The Art of War in Ukraine

The Art of War in Ukraine March 2, 2022

The Art of War in Ukraine.

Let’s measure the strategy of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine against the ancient Chinese standard of the Art of War.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War was written in the 5th century BCE during a period of waring states. Counter-cultural Chinese philosophers such as Confucius and Lao Tzu imagined an epoch of peace. Students of ideas today remember the breakthrough insights of Confucianism and Taoism, because they mark an axial turn in human history. The axial age 25 centuries ago—which China shares with ancient India, Greece, and Israel—laid the foundation for the world’s great religions and even the modern world.

Ancient axial thinkers tried to cultivate a flowering warless world sprouting from peace and justice in the garden of the human soul (Peters 2017). Even so, war had become an art, a sophisticated trait of civil society.

Here is one piece of artful advice Sun Tzu offers the military strategist. “The siege of cities and butchering of towns not only ages the army and wastes resources, it also has a lot of casualties, so it is the lowest form of attack” (Tzu 2005, 38-39).

What does Russia’s siege of cities look like in Ukraine? First, surround the city with tanks to cut off escape. Second, bombard apartment buildings to kill a segment of the civilian population. This will frighten other civilians into capitulating to the Russian troops. Terrorized citizens will beg their government to surrender. Third, accept total surrender of a demolished city. Bloomberg reported that if resistance by Ukrainians continues, he may introduce public executions in captured cities.

For Russia to capture a Ukrainian city is analogous to a shoplifter who steals a bag of potato chips. The shoplifter first stomps on the bag and crushes the chips into crumbs. Then, eats the spoils. Why?

Measured against the criteria of Sun Tzu, Russia’s war is not artful. This is the “lowest from of attack.” Low enough for investigations into war crimes.

The Rule of Justice

Sun Tzu recommends post-war rule by justice. “Military and civil affairs are different, dealing with different matters. If you try to use the methods of civilian government to govern a military operation, the operation will become confused….A nation can be governed by humanity and justice, but not an army” (Tzu 2005, 50). Justice, not an army.

Do Russian power oligarchs know this? Apparently not. Rather than promise justice, they threaten expanding the war to nuclear weaponry.

Do Russian church leaders know this? Apparently not. Rather than express compassion, they blame the Ukrainians for their own destruction.

The Biden War Strategy

U.S. President Joe Biden wants Russia to back down. Biden will do anything short of placing American boots on Ukrainian ground to persuade Vladimir Putin to stop the bloodshed. His weapon: economic sanctions. Isolate Russia from international economic intercourse and technical supplies. This is a non-bloody strategy.

Sun Tzu says, “Complete victory is when the army does not fight, the city is not besieged, the destruction does not go on long, but in each case the enemy is overcome by strategy. This is called strategic siege” (Tzu 2005, 42).

According to this criterion, President Biden’s strategic siege is artful in the moment of war.

Ted Peters is a Lutheran pastor and emeritus seminary professor. He is author of Short Prayers  and The Cosmic Self. His one volume systematic theology is now in its 3rd edition, God—The World’s Future (Fortress 2015). He has undertaken a thorough examination of the sin-and-grace dialectic in two works, Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society (Eerdmans 1994) and Sin Boldly! (Fortress 2015). Watch for his forthcoming, The Voice of Public Christian Theology (ATF 2022). See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com.

Works Cited

Peters, Ted. 2017. God in Cosmic History: Where Science and Big History Meet Religion. Winona MN: Anselm Academic ISBN 978-1-59982-813-8.

Tzu, Sun. 2005. The Art of War. Boston and London: Shambala.

 

About Ted Peters
Ted Peters is a Lutheran pastor and emeritus seminary professor. He is author of Short Prayers  and The Cosmic Self. His one volume systematic theology is now in its 3rd edition, God—The World’s Future (Fortress 2015). He has undertaken a thorough examination of the sin-and-grace dialectic in two works, Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society (Eerdmans 1994) and Sin Boldly! (Fortress 2015). Watch for his forthcoming, The Voice of Public Christian Theology (ATF 2022). See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com. You can read more about the author here.

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