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home : features : book review May 24, 2016

8/12/2012 6:00:00 AM
Book Review: War theory: Everybody's still Sun Tzu fighting

Clark Isaacs
KDM contributor

Sun Tzu at Gettysburg: Ancient Military Wisdom in the Modern World, By Bevin Alexander; 978-0-393-34245-1; Hardcover; 304 Pages; $16.95; Publication Date: June 4, 2012; History; Published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Most of us know a little about warfare. The battles at Gettysburg, Napoleon at Waterloo, Hitler in Russia, and so on through the many centuries and how the results have shaped the world powers in relationships today. Bevin Alexander in "Sun Tzu at Gettysburg" highlights many of the maxims or theories laid down 2,400 years ago which apply to warfare in the modern era.

Written in a method that is clear, concise, and easy to follow are the descriptions of how some of the principles, if properly followed, would have changed the outcomes of many different battles. There were times in the Civil War when the South had opportunities to win strategic battles, but lost them because of inept leadership or the failure to recognize placement of troops and weaponry.

Some of the theories are very simple and obvious:

• The way to avoid what is strong is to strike what is weak.

• Attack objectives the enemy must rescue.

• Go to extreme limits to avoid war.

When the United States committed troops to the Korean conflict, General Douglas MacArthur recognized a weakness in North Korea's attack on South Korea. He exploited this by cutting off the supply line North Korea had established so that its troops were unable to fight. However, what he missed was the intervention by China and the warnings they gave since there would not be a buffer between China and its neighbor Korea. Alexander was able to point out that there should have been recognition of another maxim of Sun Tzu, "Go to extreme limits to avoid war."

In the section on World War II, Alexander makes a compelling case that we'd all be speaking German today if Hitler had followed the advice of his generals.

Bevin Alexander is an exceptional authority on history who footnotes all that he writes and describes in detail how Sun Tzu was so forward in his thinking that his theories could win today. This is a five star book that will help any student of history, young or old!

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