For as long as there have been armies, war has been used as a means of gaining power. It has been a key element in expanding empires and gaining control. The Roman empire was so successful in part due to it’s amazing army, the British were feared because of their great naval power, and in World War II the Germans waged war in an attempt to restore their power. War has always been an integral part of the power struggle between nations, and this power struggle influenced Sun Tzu to write The Art of War. His observations of successful strategies and harmful pitfalls in war not only apply to war itself, but to politics in general. His observations on the nature of war and the sources and conduits in play can be used to analyze successful war strategies and campaign strategies alike, for as with war, politics is one organization against another in an attempt to defeat the enemy and gain greater political control.
Sun Tzu acknowledged that in order for one to win a war, there are many skills and strategies one must employ. He also explores how narrative, ideas, and networks, in addition to violence can be used to ensure victory. Violence is a main component, but generals must pay great attention to strategy because “In war, numbers alone confer no advantage. Do not advance relying on sheer military power” (122). Although military power is important, Sun Tzu explains how a battle can be won as a small army through the use of strategy. In fact, the entire book is dedicated to strategy and gathering knowledge about the different aspects of war, such as terrain, maneuver, energy, and weaknesses and strengths. To Sun Tzu, the most important aspect of war is gathering knowledge and knowing more about ones army and the enemy than the enemy knows: “With many calculations, one can win; with few one cannot” (71). One of these calculations is the strength and morale of the troops. A successful general must be able to create a loyal army that is willing and ready to fight for the cause. In order to do so he must convey ideas of a victorious and righteous war through a narrative that will solidify the morals of the war and cause “the people to be in harmony with their leaders, so that they will accompany then in life unto death without fear of mortal peril” (64). The strength of an army is found in the strength to which they hold their belief that they fight for the right cause. In World War II, the narrative of oppressive Nazi’s and freedom-fighting Allies pushed countries to contribute to the war efforts. In today’s world, the narrative of senseless killing and violence due to terrorism and the threat that they may try to gain power through violence against other countries has lead many to strengthen their convictions towards the war against terror, even those with opposing political views. Another calculation is the enemies strength. Sun Tzu states that “If you wish to conduct offensive war you must know the men employed by the enemy…having assessed their qualities, you prepare appropriate measures” (148). In order to exploit the enemies weaknesses, one must create a network in order to gather information about the enemy. Sun Tzu suggests the use of secret agents, which are still in use today as informants. The more knowledge gained about the enemy, the more confident one can be that one’s strategies will succeed. For example, today, the United States is trying to gather as much information as possible on the Middle East and on ISIS in order to launch an attack that will be successful in disbanding the terrorist organization.
Many of these nonviolent war strategies, especially the creation of narrative, can be carried over to this presidential campaign, as the two opposing parties seem as though they are at war. Both sides heavily rely on having the moral interest of the citizens of the United States in their favor. Both parties want the people to be “in harmony with their leaders” and against the enemies morals so that they are sure to vote for their candidate (64). They do this by creating a narrative of their side as being righteous and the other side as being evil. In this election especially there is an emphasis on the immoral character of the other candidate. Through their networks and social media, both parties gather information on the other candidate and use it to produce an anti american picture of their opponent. Hillary Clinton and many Democrats portray Trump as the scourge of the Earth and the embodiment of everything the constitution stands against. Articles and news stories are spread about the horrendous things that he has said about women and minorities in order to create this persona of an “enemy against humanity”. In this way, Hillary creates an image for herself of an advocate freedom and equality, which are fundamental beliefs of the United States. She is tying herself to the fundamental beliefs of the United States that many hold dear in order to create a network of people who identify with this American ideal. Donald Trump employs the same tactic in portraying Hillary as a corrupt politician incapable of rising to the demands of the nation. He also calls to question her honesty by bringing up her email scandal. Sun Tzu states that “If the army is confused and suspicious, neighboring rulers will cause trouble,” and that is exactly what Trump’s success is based on (82). In creating suspicion of Hillary Clinton and by always speaking his mind, he makes himself appear more trustworthy and honest. He is able to exploit the doubts of the people in his advantage and strengthen their convictions against Clinton.
Sun Tzu also explores the characters of a general that make him unsuccessful, which can be used to project the success of the candidate just as it would be used to project the success of a war. Sun Tzu emphasizes how a general who is unprepared or uneducated about the many facets of war is doomed to fail. He states that ““If one ignorant of military matters is sent to participate in the administration of the army, then in every movement there will be disagreement and mutual frustration and the entire army will be hamstrung” (82). This can be seen in the Republican party. Donald Trump, who has very little experience in politics and can be said to be ignorant of political matters, has largely contributed to the split of the Republican party. He has confused and frustrated many other Republican officials. The fact that many respected Republican officials have come out to say they will not support him due to his lack of experience and to his disrespect for their ideals leaves the Republican party weak and divided this election season. Sun Tzu also warns that “If [a general is] quick-tempered you can make him a fool” (114). This is exactly what Hillary Clinton and the democratic party have taken advantage of. There have been many instances in which Trump has demonstrated his lack of control over his temper. For example, he has threatened to sue news companies for insulting him inadvertently threatening freedom of the press, which is a strongly held American ideal. Clinton uses his quick temper as a key point in her campaign when she asks why Americans would be willing to give nuclear codes to some one with such a short fuse. Sun Tzu states that “it is the business of a general to be serene and inscrutable, impartial and self-controlled” (136). Trump displays none of these traits, yet Clinton - even when attacked relentlessly by Trump - has remained serene and self-controlled. In this way she gains an advantage. This ability to preserve self control and to have knowledge of the position which one would hold is of the utmost importance to Sun Tzu because in having more knowledge and in appearing calm and relaxed one has the upper hand over the enemy and may cause them to act prematurely, ensuring victory.
In a political climate such as this, it is easy to draw a parallel to war. This presidential race has become so opposed in its ideas that it truly seems as though two separate countries are fighting for political control. The two sides are fighting a war of ideas, and those with the best understanding of the climate should win. Again, war shows itself to be an important factor in power and whoever wins this war will have political control and will gain the power to change this country as they see fit.