“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Amid this medical crisis, I am struck by the similarities to a military campaign. In war, if you could do everything, everywhere, at once to win the war you would, but that is never the case. There is never enough equipment, never enough people, and never enough time to plan for that one big thing. For this reason, wars are fought as a series of campaigns where the Nation’s limited assets can be brought to bear on the enemy with the greatest chance of success. If successful, it will lead to another campaign, and another, until in the end the General (the Army, or the Nation) is successful.
For those who study history, especially military history, this idea is obvious. Look at how the rag-tag Continental Army struggled from campaign to campaign until they were finally able to box in General Cornwallis and the British Army at Yorktown, Virginia. Or the Civil War where first Lee and Army of Virginia and then Grant and the Union Army fought a series of battles, each part of a campaign strategy. A strategy that ultimately failed for the South because at the end of the day they could not meet the industrial capability of the North.
Now we are confronted with a disease that until 6-months ago did not exist. We can speculate ad nauseum as to how it developed, or who was responsible, but those debates do little to marshal the finite assets of the nation (or the world) to confront and overcome the enemy.
Since we are agreed this virus comes from China, let’s spend a few moments thinking about the war we are in with insights from a Chinese general who put these thoughts down some 2,500 years ago.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
Right now, let’s assume we know ourselves (but that will become the real question we must answer). Clearly, we don’t yet fully understand the enemy. It is for that reason we are in a delaying campaign as we gather our resources for what will become the next offensive campaign. Think of the time after December 7, 1941, when the Japanese had decimated the Pacific Fleet, invaded the Philippines, taken over Singapore, and threatened Australia. We could do little but begin the process of rebuilding, reequipping and training the new forces. For a morale boost, we sent a small force of B-25 bombers to bomb the island of Honshu but the real efforts were behind the scenes.
Isn’t that true for us today? We are marshaling our resources, we have implemented policies intended to delay (not stop) the inevitable spread of the virus until we are better prepared to confront it head-on. Of course, there are real consequences to this strategy. First, we have a political opposition and press who have invested the last three years vilifying the chief executive and are now unable to put aside their distaste for the man for the good of the nation. They question every decision the executive branch makes and questions why everything isn’t achieved yesterday. It appears for the opposition the destruction of America is an acceptable consequence if they can destroy the man. Of course, if this had been the opposition’s position after December 7th would we have been able to recover from the losses of Pearl Harbor? I wonder.
“If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”
As we deal with this pandemic there will be defeats as we learn more and more about the enemy. The question for us as a nation is how will we deal with those defeats? The recent experiences strongly indicate the political opposition will rejoice in each and every instance as they work to achieve their selfish political end. We see this in the social media where each mistake along the way is highlighted and assigned as an individual fault of the President. For example, when two people in Arizona decided to self-medicate with a fish tank cleaner with the anti-malaria chemicals the President had mentioned on his daily update. On-line outlets like Axios were more than happy to condemn the President as if it was directly his fault. They didn’t have the time, or desire, to make sure the facts of the story actually supported their political agenda. If we can’t come together in this time of crisis the question is will we ever be capable of unity?
“If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Finally, we come to Sun Tzu’s bottom line. The fact we refuse to know ourselves as a unified people with a vision for the future suggests this campaign has only a limited chance of success and the economic future of the country for a quick and sustained recovery is questionable.