Philosophy of Conflict


~ Nine Dragon Scroll by Chen Rong

1. Inevitability and importance

Conflict is inevitable. Life is strife. Heraclitus said, “War is the father of all things.” Nothing is durable. No relationship is everlasting. He who in the morning is your friend, may at night be your foe. Hold no bond sacred; do not be misled by appearances. The Great Pattern revolves in cycles; creation and destruction must follow one another. From the ashes of a burnt tree lies a seedling planted in fertile soil. Aristotle said, “We make war so that we may live in peace.”

Conflict means war. To fail in a conflict may mean death to an individual or destruction to a state. Sun Tzu said, “ The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence, it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

For a civilization, war is destructive; for an individual, war means sacrifice. Literature, art, culture, and craft are casualties in times of war. When conflict arises, seek a swift solution that is final and binding. Sun Tzu said, “Cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”

War is not about justice. In conflicts between states, might is right. Aristotle said, “the weak are always anxious for justice and equality; the strong pay heed to either.” Do not be mistaken that wars are fought over justice and won because of it. No wolf ever feels guilty for eating a lamb. Cicero said, “Laws are silent in times of war.” The strong will succeed; the weak shall perish. So strive to thrive.

2. Planning and preparation

In times of conflict, planning is a critical; knowledge is an imperative. Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. If you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”

Sun Tzu said, “A clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease. He wins his battles by making no mistakes.” Planning and preparation is the golden rule of success in defeating your enemies. Confucius said, “the cautious seldom err.” Let your every day lifestyle be a part of your training for future conflicts. Horace said, “In times of peace prepare for war.”

In secrecy is strength. Nowhere has a man more privacy than in the sanctuary of his own mind. Sun Tzu said, “Ponder and deliberate before you make a move. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

3. Excellence

Destruction is not a virtue in conflict. Sun Tzu said, “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. 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 is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it.” Excellence in conflict is achieved when you break your enemies will to fight. 

Be subtle. Do not fight fire with fire. Do not react to force in kind, rather, channel and direct it to where it can do no harm. The weak can overcome the strong. The soft can overcome the weak. In this manner, wind and water can overcome earth and fire. The softness of culture can overcome the military strength of a civilization.

Lao Tzu said, “Sometimes to shrink something you must stretch it. In order to weaken something you must strengthen it.” Help your enemies to weaken them. When at war, rely on mercy as much as military might. To conquer the hearts of men is more excellent than to conquer their empty houses. 

4. Resources

Be mindful of the resources needed for conflicts. Cicero said, “Money is the sinews of war.” The maintenance of a standing army is a heavy price on a state’s resources. Sun Tzu said, “Forage from the enemy. Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished. One cartload of the enemy’s provisions is equivalent to twenty of one’s own.”

5. Act according to the circumstances

Act according to the circumstances. Gather knowledge on your enemy’s disposition and the terrain. Sun Tzu said, “Water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards. So in war, avoid what is strong and strike what is weak.”

Sun Tzu said, “According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one’s plans. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them.”

Sun Tzu said, “Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances. Just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.”

6. Manipulation

Victory in the battlefield consists of manipulating your enemy into a position of weakness. Sun Tzu said, “The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him. Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.” 

Keep your forces concentrated and your enemy’s forces divided. Sun Tzu said, “Do not swallow bait offered by the enemy. Do not interfere with an army that is returning home. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.”

7. Deception

To manipulate your enemies, use deception. Aristotle said, “War, as the saying goes, is full of false alarms.” All warfare is based on deception. Sun Tzu said, “Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.”

8. Retreat

Sun Tzu said, “The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.” War is not a stage for people to prove their bravery or skill. Defeat, not retreat, brings dishonor. Do not hesitate to withdraw when the situation gives you no favor. In the fight for survival the most adaptable will prevail.

One Response to “Philosophy of Conflict”
  1. kalabalu says:

    if you do not remain alive,how can you celebrate the victory you got in a war after fighting many battles, with tactics, surprise and skills.

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