THE BLOG
04/05/2011 03:48 pm ET Updated Jun 05, 2011

Sun Tzu and the Art of Knowing

Sun Tzu understood war.

In the 6th century BC, the shrewd general and philosopher developed his influential military strategy against the backdrop of China's "Warring States" era. It is, unfortunately, more applicable than ever. Sun Tzu wrote,

"It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles."

Let's read that again.

"It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles."

Would you say America's military leaders in the Pentagon or the soldiers on the ground "know the enemy?"

My guess is Sun Tzu would say, "NO."

Abu Graib was the first unheeded wake up call. How many soldiers died in retaliation...due simply to the depth of American ignorance?

Last week, we learned of a group of American soldiers who call themselves, "The Kill Team."
The pictures they took, we are told, are trophies that show dead Afghani civilians killed by these American soldiers. The news of what appears to be a horrible crime comes to us by way of Germany's Der Spiegel. Since there are no independent, American "boots on the ground" reporters marching alongside our soldiers, it's impossible to know what really happened. But particularly chilling is the smile on the face of the American soldier standing next to the tortured civilian. The smile is as American as apple pie. The soldier looks as if he's smiling at spring flowers in full bloom on a sunny day.

How many war stories like this will go untold until we heed Sun Tzu's warning?

With the suspension of the Geneva Convention, the extension of the Patriot Act and the unwillingness to abandon extraordinary rendition, how can we expect anything other than the dishonorable discharging of our soldiers' duties? With the mass media willingly looking in other frivolous directions, how will we ever see fully the depths of hatred? Without understanding it, the madness on all sides will never end.

"The Kill Team" is not Sun Tzu's idea of how hearts and minds and, eventually, battles are won.

And make no mistake; Sun Tzu was no Dalai Lama. But he was wise and prescient. For him, logic and diplomacy trumped naked emotional reactions every time.

"He who wishes to fight must first count the cost. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull, and their ardor will be dampened...if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the state will not be equal to the strain."

The hunt for Bin Laden across Afghanistan's rugged terrain is a distant memory--a cold case that offers cold comfort to the living and the dead. And the war in Iraq started so long ago, the duplicitous lies that led us there are long since forgotten by those left to fight it.

Lies ruin any attempt at settling disputes, whether they are told before or after the use of force. The road to contrition...is not rendition...and usually it begins with an apology. But, here in America those who need to apologize rarely do. Prison for war crimes is out of the question...especially if the person in question has a father whose name adorns a CIA building.

Sun Tzu again:

"Now, when your weapons are dulled, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity...in war, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns."

Lengthy campaigns are always risky. With so many battles to fight, exit strategies are hard to come by. So we wait. We wait for this military-loving, empire-acquiring, fight-to-the-death-over-oil country to find another way.

In the meantime, Americans subsidize arms dealers who often sell to all sides of any conflict, and the Pentagon and CIA kick up as much dust as needed to justify their existence.
Let's "We the People" help win these wars the way Sun Tzu advised...by getting to know "the enemy" and, in the process, getting to know ourselves.

America is now at war on several fronts. It's been eleven years since American soldiers first set foot in Afghanistan. Nine since invading Iraq. It is time to know ourselves well enough to stop this insanity, bring our soldiers home and begin rebuilding our own worn down, war weary and shell-shocked country.

"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."

Recently, a military "expert" on NPR could not describe exactly who the Libyan "rebels" are...the ignorance is indeed troublesome. How many times does America have to support some "rebel" group only to have that same group use our own weapons against United States soldiers later? We do not know our enemies.

Winning wars is and always has been, predicated on the art of knowing. Simply fighting them requires only that we remain ignorant.