“The Art of War” is Actually a Manual on How to Avoid It

Michael Nylan in Literary Hub:

I have a confession to make: I thought it distinctly odd that Norton asked me to translate The Art of War. Perhaps I am too used to gender stereotypes, but like many women who came of age during the Vietnam War, I shy away from violence (verbal and physical) and regard myself as a near-pacifist. Unsurprisingly, I associated the Chinese Art of War with “Kill, kill, kill,” since my first awareness of the text’s existence came during the early 1970s, soon after Brigadier General Griffith introduced his translation as a way to “know thy enemy.”

By report, Ho Chi Minh, General Giap, and Mao Zedong knew The Art of War more or less by heart.  In truth, I doubt that I would have accepted Norton’s kind invitation to translate had not three graduate students (all male) persuaded me that time spent on this classic would prove rewarding.

They were right, of course. For The Art of War is a classic, not just a military classic, in the same sense that Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War is a classic, rather than a military classic. It is not only that The Art of War might as well be named The Art of Life, since it famously advises readers (originally all powerful men at court) to avoid war, by any means, if possible, on the two cogent grounds that it is far too costly a substitute for diplomacy and long-term strategies, and that the outcome is never assured, given all the variables at play.

More here.

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