Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Nine Terrains

[I did some consulting for a business friend of mine about the 9 types of terrain listed by Sunzi, particularly focal terrain, and thought my answer might benefit a wider audience.]

Thanks for the questions. To start I looked at Ralph Sawyer’s commentary accompanying his translation:

The Nine terrains analyzed in this chapter appear in two sequences with some variations. In addition, some the terms appeared previously in Chapters 8 and 10; other are new but apparently overlap with earlier configurations. This suggests that essential materials have been lost, the text has been corrupted, or the concepts were in a state of flux and not yet rigidly defined. 

 Dispersive: Following Giles and Griffith [other translations], who use the appropriate term “dispersive.” The commenters generally understand dispersive as referring to the tendency of the men, while fighting within their native state, to be thinking of their homes and families and to be inclined to return there. Consequently, they are neither unified nor aroused to a fighting spirit. Note that later in the chapter the commander must unify their will on dispersive terrain (before invading enemy territory), and Sunzi also advises against engaging on dispersive terrain. This was perhaps a strategy designed to vitiate an invader’s strength before engaging him in battle.

Light: Apparently, the soldiers still do not regard the enterprise too seriously and continue to think about home and family. Because it remains relatively easy to withdraw but dangerous to forge ahead, it is termed “light terrain.”

Contentious Terrain:  This is ground for which one contends, therefore “contentious” terrain. (Giles also translates as “contentious,” Griffith as “key ground,” and it is unquestionably a strategic point.)  The configurations of terrain previous warned against in the last chapter are probably prime objectives under this category of their great tactical potential if they can be seized and exploited. 

Traversable terrain: In chapter 10 this is termed “accessible” terrain. Army movement is unhampered. 

Focal: Following Griffith’s apt term, “focal.”  Presumable this is territory in which major highways intersect and is accessible to major powers on various sides. Its occupation is the key to controlling vast territory…The character literally means, “terrain where the highways intersect.”   

Heavy: Griffith translates as “serious.” This term contrats with “light terrain,” the severity of their situation now being clearly apparent to the soldiers. Their minds are unified, their courage united. Chu Chun sees the critical element as the cessation of food supplies, with the soldiers suddenly having to forage and plunder to sustain themselves, as stately slightly later in the chapter. This weighs heavily on them.

Entrapping: This seems to also encompass Heavens Pit and Heaven’s Net. The term is first discussed in Chapter 8.

Encircled Terrain: “Constricted” is the same term as that used for one of the configurations in chapter 10. (It can also mean a “gorge.”) The term for “encircled” can also be translated as “besieged” in other contexts and clearly carries such implications. The emphasis here is on the necessity to pass through a narrow opening or along a narrow passage, which constrains the flow of men and material and thereby makes them vulnerable to being surrounded and attacked by even a small force.  [See the Chinese success against the Japanese army at Pingxingguang Pass, September 1937, for a good example.]

Fatal: Sunzi consistently advocates exploiting “ground of death” because when troops are deployed on it, the situation forces them to fight valiantly. The commentators think it would be terrain with the solid obstacles to the front, such as mountains, and water to the rear, preventing a withdrawal.[1]      

Focal Terrain:

For an example of focal terrain we might look at Moroni 9:16:

And again, my son, there are many widows and their daughters who remain in Sherrizah; and that part of the provisions which the Lamanites did not carry away, behold, the army of Zenephi has carried away, and left them to wander whithersoever they can for food; and many old women do faint by the way and die.

Strategically this implies that the Nephites were pressed on several fronts. All the armies were close to the tower of Sherrizah, but Mormon could not reach it. So the Lamanite army likely occupied what is called the central position. This allowed the Lamanites to shift and mass their forces between the army of Mormon and that of Zenephi as necessary. While the Nephites armies would each have to attack on their own. Since Zenephi is not following the orders of Mormon it is unlikely that would work together, even if they could coordinate an attack with a Lamanite army between them.  Napoleons early campaigns in Italy, and Stonewall Jackson at the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic used this to maneuver to great effect.[2]  Jackson was being chased by two separate armies closing in on the North and South. So he delayed one and fought the other. After his victory he then turned and defeated the other army.  The combined armies could have crushed Jackson if they coordinated properly, but Jackson was able to out maneuver them and defeat each in turn. 

The Chinese held focal terrain during WWII at the battles of Wuhan (1938) and Hengyang (1944). Both were pivotal rail junctions, the former had a large concentration of factories and the fleeing national government, the latter housed important American air bases and was the junction of several important rail lines in southern China.  The first battle featured Chinese forces defending a central position with Japanese armies maneuvering and defeating Chinese forces from the North, South, and East. Chinese forces eventually fled West to Chongqing.

Wang Qisheng, Professor of History at Peking, wrote: During the battle of Hengyang, Chiang Kai-Shek sent Bai Chongxi, the vice chief of staff, to Guilin with the task of coordinating the defense of the city…. Bai held to a different strategic view than Xu Yongchang [leading Nationalist commander], but he also disagreed with Xue Yue’s [a local commander] operational plans. Unsurprisingly, conflicting order confused local combat units, and the Chinese forces were hamstrung by a lack of coordination. 

A further problem was the lack of communication between frontline commanders.  The Tenth Army defended [the focal terrain] of Hengyang for more than forty days. If reinforcements had coordinated their operations with the Tenth Army inside the city, the defense of Hengyang might have been more effective. When the Tenth Army tried to force its way out of the city, units outside offered no support. When units outside attacked the enemy, the Tenth Army merely adopted a defensive position. The lack of coordination meant that the Japanese could defeat the defenders piecemeal. [3]  

This is good example of the need for unity in command, and coordination of forces when occupying a central, or focal position. 

Fatal Terrain:

From my chapter on military philosophy in Ender’s Game,[4] many Chinese commanders would deliberately place their armies with their backs to a river or mountain, to prevent fleeing; Sunzi called these kinds of decisions the use of “fatal terrain.” Of the soldiers, he said “Throw them into a place from which there is nowhere to go, and they will die rather than flee. When they are facing death, how could one not obtain the utmost strength from the officers and men?”[5] At the beginning of Ender’s training, Graff was asked if he “enjoyed breaking” students. He replied that he did, but only when they “put the pieces back afterward, and are better for it.”[6] The modern slogan “sink or swim” nicely captures this concept. In a military context, a commander would deliberately place his troops in hopeless situations, with their backs to the river or in a position with no chance of escape. The fatal terrain tactic was intended to quickly stimulate the discipline and effort needed to survive the battle.

Graff used fatal terrain when he stacked the game against Ender. Faced with daily battleroom contests and twice the normal number of opponents, and students seeking to kill him on top of that, Ender had to quickly learn how to “swim.” The final product supported the thinking of both Graff and Sunzi when Ender showed himself a victorious commander. Commanding the fleet in attacking the bugger home world, Ender was thrown in the deep end, hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. But he called upon his resolve from his earlier “hopeless situations” and achieved total victory.

Another military theorist who wrote in the Seven Military Classics, Wuzi, said: The people do not take pleasure in dying, nor do they hate life, [but] if the commands and orders are clear, and the laws and regulations carefully detailed, you can make them advance. When, before [combat], rewards are made clear, and afterward punishments are made decisive, then when [the troops] issue forth they will be able to realize an advantage, and when they move they will be successful.[7]

Conclusion: So we see that focal terrain requires cooperation among different commanders and a skillful maneuvering of the armies.  Fatal terrain is used to enhance the effectiveness and moral of soldiers.  Thanks for the question, I’m happy to help and ready to add any clarification if needed.  I enjoyed putting this together, if anybody needs advice or consultation on military theory or Chinese military history I’m happy to help.

[1] Ralph Sawyer Trans. Sunzi’s Art of War, in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China (New York, Westview Press, 1993)178, 450-451.
[2] See the Battle of Cross Shields and Port Republic towards the bottom of the page.  Author, “Jackson’s Valley Campaign May 21- Jun 9 1862.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jackson%27s_Valley_Campaign_May_21_-_June_9,_1862.png
[3] Wang Qisheng, “The Battle of Hunan and the Chinese Military’s Response to Operation Ichigo” in The Battle for
China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, eds Mark Peattie, Edward Drea, and Hans Van De Ven, (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2011) 414 (403-420).
[4] Morgan Deane, “Forming the Formless: Sunzi and the Military Logic of Ender Wiggins” in Ender’s Game: The Logic Gate is Down ed by Kevin Decker, (New York, Black Well Press, 2013), 81-82 (78-88).
[5]  This is Graff’s translation of a key passage in Sunzi’s Art of War, David Graff, Medieval Chinese Warfare: 300–900 (New York: Routledge Press, 2003), 168-169.
[6] Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (New York: TOR Books, 1991), 20.
[7] Ralph Sawyer trans., The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China
(New York: Westview Press, 1993) 245.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Duck Dynasty Strategy from the Book of Mormon

[Cross posted at Wheat and Tares]

The Duck Dynasty patriarch made news recently for advocating a controversial policy in response to the group ISIS in Iraq.  He said that “in this case, you either have to convert them—which I think would be next to impossible—I’m not giving up on them, I’m just saying either convert them or kill them. One or the other.”

This had inspired the usual rants about “racist, hillbilly, redneck, white trash” from those on the left who say this is the same kind of rhetoric- covert or die- that inspires ISIS and other terrorist groups.[1] That it happened on Sean Hannity’s show has inspired connections to all sort of loony fringe figures from Cliven Bundy to Ted Nugent.  But Latter-day Saints should have noticed something rather particular about his statement.  In Helaman 6:37 it reads:
And it came to pass that the Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.
So in response to the threat of Gadianton Robbers the Lamanites hunted (and presumably killed) them, or they converted them.  To understand this strategy, and how it might apply to modern times, it is important to realize more about the Gadianton robbers than is commonly assumed. The Nephites were not a hegemonic power throughout much of the text and especially the book of Helaman.  The Nephite record keeper(s) complain about losing the chief judge position (Helaman 6:39), the people had to plead to the prophet Nephi through intermediary leaders (Helaman 11:8-9), and the prophet Nephi had to qualify his prophecies to only the lands they possessed (Helaman 7:22). The Gadianton robbers were not a band of toothless high way bandits that the term implies, but they filled the vacuum represent by Nephite weakness which resulted in competing power centers.  The complicated power struggle and struggle for legitimacy resulted in the use of delegitimizing terms such as robber, and resulted in a rather elastic application of the term.  In some cases those that were labelled robbers actually filed suits and counter suits using complicated legal maneuvering to counter label their enemies as robbers-hardly the picture that one gets from hearing the term.   In discussing the opponents of Roman historian Susan Mattern offered this insight that applies a great deal to the Gadianton robbers, “The difference between a bandit, a tribal chief, a petty king, or the leader of a rebellion could be open to interpretation; many individuals are located in more than one of these categories by the ancient sources.”[2]

This understanding of the text leads offers another interpretation of Phil Robertson’s comments.  Instead of a brutal ISIS like policy of forced conversion or death, the Lamanite’s policy is a reaction to a brutal enemy in a complicated time filled with competing power centers. The weakness of the Nephites allowed the robbers to flourish and created a chaotic situation probably not unlike that currently seen in the Middle East, and the Lamanites responded with two associated policies.[3]  Since ancient polities often combined religion and the state, this had an important and powerful political goal.   While the problem persisted throughout the books of Helaman and Nephi, the Lamanites had success in either converting or actively hunting them.

In modern times the gospel still has ability to affect politics and promote harmony.  As the Prince of Peace true conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ is the best chance for it. The Nephites had a prolonged period of tranquility after the personal ministry of Christ.[4] The modern church continues to spread the gospel and proclaim peace (D&C 98:16). Barring a conversion and when subjected to the “barbarous cruelty” (Alma 48:24) of people like ISIS, those that are subject to attacks of ISIS have a right, and given the genocide and mass accounts of sexual slavery in the region, many would say they have a responsibility, to resist and kill them.

So what might seem like a ridiculous claim from Phil Robertson captured a certain logic. Preaching the gospel and proclaiming peace is the best way to achieve a lasting peace. But when that fails the Lamanites hunted the Gadiantion robbers, the Nephites resisted “with their swords” (Alma 61:14) whatever they couldn’t resist with their words, and Phil Roberts said convert or kill.  He was less artful than the scriptures, but no less correct.

What do you think? Is it appropriate to apply the Book of Mormon to a modern problem? Why or why not?  Does this change the assumptions you make about the Book of Mormon? Does this change your opinion of Phil Robertson, or help you understand the threat posed by modern Gadianton robbers?

[1] For a typical example please see this: http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/duck-dynasty-star-phil-robertson-convert-or-kill-isis
[2] Susan Mattern, “Counterinsurgency and the Enemies of Rome,” in Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, Victor Davis Hanson eds (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 169 (163-184).
[3] It is possible that the Nephite policies themselves contributed to the rise of Gadianton Robbers. The prophet Nephi pointed to many sins committed by the Nephite people, these crimes and the likely power graps by unscrupulous politicians likely had an alienating effect.  This is the subject of a new book that revises and reexamines our understanding of the text.
[4] For more see Robert Rees, “Imagining Peace: The Example of the Nephites Following Christ’s Visit to the New World” in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives, Patrick Mason, David Pulsipher, and Richard Bushman eds, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012) 41-56.