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SUN TZU AT GETTYSBURG by Bevin Alexander


Ancient Military Wisdom in the Modern World

by Bevin Alexander

Pub Date: May 31st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-393-07813-8
Publisher: Norton

A clever, incisive look at great battles from Saratoga to the American invasion of North Korea at Inchon and their success or failure as per the principles of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Sun Tzu’s work, which appeared 2,400 years ago and has profoundly influenced Asian warfare for centuries, is full of axioms about military strategy, especially keeping a strong hand by striking the weak, and achieving success by indirect means, rather than direct. Mao Zedong apparently drew on Sun Tzu’s strategies in his effective guerrilla warfare against the Nationalists, and only then did Sun Tzu come to the attention of the West, translated by retired general Samuel B. Griffith in the 1960s. Military historian Alexander (Inside the Nazi War Machine: How Three Generals Unleashed Hitler's Blitzkrieg Upon the World, 2010, etc.) fashions an accessible narrative about the world’s most fascinating battles and how they were won or lost, according to the Chinese sage. For example, the Colonial American way of fighting the British—hiding behind trees and picking off the bright lines of stand-up mercenaries—would have won high marks from Sun Tzu. The British, however, failed to follow the most important maxims of war: Devise a practical plan to gain victory, advance into the enemy’s “vacuities” and know when to retreat. Napoleon, usually a master at striking indirectly, violated several of Sun Tzu’s maxims at Waterloo—namely, reliance on lame, sycophantic generals and waging a frontal attack into the bulwark of Wellington’s army—and was submerged. Robert E. Lee, repeatedly ignoring the Sun Tzu–like advice of Stonewall Jackson, insisted on aggressive, direct and, ultimately, disastrous assaults. Alexander also examines other famous violations of Sun Tzu’s principles, including at the Marne 1914, Stalingrad and the Allied invasion of Normandy.

A work as much fun to read as it is knowledgeable and authoritative.