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12 – ATTACK BY FIRE – The Art of War

by Stanley Bronstein on August 22, 2008

CHAPTER 12 – Attack By Fire – Part 1 of 1


Attack -To set upon in a forceful, violent, hostile, or aggressive way, with or without a weapon; begin fighting with. To begin hostilities against; start an offensive against.

Fire – A state, process, or instance of combustion in which fuel or other material is ignited and combined with oxygen, giving off light, heat, and flame. The destructive burning of a building, town, forest, etc.; conflagration.

Previous Posts On The Art of War

While each one of these posts is designed to be read separately and independently of each other, it would be useful if you read the previous posts on The Art of War, all of which can be found by clicking here, if you have not already done so.

More From Sun Tzu

In sum – there are five attacks by fire.

The first is setting fire to people.

The second is setting fire to stores.

The third is setting fire to baggage trains.

The fourth is setting fire to armories.

The fifth is setting fire in tunnels.

What Do These Quotes Mean?

Setting fire to people is the most direct approach. If you want to stop an opponent, you attack him directly.

The other 4 methods of attack are more indirect. If you do not want to attack your opponent directly, you can instead attack their supplies (stores); their methods of transporting those supplies (baggage trains); their stores of weapons (armories) and their tunnels (which are enclosed areas of hiding).

While I realize this is all put into a military context, it applies equally throughout all phases of life and work. You can attack offensively against your opponent via 2 methods.


That is the point Sun Tzu is making here.

More From Sun Tzu

If it is not advantageous, do not act.

If it is not obtainable, do not employ troops.

If it is not in danger, do not do battle.

The ruler cannot raise an army on account of wrath.

The general cannot do battle on account of rancor.



How Can This Advice Be Applied?

While The Art of War was written in a military context, the above advice applies in countless real life situations.

Do NOT destroy unless it is absolutely necessary to do.

Do NOT act out of anger.

Make sure you know what you are doing before you tear something down, for once it is destroyed, it is gone forever.

As Sun Tzu says – The dead cannot be restored to life.

Recommended Reading

Laws of Positioning #14 – Position Yourself To Be Conscious

Laws of Positioning #17 – Position Yourself To Be Constructive (not destructive)


Next, we will discuss Employing Spies, Chapter 13 in The Art of War.

Chapter 13 is the final chapter in The Art of War


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Until next time, take care. Stanley F. Bronstein
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Comment by Gary
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August 22nd, 2008 at 9:56 am

Would it not be more accurate to talk of Sun Tzu’s principles as the “Art of Peace” or would that not have as much appeal to the ego of the mind?

Comment by hbk2859
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August 25th, 2008 at 6:54 am

In order for one to win/achieve, does another have to lose? In war, there has to be a a loser in order for there to be a winner. In life and business, Is not the ultimate achievement accomplished while not damaging another?

Comment by Stanley Bronstein
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August 25th, 2008 at 9:08 am


Not at all. Read some of my other posts on The Art of War (especially the one about the Halfway Point and whether or not The Art of War is a “zero sum game.”)

I think that it is possible to win without beating your opponent into the dust.

Stanley Bronstein


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