used heavily during the first Gulf War. They were not used as well during subsequent action in Southwest Asia, nor were they followed earlier during the Viet Nam War and Korean War. If they had been, things would likely have been much different.

The Art of War does indeed focus on warfare and fighting, and depending on what sort of TEOTWAWKI scenario you are preparing for, is probably something you should read concerning tactics and battle.

The question in this article is not what Sun Tzu can tell us about warfare,it is what can we learn from Sun Tzu’s principles when we look at them through the eyes of preppers?

Probably my favorite quote, and the one I use most often, is from the beginning of the book. When one of my managers comes in to talk about what they should do when one of their folks does something wrong, I use the lesson about who is responsible when a mistake is made.

You can read the book for yourself for more details, but basically, the King of Wu “auditioned” Sun Tzu before hiring him as a general. The king gave Sun Tzu his harem of 180 concubines and told him to train them to drill like soldiers with pikes. He appointed two of the concubines as leaders, trained the women, and commanded the group to face right. When he did this, they all giggled and none carried out the command.

Sun Tzu then said “If the command is not understood, it is the General’s(in this case Sun Tzu himself) fault.” He then repeated his instruction and ensured they were understood. Then when he gave the command the second time,the concubines again giggled and were unable to carry out the command. This time, he said “If the command is clear, and it is not understood, then it is the fault of the officers,” whereupon he had the two concubines that were leaders executed.

The next time he gave the command to face right, the group did it perfectly.

What I talk to my managers about is that they should not just jump to the conclusion that the employee making the mistake is wrong. They need to be sure that the job is understood and that the associate had been trained. If this is something new, they also need to satisfy themselves that “the right way” is in fact correct and is something that can be done by the employee. Finally,they need to talk to the associate, ensure they understand how to do something right. By providing the focus and looking at it from the employee’s point of view, they can get their attention almost as well as chopping off someone’s head.

How does this lesson apply to prepping? In a couple of ways, first, if you are the one making the mistake, then you need to be sure you are not too hard on yourself. Was what you tried to do right? Was it within your skill set or capability? Same thing if you are working within a prepping group. They are there because they want to be and want to do things right. If you are working on a group training for a patrol, are the procedures and goals clear? Are you building tactical and technical proficiency or are you teaching something new?Is the training you are trying to carry out really within the capabilities of the group, or is it more something that you would need a team of Navy Seals to accomplish?

If it is within the capabilities of the group, then work through it. Ensure that whoever messed up knows it, and knows what they should do. Just don’t get personal about it that is the fastest way to alienate an important member of your team.

This doesn’t just apply to tactical exercises. Purchasing the wrong stores,trouble with preparing supplies for long term storage or rotating supplies, all of these areas and more are places that mistakes can be made and instructions not followed, and they are all areas where it is important to understand why a mistake was made before placing blame. They are also all “teachable moments.”

Sun Tzu organizes his writing around five factors. They are:

  • The Moral Law — this causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.
  • Heaven — by this, Sun Tzu means the environmental conditions that you operate under.
  • Earth — which refers to physical terrain
  • The Commander — which reflects the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness.
  • Method and Discipline — to me, this which to me this focuses on organization. Originally it referred to marshaling the army, organizing the rank structure and controlling expenditures.

How do these fit in with preparedness?

Moral Law is what drives us to be prepared. We believe in self-sufficiency and self-reliance. While we don’t have a “ruler” as preppers, we do have an accord. To become as ready as we can be in case of disaster or TEOTWAWKI. While prepping may or may not be the most important thing in our life, it is something that matters to us, and that drives us.

Heaven – environmental conditions. If you have a retreat or if you are planning to “bug in” what weather and climate conditions do you need to prepare for. Is water available if the grid is down? Can you put in a well or draw from a nearby river, stream or pond? How cold will it get in winter and how hot in summer? Can you heat it when it is cold, do you have shade for the hot season if air conditioning is nothing more than a memory?

Earth – Physical Terrain. In extremes of weather, will wind blow down trees on your shelter? Is your property subject to flooding or to heavy water flow in the case of unseasonable rains? If you have a basement, will it remain dry and will your stores remain safe? In case of loss of civil order, can your property be defended? Is it far enough away from heavily traveled routes that a “Golden Horde” will have a hard time finding it?

The Commander – Let’s call this the attributes of wisdom, sincerity,benevolence, courage and others that you will need to survive. While we don’t necessarily have a commander, we do need a fast definitive way to make critical decisions. These attributes need to exist not just in the leader, but in the followers too. We are all human, we all make mistakes. By having smart,dedicated people to share your post-apocalyptic world or even short term crisis with, you will be better off.

Method and Discipline. While we don’t promote the idea of cutting people’s heads off for giggling, we need to be sure we have identified the right way to do things and have the self-discipline to do things right.

Other ideas from the book also apply to preparedness.

All warfare is based on deception. To me, this means if you are prepared,keep it to yourself. While it is tempting to show pictures of stocks and supplies on Facebook, if you do so, you have just let hundreds or thousands of people know about it. Likewise talking about your preps to your friends. Unless they are like minded, most will roll their eyes and think of you as some sort of kook, that is until a crisis hits, then they may all show up on your doorstep. Think about spreading your stores around your house or retreat. False walls and other deceptions can be used to hide most of your stockpile, leaving only a small amount visible to the casual observer.

Though we have heard of stupid haste on war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays. Gather and assess information and then act. Or to quote General George Patton, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” Keep abreast of current events, monitor the news and what is going on, but when you think it is time to bug out(if that is your plan) don’t hesitate, do it.

If you know the enemy and you know yourself, then you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. Know what you need to do to survive. Practice it,live it if possible. Don’t leave your get home bag at home, keep it in the trunk of your car. I frequently read a Facebook page where people post photos of their “bug out bags”. Now they have the right idea, but most of what they show in the photos are brand new items, many still in the packaging, that they have never even used. The time to learn how to use a wire saw or a firestarter is not when you are in the middle of a survival situation. Know yourself and know how to use the tools you have provided for yourself.

There is a lot more in the book that makes it a worthwhile addition to your library, I hope I have provided enough information to interest you in acquiring a copy or two and reading through it. Just be sure to keep a pen or highlighter handy when you do, as I am sure you will find a lot that resonates with you.

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