I would love your take on a section I am currently reading about, Sun Tzu’s description of grounds.

He says:

Place your army in deadly peril, and it will survive; plunge it into desperate straits, and it will come off in safety.

He does this, as I understand it, at just the right moment. However, this seems to disagree with his earlier counsels:

The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.

From what I understood he said to attack when there is no possibility for defense.

How do these ideas square together?

1 Answer 1


The second quotation is about when to look for and initiate a battle. His advice is not to do so until there are obvious paths to victory. Thinking about what should have been done in order to win leaves it too late.

The first quotation is about the behaviour of an army. The men will fight better when their lives are at risk, but with the possibility of saving them, than they do in training or when the situation is hopeless.

One could combine the two to say that one can expect an army to be more likely to win if it is first shown a path to victory than if it is simply told to fight with no obvious plan or hope of success.

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