If the skill of a general is one of the surest elements of victory, it will be readily seen that the judicious selection of generals is one of the most delicate points in the science of government and one of the most essential parts of the military policy of a state.
We have already said that if the prince do [sic] not conduct his armies in person, his most important duty will be to have the position of commander well filled - which, unfortunately, is not always done.
[The choice of generals-in-chief is] a subject worthy of the most anxious care upon the part of a wise government; for upon it often depends the safety of the nation.
The difficulty of always selecting a good general has led to the formation of a good general staff, which being near the general may advise him, and thus exercise a beneficial influence over the operations. A well-instructed general staff is one of the most useful of organizations; but care must be observed to prevent the introduction into it of false principles, as in this case it might prove fatal.
What must be the result of an operation which is but partially understood by the commander, since it is not his own conception? I have undergone a pitiable experience as prompter at head-quarters, and no one has a better appreciation of the value of such services than myself; and it is particularly in a councilor war that such a part is absurd. The greater the number and the higher the rank of the military officers who compose the council, the more difficult will it be to accomplish the triumph of truth and reason, however small be the amount of dissent.
What would have been the action of a councilor war to which Napoleon proposed the movement of Arcola, the crossing of the Saint-Bernard, the maneuver at Ulm, or that at Cera and Jena? The timid would have regarded them as rash, even to madness, others would have seen a thousand difficulties of execution, and all would have concurred in rejecting them; and if, on the contrary, they had been adopted, and had been executed by any one but Napoleon, would they not certainly have proved failures?
His [the sovereign's] general, interfered with and opposed in all his enterprises, will be unable to achieve success, even if he have the requisite ability. It may be said that a sovereign might accompany the army and not interfere with his general, but on the contrary, aid him with all the weight of his influence.
Now the general is the protector of the state. If this protection is all-embracing, the state will surely be strong; if defective, the state will certainly be weak...
[Chang Yu]... A sovereign who obtains the right person prospers. One who fails to do so will be ruined.
He whose generals are able and not inteifered with by the sovereign will be victorious... To make appointments is the province of the sovereign; to decide on battle that of the general.
[Wang Hsi] ... A sovereign of high character and intelligence must be able to know the right ntan, should place the responsibility on him, and expect results.
Having paid heed to the advantages of my plans, the general must create situations which will contribute to their accomplishment.
[Chia Lin] ... The orders of the sovereign, although they should be followed, are not to be followed if the general knows they contain the danger of harmful superintendence of affairs from the capital.
TemperamentDiscipline does more in war than enthusiasm.
Anger his general and confuse him.
[Li Ch 'uan] ... If the general is choleric, his authority can easily be upset. His character is not firm.
[Chang Yu] If the enemy's general is obstinate and prone to anger, insult and enrage him, so that he will be irritated and confused, and without a plan will recklessly advance against you. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.
If a general is unable to control his impatience and orders his troops to swarm up the wall like ants, one third of them will be killed without taking the city.
It is the business of a general to be serene and inscrutable, impartial and self-controlled.
[Wang Hsi] ... If serene he is not vexed,. if inscrutable, unfathomable; if upright, not improper, if self-controlled, not confused.
[Chang Yu] ... Therefore the expert at controlling his enemy frustrates him and then moves against him. He aggravates him to confuse him and harasses him to make him fearful.
If reckless, he can be killed...
[Tu Mu] ... A general who is stupid and courageous is a calamity... When people discuss a general, they always pay attention to his courage...
If cowardly, captured:
[Ho Yen-hsi] One who esteems life above all will be overcome with hesitancy. Hesitancy in a general is a great calamity.
If quick-tempered, you can make a fool of him:
[Tu Yu] An impulsive man can be provoked to rage and brought to his death. One easily angered is irascible, obstinate, and hasty. He does not consider the difficulties.
[Wang-Hsi] What is essential in the temperament of a general is steadiness.
If he has too delicate a sense of honor, you can calumniate him.
[Mei Yao-ch 'en] One anxious to defend his reputation pays no regard to anything else.
If he is of a compassionate nature, you can harass him.
[Tu Mu] He who is humanitarian and compassionate and fears only casualties cannot give up temporary advantage for long term gain and is unable to let go of this in order to seize that...
The ruin of the army and the death of the general are the inevitable results of these shortcomings. They must be deeply pondered.
[Wang Hsi said] What is essential in the temperament of a general is steadiness.
... the ability to keep one's head at times of exceptional stress and violent emotion... Strength of character does not consist solely in having powerful feelings, but in maintaining one's balance in spite of them. Even with the violence of emotion, judgment and principle must still function like a ship's compass...
Obviously a man whose opinions are constantly changing, even though this is in response to his own reflections, would not be called a man of character. The term is applied only to those whose views are stable and constant.
The commander [in battle] must trust his judgment and stand like a rock on which the waves break in vain. It is not an easy thing to do.
Only those general principles and attitudes that result from clear and deep understanding can provide a comprehensive guide to action. It is to these that opinions on specific problems should be anchored. The difficulty is to hold fast to these results in the torrent of events and new opinions. Often there is a gap between principles and actual events that cannot always be bridged by a succession of logical deductions. Then a measure of self-confidence is needed, and a degree of skepticism is also salutary. Frequently nothing short of an imperative principle will suffice, which is not part of the immediate thought-process, but dominates it: that principle is in all doubtful cases to stick to one's first opinion and to refuse to change unless forced to do so by a clear conviction. A strong faith in the overriding truth of tested principles is needed; the vividness of transient impressions must not make us forget that such truth as they contain is of a lesser stamp. By giving precedence, in case of doubt, to our earlier convictions, by holding to them stubbornly, our actions acquire that quality of steadiness and consistency which is termed strength of character .
If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth: and second, the courage to follow this first light wherever it may lead. The first of these qualities is described by the French term coup d'oeil, the second is determination.
Strength of character can degenerate into obstinacy. The line between the two is often hard to draw in a specific case ... Obstinacy is not an intellectual defect; it comes from reluctance to admit that one is wrong... Obstinacy is a fault of temperament.
The essential qualities for a general will always be as follows: First, A high moral courage, capable of great resolutions. Secondly, A physical courage which takes no account of danger. His scientific or military acquirements are secondary to the above-mentioned characteristics, though if great they will be valuable auxiliaries. It is not necessary that he should be a man of vast erudition. His knowledge may be limited, but should be thorough, and he should be perfectly grounded in the principles in the base of the art of war. Next in importance come the qualities of his personal character. A man who is gallant, just, firm, upright, capable of esteeming merit in others instead of being jealous of it, and skillful in making this merit conduce to his own glory, will always be a good general, and may even pass for a great man. Unfortunately, the disposition to do justice to merit in others is not the most common quality.
Finally, I will conclude... with one last truth: The first of all the requisites for a man's success as a leader is that he be perfectly brave. When a general is animated by a truly martial spirit and can communicate it to his soldiers, he may commit faults, but he will gain victories and secure deserved laurels.
Subtle and insubstantial, the expert leaves no trace; divinely mysterious, he is inaudible. Thus he is the master of his enemy's fate.
By command I mean the general's qualities of wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage and strictness.
[Tu Mu] If wise, a commander is able to recognize changing circumstances and to act expediently. If sincere, his men will have no doubt of the certainty ofrewards and punishments. If humane, he loves mankind, sympathizes with others, and appreciates their industry and toil. If courageous, he gains victory by seizing opportunity without hesitation. If strict, his troops are disciplined because they are in awe of him and are afraid of punishment ... If a general is not courageous, he will be unable to conquer doubts or to create great plans.
[Tu Mu] ... Now, the supreme requirements of generalship are a clear perception, the harmony of his host, a profound strategy coupled with far-reaching plans, an understanding of the seasons and an ability to examine the human factors. For a general unable to estimate his capabilities or comprehend the arts of expediency and flexibility when faced with the opportunity to engage the enemy will advance in a stumbling and hesitant manner, looking anxiously first to his right and then to his left, and be unable to produce a plan. Credulous, he will place confidence in unreliable reports, believing at one moment this and at another that.
Thus, those skilled at making the enemy move do so by creating a situation to which he must conform ...
Therefore a skilled commander seeks victory from the situation and does not demand it of his subordinates.
[Ch 'en Hao] Experts in war depend especially on opportunity and expediency. They do not place the burden of accomplishment on their men alone.
[Chia Lin] The general must rely on his ability to control the situation to his advantage as opportunity dictates. He is not bound by established procedures.
[Tu Mu] ... If I wish to take advantage of the enemy I must perceive not just the advantage in doing so but must first consider the ways he can harm me if I do.
[Ho Yen-hsi] Advantage and disadvantage are mutually reproductive. The enlightened deliberate.
Organization, control, assignment of appropriate ranks to officers, regulation of supply routes, and the provision of principal items to be used by the army.
There is no general who has not heard of these matters. Those who master them win, those who do not are defeated.
Therefore in laying plans, compare the following elements, appraising them with utmost care.
[Ho Yen-hsi] ... the responsibility for a martial host of a million lies on one man. He is the trigger of its spirit.
And therefore the general who in advancing does not seek personal fame, and in withdrawing is not concerned with avoiding punishment, but whose only purpose is to protect the people and promote the best interests of his sovereign, is the precious jewel of the state... [Tu Mu] Few such are to be had.
A commander-in-chief need not be a learned historian nor a pundit, but he must be familiar with the higher affairs of state and its most intimate policies... He must not be an acute observer of mankind or a subtle analyst of human character; but he must know the character, the habits of thought and action, and the special virtues and defects of the men whom he is to command... This type of knowledge cannot be forcibly produced by an apparatus of scientific formulas and mechanics; it can only be gained through a talent for judgment and by the application of accurate judgment to the observation ofman and matter.
Action can never be based on anything firmer than instinct, a sensing of the truth.
The man of action must at times trust in the sensitive instinct of judgment, derived from his native intelligence and developed through reflection, which almost unconsciously hits on the right course.
Circumstances vary so enormously in war, and are so indefinable, that a vast array of factors has to be appreciated - mostly in light of probabilities alone. The man responsible for evaluating the whole must bring to his task the quality of intuition that perceives the truth at every point. Otherwise a chaos of opinions and considerations would arise, and fatally entangle judgment... Yet, even that superb display of divination, the sovereign eye of genius itself, would still fall short of historical significance without the qualities of character and temperament we have described.
... [The] intellectual activity [ that] leaves the field of the exact sciences of logic and mathematics. It then becomes an art in the broadest meaning of the term - the faculty of using judgment to detect the most important and decisive elements in the vast array of facts and situations. Undoubtedly, this power of judgment consists to a greater or lesser degree in the intuitive comparison of all the factors and attendant circumstances; what is remote and secondary is at once dismissed while the most pressing and important points are identified with greater speed than could be done by strictly logical deduction.
Talent and genius operate outside the rules and theory conflicts with practice.
Or again one may appeal to genius, which is above all rules; which amounts to admitting that rules are not only made for idiots, but are idiotic in themselves.
... When the usual thing occurs, and a 'trained' general staff makes such a plan as a matter of routine... when the moves themselves are made with self-styled expertise to reach their goal by devious routes and combinations; when modern armies have to separate in order to display 'consummate art' by reuniting two weeks later at the utmost risk: then we can only say we abhor this departure from the straight, simple, easy approach in order to plunge deliberately into confusion. Such idiocy becomes the more likely, the less the war is run by the commander-in-chief himself... that is, as a single activity of an individual invested with huge powers; [and] ... the more the plan as a whole is cooked up by an unrealistic general staff on the recipes of a half-a-dozen amateurs.
I hope that... I could not be accused of wishing to make of this art a mechanism of determined wheelworks, nor of pretending on the contrary that the reading of a single chapter of principles is able to give, all at once, the talent of conducting an army. In all the arts, as in all the situations of life, knowledge and skill are two altogether different things, and if one often succeeds through the latter alone, it is never but the union of the two that constitutes a superior man and assures complete success. Meanwhile, in order not to be accused of pedantry, I hasten to avow that, by knowledge, I do not mean a vast erudition; it is not a question to knowa great deal but to know well; to know especially what relates to the mission appointed to us.
A general thoroughly instructed in the theory of war, but not possessed of military coup d'oeil, coolness, and skill, may make an excellent strategic plan and be entirely unable to apply the rules of tactics in presence of an enemy...
It is almost always easy to determine the decisive point of a field of battle, but not so with the decisive moment; and it is precisely here that genius and experience are everything, and mere theory of little value.
I appreciate thoroughly the difference between the directing principles of combinations arranged in the quiet of the closet, and that special talent which is indispensable to the individual who has, amidst the noise and confusion of battle, to keep a hundred thousand men co-operating toward the attainment of a single object.
He [Napoleon] fell from the height of his greatness because he forgot that the mind and strength of man have their limits, and that the more enormous the masses which are set in motion, the more subordinate does individual genius become to the inflexible laws of nature, and the less is the control which it exercises over events.
Opportunities in war don't wait.
Fortune favors the bold.
In war, the power to recognize your chance and take it is of more use than anything else.
If courageous [a commander] gains victory by seizing opportunity without hesitation... [Shen Pao-hsu] If a general is not courageous, he will be unable to conquer doubts or create great plans.
And for this reason, the wise general in his deliberations must consider both favourable and unfavourable factors.
[Ts'ao Ts'ao] He ponders the dangers inherent in the advantages, and the advantages inherent in the danger.
By taking into account the favourable factors, he makes his plan feasible, by taking into account the unJilvourable, he may resolve the difficulties.
Those unable to understand the dangers inherent in employing troops are equally unable to understand the advantageous ways of doing so.
[A skilled commander] selects his men and they exploit the situation. [Li Ch 'uan] ... Now the valiant can fight; the cautious defend, and the wise counsel. Thus there is none whose talent is wasted.
[Tu Mu] If one trusts solely to brave generals who love fighting, this will cause trouble. If one relies solely on those who are cautious, their frightened hearts will find it difficult to control the situation.
Let us admit that boldness in war even has its own prerogatives. It must be granted a certain power over and above successful calculations involving space, time, and magnitude of forces, for whenever it is superior, it will take advantage of its opponent's weakness. In other words, it is a genuinely creative force.
Given the same amount of intelligence, timidity will do a thousand times more damage in war than audacity.
A distinguished commander without boldness is unthinkable. No man who is not born bold can play such a role, and therefore we consider this quality the first prerequisite of the great military leader.
How much of this quality [boldness] remains by the time he reaches a senior rank, after training and experience have affected and modified it, is another question.
The higher the military rank, the greater the degree to which activity is governed by the mind, by the intellect, by insight. Consequently, boldness, which is a quality of temperament, will tend to be held in check. This explains why it is so rare in the higher ranks, and why it is all the more admirable when found there.
We should not habitually prefer the course that involves the least uncertainty [i.e., Sun Tzu's preference]. That would be an enormous mistake, as our theoretical arguments will show. There are times when the utmost daring is the height of wisdom.
Whenever boldness encounters timidity, it is likely to be the winner, because timidity itself implies a loss of equilibrium. Boldness will be at a disadvantage only in an encounter with deliberate caution, which may be considered bold in its own right and is certainly just as powerful and effective; but such cases are rare.