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100 Sun Tzu's The Art of War
Fire Attack

Part 92


Sun Tzu said: There are five ways of attacking with fire. The first is to burn the enemy troops; the second is to burn their provisions and property; the third, their equipment; the fourth, their arsenals; and the fifth, their transportation lines.

To attack with fire requires some media. Materials for setting fire must always be at hand. There are suitable seasons to launch a fire attack and suitable days for starting a fire. The suitable season for a fire attack is when the weather is dry; the suitable days for setting fire are when the moon is in the position of the constellations of the Sieve, the Wall, the Wing or the Cross-bar*. For, when the moon is in those positions, strong winds will rise.


* The Sieve, the Wall, the Wing and the Cross-bar are four of twenty-eight constellations in ancient astronomy of China.

Part 93


If your employ a fire attack you must adopt appropriate military response according to different situations caused by five ways of fire attack. When a fire is set within the enemy's camp, you should coordinate your action from without in advance. When the enemy's camp is on fire and yet his soldiers remain calm, you should bide your time and do not launch an attack. When the flames reach a height, you may follow it up with an attack if you can, and do not if you cannot. When a fire can be set from outside the enemy's camp, you need not wait until it is started inside, but you should select a suitable time to set fire. If you start a fire from up-wind, never launch an attack from down-wind. The wind that continues blowing during the day is likely to subside at night.
Any army must know about the varying situations under the five ways of fire attack and keep waiting for suitable time.

So a general who uses fire to assist his attack will be sure to win; he who uses water to assist his attack only show that he is strong. Water may stop the enemy from moving forward, but cannot deprive the enemy of his impediment.

Part 94


To win a battle and capture the spoils but to fail to consolidate such achievements forebode danger. For it is a waste of time and effort. An enlightened sovereign must know how to deliberate upon this problem and a good general should carefully deal with it. If it is not advantageous, never send your troops; if it does not yield success, never uso your men; if it is not a dangerous situation, never fight a hasty battle.
A sovereign should not wage a war simply out of anger, nor should a general dispatch his troops to fight simply out of indignation. When it is favourable to you, take action; when it is unfavourable, do not act. Generally speaking, a man who is enraged will in time become happy, and he who is indignant will again become pleased, but a state that has perished can never revive, nor can a man who has died be brought back to life.

Therefore an enlightened sovereign should handle the matter of war in a prudent way, and a good general treat war with caution. This is the way that keeps the state in peace and security, and the army intact.
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