3.8

Chapter: Attack by Stratagem 3.8
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Translation:

It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.

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Commentary

Here are some simple rules of thumb that worked for Sun Tzu. The underlying principles are:

1. Surrounding an army requires many men and is likely to spread forces thin unless you have a serious advantage in resources.

If an army is surrounded by an overwhelming force, there is no way of escape and the only alternative to overwhelming defeat is to surrender.

2. With sufficient numbers, you can still crush an opposing force, although to do so may lose many men and so should be done with care. A way here is to use flanking and other indirect tactics.

3. With a smaller advantage, you can still use distractions and phalanxes to divide and conquer a monolithic army.

A general rule is that if you have more troops than you need in a single situation, them you can gain advantage by employing the excess troops elsewhere.