Warfare: East vs. West

In reading both the Strategemata and the Art of War excerpts, it is clear that although there is a common idea that warfare in the classical age consisted of two armies meeting in a field and going at each other until a clear victor emerged, warfare was more complicated and much more involved, both in Eastern and Western cultures. I myself have been guilty of imagining the armies of Greece and Rome both fighting in the aforementioned style, and thought little about other strategies that they may have employed in order to gain the upper hand.

Yet both the Strategemata and the Art of War share more similarities (at least in these segments) than they do differences, leading me to believe that warfare in both Eastern and Western cultures was more alike than it was different, despite the many preconceptions we in the modern West may attach to the classical world.

The Strategemata by Frontinus contains numerous examples of the necessity of concealing your plan from your enemy in order to take them by surprise and ultimately (hopefully) achieve victory on the battlefield.[1]  He praises previous leaders – even leaders of countries that opposed Rome such as Hannibal of Carthage in the Punic War – who were able to trick their opponents in order to create more favorable conditions in which to fight, and lauds the importance of well-crafted deceit to gain an ultimate advantage.[2]  Similarly, Frotinus also highlights the necessity of gauging what plans the enemy has for you in order to avoid falling into avoidable traps and retaking the advantage in battle.[3]  He lists numerous examples of this being carried out to perfection again, including both Roman and non-Roman leaders who valued the importance of foresight and used it to their advantage.[4]  Lastly, Frontinus demonstrates the importance for commanders to not insist on fighting in the same way with the same army composition at all times – that they must embrace an element of adaptability (like we saw last week in Assyrian warfare in the bronze and stone-age era) in order to give themselves the most advantages when approaching battle.  While open battle was a facet of warfare in both Greece and Rome in the classical period, it was not always simply so black and white.  Tactics, strategy, information and adaptability all played a pivotal role in the classical age, just like it did in the bronze and stone ages.

In Sun Tzu’s Art of War, similarly, Eastern battle strategy, intelligence, adaptability and stealth are also valued above pitched open battle, depending on the situation.[5]  More of a manual than a collection of examples of an overall point, the Art of War demonstrates Eastern mentality towards battle, highlighting the necessity to keep one’s enemies on their toes, attacking from where they least expect, identifying and taking advantage of weaknesses, and keeping yourself in the best possible position to achieve ultimate victory.[6]  Like the Strategemata, understanding an enemy’s plan and being able to identify both the strengths and weaknesses inherent in it is critically related to overall success or failure.  Going hand in hand with that, keeping your plans out of the hands of the enemy puts you in the best possible position to defend yourself, attack at the enemy’s weakest points and keep them from being able to counterattack you with strength.[7]

These types of strategies seem to cross hemispheric boundaries with ease, and seemed to evolve with warfare itself – in hindsight, of course it seems like common sense to place you and your forces in the best possible position while keeping your enemy at their weakest, so it’s little surprise that these examples dictating such practices and strategies survived the centuries to be passed on to us, even using intelligence, tactics and strategy similar to these examples in our modern military despite all the technological changes we have brought to light.

[1] Frontinus: The Strategemata,” Penelope.uchicago.edu, accessed January 8, 2017, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Frontinus/Strategemata/home.html.; “Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: Original, accurate, and complete translation of all 13 chapters,” Translated by the Sonshi Group, sonshi.com, 1999, accessed January 8, 2017, https://www.sonshi.com/original-the-art-of-war-translation-not-giles.html.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: Original, accurate, and complete translation of all 13 chapters: Chapter Six: Weakness and Strenght,” Translated by the Sonshi Group, sonshi.com, 1999, accessed January 8, 2017, https://www.sonshi.com/original-the-art-of-war-translation-not-giles.html.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid

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