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Two Cultures on War

“Assyrian War Tactics”, Global Experience. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”, Global Experience. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2002.


Both “Assyrian War Tactics” and “The Art of War” are articles focused on military conquest and tactics.  The Assyrian article goes into some detail to describe how King Ashurnasirpal put down a rebellion that had taken place in “The city of Sûru of Bît-Halupê…” (p.52)  The article seems to be in the first person as though King Ashurnasirpal was either writing it or dictating it him self.  The king talks of how the governor had been killed and been replaced by “Ahiababa, the son of a nobody.” (p.52)  To solve this problem the king decides to go to the city to crush the rebellion.  He goes into great length describing the homage that he is offered as he made his way into the city.  The people of the city came to him and begged for their lives.  King Ashurnasirpal stormed the city, crushed the rebellion, and killed all those who were a part of it.  Not only did he kill them but he also “built a pillar over against his city gate, and flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and … covered the pillar with their skins…” (p. 52) In other words, he appeared to make an example of  “The city of Sûru of Bît-Halupê…”.   After all, who ells would want to rebel if he knew that there was such a punishment waiting for him?

In “The Art of War” Sun Tzu go into depth in the way in which a military commander should wage war.  He first talks of the necessity of mastering “the five fundamental factors” (p.53) which includes moral influence, weather, terrain, command, and doctrine.  Sun Tzu claims that there in no general who has not heard of theses five fundamental doctrine and that “those that master them win; those who do not are defeated.” (p.54)  The article later goes in to proclaim that it is better to take a state intact then it is to destroy a state before taking it.  This principle also seems to apply to armies as Sun Tzu claims that it is better to take an army captive than it is to destroy an army.  Furthermore, Sun Tzu seems to take to the idea that it is better to avoid a fight and defeat the enemy in a game of tactics than it is to look for a fight solely for the purpose of fighting. 

After reading “The Art of war” one could come to the conclusion that the Chinese (well at least Sun Tzu) were a very strategic society.  Although Sun Tzu does go into great detail on how to plan a war he does not seem to take the time to mention the value of fighting well.  For example, Sunzi writes on how to analyze one strength in numbers. “When ten to the enemy’s one,”  he writes “surround him, when five time his strength, attack him….If equally matched you may engage him.” (p.54) This is all find and dandy, except that Sunzi does not mention what to do if one is engaging much better fighters.

    When comparing these two articles it is easy to come to the conclusion that the Assyrians were much more brutal than the Chinese.  As King Ashurnasirpal thinks it is important to destroy his enemy and desecrate the bodies, Sunzi thinks it more important to take an army intact.  The only time that Sun Tzu writes of harsh punishment is when it comes to secret agents sharing vital information.  In that case, the agent and every one that the agent has talked to should be put to death.  Furthermore, King Ashurnasirpal takes the time to list all of the material positions that he was able to get from people as where Sun Tzu does not mention the values of material positions at all.  This could lead one to believe that the Assyrians were much more of a materialistic society than were the Chinese.  All and all when comparing the two article one can take it in the same light as comparing an immature child and a mature adult.  The Assyrians seem to be childish and the Chinese seem to have a much more mature and thoughtful way of thinking of war.


© All words and music written and owned by Shawn Nelsen.