This Kural has two policy decisions. Tell not your difficulties to an untried friend. Show not softness unto your enemy. These precepts have an important place in statecraft as well as in military matters. A state cannot afford to reveal its strengths and weaknesses to strangers and states you cannot trust. At the same time an enemy is an enemy and should be treated as such. There is an element of ruthlessness in the second part of this Kural 877.

Statue of Sun Tzu in Yurihama, Tottori, in Japan
Photo : 663highland [CC BY-SA 3.0], Wikimedia Commons

        Sun Tzu the Chinese general and military philosopher who is traditionally held as belonging to 4th or 5th century BC gives cogent principles of warfare which are relevant to this day. He says your enemy should not know your plans, secrecy is of the utmost importance. The first precept of Kural 877 is in a similar vein.

Do not open your mind to a friend of the moment, maybe he is a spy.

Kural 877

        Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War under thirteen chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare. It is the most important military treatise in Asia, it exerts a heavy influence on Eastern and Western military thinking. To his credit, it should be stated that he considered war as a necessary evil in the affairs of state. He says that it should be avoided wherever possible, war is costly, it causes economic loss.

        Long drawn war is disastrous. “No Long war ever profited any country” says Sun Tzu. The Second World War (1939-1945) caused the disappearance of the British Empire. It gave rise to two superpowers, the USA and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union itself disappeared in 1990. The germ of the collapse of the Soviet Union is the ten year war it fought in Afghanistan. Today India and Pakistan are engaged in an undeclared war time will tell what its end would be.

The headings of the 13 Chapters of the Art of War are :-

(1) Detailed Assessment and Planning
(2) Waging War
(3) Strategic Attack
(4) Position of the Army
(5) The Forces that underlie the confrontation
(6) Weaknesses and Strengths
(7) Variations and Adaptability
(8) Troop movements
(9) Military manoeuvres
(10) The Terrain
(11) The Nine Battlegrounds
(12) Attacking with Fire
(13) Intelligence and Espionage

Sun Tzu’s most important precept is, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”. China follows this precept very closely. Modern China believes in a swift war if it is necessary. But its most important policy decision is to build its economic and military strength to the heights of might that causes the enemy whoever he is to lose his nerve and acknowledge China’s hegemony. Any student of China can see this trend unfolding.

Sun Tzu famously wrote “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the result of hundred battles. If you know yourself and not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy not yourself, you will succumb in every battle“.

Chapter 48 of the Kural contains precepts that have a parallel in Sun Tzu. The title of the Chapter is Power or Strength Assessment. You should know yourself and your enemy plus the strength of the allies of both yourself and your enemy. A false ally is as bad as no ally at all.

Kural 474 of this chapter says that a person who does not know his own strength courts disaster, this is a corollary of Kural 471 which speaks about multifaceted power assessment.

Kural 476 speaks about the dangers of over-reach. If you climb beyond the topmost branch of a tree you will crash to the ground.

This is applicable to every field of human endeavour including living beyond one’s means. It reiterates living within one’s income, and has a note of caution to traders, gamblers, investors and those who deal with stocks and shares.

Sun Tzu’s book stresses that war is a very serious matter and must not be commenced without proper assessment and consideration of all factors. The cost of war is very high both in lives lost and expenses incurred in the battlefield. The budget of every notable country in the world allocates a large percentage of monetary resources for the armed forces. Costly arms are bought and stocked for defensive and offensive purposes. But the same consideration is not given to the health, welfare and development of the people. The priority given to war and its preparation is a subject of condemnation, even so it is a necessary evil.

Categories: Kural

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