AoW: Ch 3. Attack by Strategem: Forage on the opponent’s resources

Chapter 3 is one of the most influential chapters in the book. It has so much to think about, I will break it into several parts, for my own clarity on the text. This part deals with using the opponent’s strength to supplement your own.

Original text:

1. In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to capture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them. 2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. 3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to baulk the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.

14. Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy’s provisions is equivalent to twenty of one’s own, and likewise a single picul of his provender is equivalent to twenty from one’s own store. 15. Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards. 16. Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more chariots have been taken, those should be rewarded who took the first. Our own flags should be substituted for those of the enemy, and the chariots mingled and used in conjunction with ours. The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept. 17. This is called, using the conquered foe to augment one’s own strength. 18. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.

My interpretation for daily life:

When confronting your competition, it is best not to destroy their assets, but strive to take over them intact. Destroying assets that someone else built requires little skill or strategy. Do not try to rush into every battle. Do not try to win by force. A much better strategy is to make the opponent give up ground to you without any struggle.

For a strategist, the highest form of strategy is to take make the enemy change their plans in the direction that you want them to change it. The second best is to prevent them from increasing their strength against you. The worst strategy is to try to prevail in the power struggle by starving them out of their resources or to destroy them by force.

A wise strategist makes a point to find ways to forage on the competitors’ own resources. Resources obtained by foraging on someone else’s strengths are worth many times than the ones obtained by your own efforts because they cost you much less to use.

If you are leading a team, they will need to be motivated to move in coordination with you. They need to have their own advantages from your victory. Whenever significant victories have been made, make sure to reward that person who brought the effort to fruition.

Those people or resources that are currently aligned with your opponent should be not pushed away but convinced to join your efforts, and treated with respect and generosity. Their resources should be made part of your resources. By doing this, you grow your own strength by using your opponent’s resources.

Above all, when planning a strategy, make victory you objective, and not the maneuvers.

This brings me to the following questions to ponder when contemplating a strategy:

  • Who are our competitors?
  • What kind of resources do they have that we could forage on?
  • What kind of strengths do they have that we can utilize to grow our own?
  • Who are their allies whom we can turn into our allies?
  • With whom (their allies or opponents) we can join strength?
  • How can we reward those allies in case they bring us victories?
  • How can we use our competitor’s success to grow our victory?

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