Sun Tz's Influence on the Japanese Imperial Navy

2nd International Symposium on Sun Tz's Art of War
October 16-19 1990 Beijin, People's Republic of China

English Translation

(This was the original paper and translated in Chinese for book and Magazine)


@@@@@@@Sun Tzu lived in China between the fifth and third century before the Christian Era. Since he wrote his fundamental gArt of War", his powerful Taoist philosophy and political thought in that work has influenced almost all oriental military and political leaders. Moreover, influential thinkers in the occidental scene now are increasingly interested in his ideas and their applications to modern situations of the world.
@@@@@@@What makes gArt of War" recommend itself to modern though is the manner in which power is continually tempered by a profound undercurrent of humanism. Sun Tz's professed aim was not to encourage warfare but to minimize and curtail it. One can see from the hierarchy of his listing of grades of martial arts that the highest ranks would follow this aims: gFor to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill".
gWhat is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy; Next best is to disrupt his alliances (Also without fighting). The next best is to attack his army. The worst policy is to attack cities (the most destructive of both sides of all possible means)".

@@@@@@@Sun Tz's gArt of War" remains a classic work. Not all its profundity is revealed early on. As one continues to study, he seems to grow wiser as the author grows wiser. For one who would be intrigued by this lasting classic, an examination of the influence of Sun Tz on the Japanese naval thought and actions in the modern eras would properly spice such an interest. In this spirit the following is written.

1 Establishing Era(1869-1920)

@@@@@@Sun Tz's gArt of War" was first introduced to the island empire in the eight century of the Christian Era(A.D) by the monk, Kibino Makibi, who visited China twice and stayed there nineteen years. Since then, gArt of War" has received the devoted attention of political and military leaders of Japan. During the Edo period(1603-1867), Yamaga Sok? was the most distinguished scholar, and his interpreta-tion was followed by two disciples. One was Yosida Shin, the other was Tokuda Suk?.By these two scholars Sun Tz's gArt of War" was introduced into the newly established Meiji army and navy(1). Yosida was the head of a small private military school, but the men he so profoundly influenced become prime movers of the Meiji Revolu-tion. Among these were Kido Takayosi, a key figure in the dismantling of feudalism, It? Hirobumi, framer of the Meiji Constitution, and Yamagata Aritomo, father of the modern Japanese Army. From Tokuda's gGden-Bugaku ? G?den art of war)," there came also a member of military leaders who later achieved high position in the Army and Navy. Among these were General Nogi Maresuke and Admiral Ttogo Heihachiro, victor of the Battle of Tsushima strait.(2)

@@@@@The Newly born Meiji army adapted their weapons and tactics first from France, and later from Germany; the navy from England. In 1888, the Naval War College was founded and Lt Commander Simamura Hayao, later Admiral, Minister of Navy, began to lecture on Western strategy and tactics on the experience of the Sino-Japanese War.

@@@@@However, strategy and tactics were not firmly established in the navy at that time.(3) Two key people that did establish new naval strategies and tactics for the Meiji Navy was Lt commander Sat Tetutar?, later Vice Admiral) and Akiyama Masayuki, later Vice Admiral). Sat focused mainly on national strategies while Akiyama focused on naval tactics and operational doctrines. Sat, sent to America and Britain, and Akiyama sent to America, learned western strategies and tactics. However, since they had a fundamental knowledge of the old Japanese art of war based on the old Chinese masters Sun Leh, Wu Tz and especially Sun Tz's gSubdue the enemy without fightingh,(4) their military strategies and tactics were fundamentally of the Chinese origin. Sat? was the most celebrated expositor of Sun Tzu and wrote the Comprehensive Translation of Sun Tz".

@@@@@@He admired that ancient times to now, Sun Tzu's gArt of War" was the best and most profound book for studying effective strategy,(5) and if you wish to study the most profound and effective art of war, you must study Sun Tz and Sun Leh.(6) In 1892, he completed Teikoku Kokub?ron: Imperial National Defense) by applying Sun Tz's Pacifism (gSubdue the enemy without fighting"). In this book, he insisted the best defense was to never let the foe land.(7) He emphasized sea defense and foresaw a maritime nation developing, while criticizing development for the continent. He insisted that Japan must not become involved in continental matters but rather use the continental power (China) as an ally against the continental menace (Russia).(8) This idea must have come from Sun Tz's thinking. Later, Teikoku-kokub?ron" became the fundamental text for naval officer while also being widely circulated amang the people. However, the Navy could not change the national strategy because most of the Japanese leaders envisioned their nation as the dominant continental power of East Asia rather than a leading maritime state.

@@@@@@Meanwhile, Akiyama was sent to America and there he learned from Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan. By also incorporating the philosophy of K?shu-Gungaku and ancient pirate tactics, he formulated the naval tactics and doctrines of the Meiji Navy. Akiyama participated in the Battle of Tushima as an operational staff of Admiral Togo's Combined Fleet and it is said that the famous tactics applied in the Battle of Tushima, the gT"-Tactics was an application of the gKuruma -Gakari (Rotaiting attack) tactics" of the Koushu-Gunki.(9) After the war he accomplished mainly naval tactical and operational doctrine, by his experiences. But as Akiyama also had a deep knowledge Sun Tz, he insisted that Japan was a nation of perfect virtue, so Japan must not apply western concept of genocidal war but the Japanese military doctrine must be based on Sun Tz's gsubdue the enemy without fighting".(10)

@@@@@Even though the Meiji Navy and Army concentrated their efforts on adapting western weapons and tactics, they never applied Carl von Clausewitz's theory that gWar is an act of force, and there is no logical limit to be the application of that force".(11) After the victory of the campaign of Mukden by the army and the Battle of Tushima strait by the navy, the Japanese government agreed to American intervention and attended the peace conference in Portsmouth. Thus, both military leaders and political leaders of the Meiji conducted the Russo-Japanese War based on the philosophy of Sun Tz's gArt of War", which they learned from Gden-Gugaku and Yamaga-Gungaku (Artof War).(12)

2 Inter War Period(1921-1940)
(1)General Tendency
@@@@@@@After World War U, Mahan's maxim gThe sound general principle that the enemy's fleet, if it probably can be reached, is the objectives paramount to all others; because the control of the sea, by reducing the enemy's navy, is the determining consideration in a naval war"(13) prevailed in the Imperial Navy. gConcentration", gManeuvers", gFleet Formation" were principal concern of the naval tactics. After being subjected to inferior ratios of capital ships at the Washington Conference and on auxilary ships at the London Naval Conference, ghow to contend successfully against heavy odds" dominated the Imperial Navy's strategic thinking.(14) Thus, gPreemptive" and gSurprise" attack became an integral part of the Imperial navy's strategically and tactical thinking. Then efficient utilization of submarines and torpedo squadrons (Cruisers and destroyers) were gradually emphasized.

@@@@@@@After World War T, the Imperial Navy had the third largest navy in the world and included in the gBig Three". With size came the pride and confidence to wish for the development of a unique strategy and tactic. With this end in mind, ancient masters were considered relevant to modern war and specifically, Sun Tz's gArt of War" was again reviewed to develop new strategy and tactics. In 1917, General Ochiai Toyosabur? wrote Comprehensive Sun Tz, insisting that gIt is regrettable that western thinking dominates Japan and eastern masters are neglected. We must review ancient oriental masters to develop our own strategy and tactics.(15) Navy assigned this book to the library of every ship bigger than a destroyer. Following is the list of distribution of the famous books, Mahan's Naval Strategy, Clausewitz's On War, and Sun Tz's Art of War.

@@@@@@@@@@Distribution list of books in Japanese Navy

Ship Larger
than Cruiser
Destroyer Fleet
School Land Force Regonal
HQ Liburay
Sun Tzu @@ @@ @@ @ @ @ @@ @@
Mahan @@ @@ @ @ @@ @@
Clausewitz @@ @ @ @@
@@@@@Though Clausewitz's On War and Mahan's Naval Strategy were distributed only to schools, rigional hedquaters' libraries, and squadrons' flag ships, but Sun Tz's Art of War was distributed to even destroyer. This distribution list(16) show how Japanese Imperial Navy attach much importance to the Sun Tz's gArt of War" in early 1930s.

@@@@@@Superficially, the Imperial Navy gave higher regard for Sun Tz than Clausewitz or Mahan. However, despite the veneration for Tz's gArt of War" as a classic, it was gradually considered out of date by nationalistic instructors of the Naval War College and most of the younger officers,and thus hardly worth studying in the era of mechanized weapons. therefore, under the sway of the nationalistic mood of 1930s, the Naval War College began to teach Japanese oldest combat doctrine gTosenky?".(17) Though the Japanese Navy assigned Sun Tz as a selected book to read and distributed it to every ship and facility, the Japanese Navy's understanding of Sun Tz was no better than superficial. Sun Tz was often quoted in the text and speech ?;If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles(18), or gAs water has no constant form, there are in war no constant conditions)(19) to emphasize the importance of intelligence and as a reminder of the importance for creating new strategy and tactics.

@@@@@@However gradually, Sun Tz's reasonable thinking was ignored. In the late 1930s, the gKgun (Emperor's Armed Forces)"(20) concept governed the navy, and moral and spiritual factors were emphasized. In addition, the importance of Makoto (Honesty and sincerity) concept of the fair conduct of war was attached to the kgun military concept. Thus, reasonable and logical thinking was replaced by locality, spiritual strong ness and devotion for the Emperor (country). Hence, the Imperial Navy attached more importance to the improvement of tactical skill than gFair play", spiritual factors and devotion fot the Emperor (country), thus the voice of the Chinese sage faded.

(3)Spiritual Power
@@@@@@Since the Imperial Navy to fight America, the richest country in the world, with inferior arms, they must emphasized spiritual strength, must believed spiritual strength is greater than physical strength by gSeishin Kyoiku (Spiritual Education)". The gSeishin-Kyoiku" of the soldier and sailor was based primarily upon the Emperor Meiji's Imperial Prescript,(21) which considered loyalty as the essential duty of the Japanese soldier and sailor. In addition to loyalty, so the soldier and sailor is admonished to be obedient. It is this relationship that provides the leverage for the important spiritual training of the Japanese soldier and sailor. Its aim within the army and navy was to build a religious - like devotion to the Son of Heaven. gYou, yourself, are nothing. You must give all to your Emperor". Soldier and sailor had to the commands of his officers implicitly because the officers spoke as the mouth piece of the Emperor himself.

@@@@@@They were also taught to never despise an inferior enemy or to fear a superior one but to do one's duty as a soldier or sailor as a measure of true valour. Thus, they could fight against superior forces, believing that duty was lighter than a mountain, while death was lighter than a feather.The ultra-nationalistic mode made the Emperor a gLiving God" and made Japan the gNation of God". As a living Deity, the emperor's will could not be questioned and his commands were hallowed. Consequently, the Japanese army and navy repeated hypnotically. gWe must win, for as the Gods have given us victory in the past, so will they give us victory in the future". For the Pacific War and for the sake of the Great East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, it was also said that no soldier or sailor, can be considered efficient unless the spirit of gGreat Righteousness " be strong within him.

3 Pacific War and Sun Tz
@@@@@@@The second part of this paper examines Sun Tz's influence on the Pacific War, especially the conduct of war. By Sun Tz's influence and inferior strength, Japanese naval war plan against America was a defensive one, named gAttrition Interception operation".(22) This plan was originated in 1917,(23) and formulated officialy in 1923 as the gDoctrine of the Imperial Armed Forces".(24) The operation plans which the Imperial Navy decided to adopt were to wipe out the American Fleet in the Far East at the onset of hostilities and jointly with the army to seize Luzon and Guam in order to destroyed American strong holds in the Western Pacific; and then to adopt the following operations against America.(24)

1. Dispatch submarine to the location of the American fleet, to monitor its movements, and should it set out, shadow it, keeping track of its subsequent movements, while in the meantimefs attacking it repeatedly to diminish its strength;

2. Deploy land-based naval aircraft in the South Sea Mandated Islands to attack the American fleet, once it came within range of destruction, from the air in cooperation with carrier-borne planes to further reduce the enemy's strength;

3. Carry out night attacks once the enemy fleet entered into the arena of a decisive battle, with an advanced body of cruisers and destroyers, supported by fast battleships, to deal a major blow to it;then execute, after daybreak, a decisive battle with the entire force centered around battleship units to annihilate the enemy.

@@@@@@@@Until immediately before the outbreak of World War U, the war plans of the Imperial General Headquarters and the Naval General Staff held that Japan was incapable of fighting a protracted war with America, because of the fundamental difference between the two countries in terms of military strength, resources and production capability. The historical process that brought Japan into the Pacific War includes many elements, such as the conclusion of the Tripartite Pact, Japan's fascination with Germany's overwhelming victories at the start of the war in Europe, and American pressure on Japan, particularly the cut off oil supplies. The navy's decision finally to plunge into war. However, that was mainly based on two factors. One was the so-called ggradual decline" argument, which held that if no positive action was taken that the navy would run out of fuel bit by bit and the ratio of its forces to those of America would worsen rapidly as time went on.(25) The other, perhaps more important factor, was Japan's fascination with Germany's overwhelming victories and miscalculation, overconfidence in the interception attrition strategy, which held out the prospect of victory even if the Japanese navy had smaller forces than the American Navy.

@@@@@@At an Imperial Conference in September 1940, Nagno Osami(Chief of the Naval General Staff, expressed his view of the interception attrition strategy by saying, gIt is my conviction that if we conduct interception operation in the sea area we have designated for battle, the operation of aircraft, etc. will give us victory.(26) At a Liaison Conference on November 1st of that year, he stated he had great hopes if America was planning for a short war. He was convinced the navy would strike the American forces as they approached, bringing victory to Japan.(27) Two day's later, at a Supreme War Council meeting, he voiced his convictions more strongly: gI have confidence that we have the best prospects for victory in the first stage of operations and in interception operation".(28)

@@@@@@More expansively, he claimed, gIf America approaches on the offensive, there will be a battle for the Micronesia Islands. We will fight with the advantage of interior lines, inflict great damage on the American fleet, and cause them to withdraw. If, in this fashion, we repeatedly wage advantageous battle for the islands in all places, it will be possible for us to maintain an invincible posture for a long period(29). The conviction grew that even though Japan was materially inferior, by using the interception operation it had a better than 50 percent chance of victory.(30) Such calculations made it easier for the navy to decide on war.

@@@@@@It was widely believed among the naval officers that the Japanese navy could not a conduct protracted war with America, but Japanese leaders calculated that a year or more would be needed for full American economic mobilization and that by the time that new ship reinforcements would be sent to the United States Pacific Fleet, that the Japanese defense perimeter in the western Pacific would be strong enough to deter or repel American attack. And gwe stand a chance of victory in the initial operations - the interception operation, and if the initial operations are executed properly, it will be possible to fully prepare ourselves for a long drawn-out war".(31) Japan entrusted her destiny to a leaders who did too few calculations before war and lost war, against Sun Tz's maxim that gWith many calculations, one can win; with few one cannoth.(32)

@@@@@@In addition, Japanese political and military leaders were to count on victory by Germany and, meanwhile, occupy strategic points in the south resources to prepare for a protracted war, then to ggain air and naval supremacy in the western Pacific in order to strengthen its military position; check the activities of the American fleet or force it to attack by, for example, blocking the sea lanes"; execute an interception attrition operation.(33) However, from one month before the Japanese declaration of war, the German army was suffering in Stalingrad, and on the 5th of December, the Soviet army begin on offensive operation on the Eastern front and the German army was already defeated. If Japanese politico-military leaders applied Sun Tz's maxim that gIf you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles"(34), and knowing of Germany's defeat in Stalingrad, the Japanese Navy would not have attacked Pearl Harbor. They knew neither their enemies nor themselves.

@@@@@@@After world war U, Sun Tz's Art of War was regained an importance in the Maritime Self-Defense Force Staff College (Naval War college) and National Defense Academy. An ex-instructor at the Imperial Naval War College, Admiral Tokunaga Sakae wrote Sun Tz's Truth and two Professors at the Academy, Kawano Shu, Horinokita Shigeharu wrote Preliminary Classic Sun Tz(35) and Translation of Classic Sun Tzu.(36) At the Maritime Staff College, Sun Tz's Art of War was again assigned as required reading for the student as in the Imperial Navy. But, as the Maritime Self-Defense Force officers are afraid to be involved in any kind of political activity, they neither wrote nor spoke publicly about Japan's defense policies. Their articles in Japanese military journals and their thinking generally focused only on military tactical issues.(37)

@@@@@@Thus their understanding of Sun Tz has been very superficial and limited tactical levels. It may said that their level of understanding of Sun Tz was no better than in the early 1920s. Because the Maritime Self-Defense Force was busily adapting new weapons and tactics, like the Meiji Navy. Recently, however with the increase of low density conflicts, guerilla war, terrorism and calculated restraint strategy, Sun Tz's gSubdue the enemy without fighting" is again being considered and evaluated in Japanese military thinking. Until The Second World War, Clausewitz's principles gWar is an act of force, and there is no logical limit to the application of that force." It is not gthe action of a living force upon a lifeless mass, but always the collision of two living forces." Neither side is wholly in control of its action, and each opponent dictates to the other: Consequently as they seek to outdo each other, their efforts escalate. gA clash of forces freely operating and obedient to no law but their own," eventually reaches destruction.(38)

@@@@@@This total destruction of one side by the other dominated the world, and created great destruction to the world. Now, Clausewitz's principles can not necessarily apply to this uncertain era of low density conflicts, guerilla war and restraint strategy. Now, the value of Sun Tz's admonishment to gSubdue the enemy without fighting" has increased, and his concentrated essence of wisdom on the conduct of war must become all the more important as an gArt of War (Peace) for the Twenty-First Century".

Foot Note

The following books were used for the translation of Sun Tz's maxim;Samuel B. Griffith, Sun Tz The art of War (Oxford University Press:London, 1963).
Lionel Giles, Sun Tz on the Art of War (Shanghai and London, 1910, Rept., Literature House, Ltd., Taipei, 1964).
1 Kenji Sat, Sonsi no Sis?teki kenkyu - Shutosite Nihon no TachibakarakStudy on Sun Tz from view point of Japanese thoughtl(Kazama Shob?, 1962), p.436.
2 Sat, op.cit., p.437.
3 Tokunaga Sakae, Sonshi no ShinjitsukTruth of Sun Tzul(Self -Defence Force Maritime Staff College, 1962), p14.
4 Sun Tz's Art of War, Chpter 3 Offensive Strategy.
5 Sat Tetutar?, Iyaku SonshikTranslation of Sun Tzl(Naval War College,1918), p.1.
6 Sat Tetutar?, Kaigun Senri-gakukTheory of Naval Warl(Naval War College, 1912), p.27.
7 Sat Tetutar?, Teikoku KokubronkImperial Defencel(Suik?sha, 1892), p.182.
8 Sat Tetutar?, Teikoku-Kokub?-ShironkImperial Defence from Historical Point of Viewl(Suik-Kai,1908), p.554
9 Akiyama Saneyuki Kai Ed.,Akiyama Saneyuki(Akiyama Saneyuki-Kai,1933), p.329. 10 Ibid., pp.324-325.
11 Carl von Clausewitz, Trans. Hans W.Gatzke, Principles of War(Pennsylvania: The Stockpole Company, 1960), .p.45.
12 Sat (Kenji), op.cit., p.439.
13 Alfred Thayer Mahan, Naval Strategy:Compared and Contrasted with the Principles and Practice of Military Operations on Land(Boston:Little brown, 1911), p.189.
14 Japan, Defense Agency, B?ei Kenkyusho Senshibu (National Institute for Defence Studies, hereafter NIDS) Kaigun-GunsenbikNaval Preparedness) (Asagumo Shinbunsha, 1969), vol.1, p.109.
15 Toyosabur? Ochiai, Sonsi-ReikaikComprehensive Sun Tzl(Gunji Ky?iku-Sha, 1919), p.2.
16 Imperial Naval Education Bureau Ed.,List of Selected Book for Distribution, (Imperial Navy Education Bureau, 1931), p.11, p.20.
17 T?senkyo is the oldest Japanese art of war, which was written by Ooe no Makifusa(1041-1111) in eight century. For Tsenky? refer: Nakashiba Suejun, T?senky? no KenkykStudy on T?senky?l(Miyakoshi-Taiy?do, 1944).
18 Sun Tz Art of War, Chapter 3 Offensive Strategy.
19 Ibid., Chapter 6 Weak Points and Strong.
20 For Kgun concept refer, Hillis Lory, Japan's Military Masters (Viking Press, 1943. Reprinted, Greenwood Press, 1973).
21 Emperor Meiji's Imperial Prescript as follows;
The soldier and the sailor of the Imperial Armed Force;
1. Should Consider loyalty their essential duty.
2. Should be strict in observing propriety.
3. Should esteem valour.
4. Should highly value faithfulness and righteousness.
5. Should make simplicity their aim. Refer; Lory, op.cit., pp.239-245.
22 Yoichi Hirama,gNihon-Kaigun no Taibei-Sakusen-Keikaku (Japanese Naval War Plan Against the American Navy)", Gunji Shigaku (March, 1990):350-362.
23 S?kichi Takagi, Shikan Taiheiy? Sens?kA private view of the Pacific Warl (Bungei Shunjusha, 1969), p.11.
24 Japan Defenses Agency, NIDS.ed., Hawai SakusenkThe Hawaii Operationl, Senshi S?sho Series (Asagumo-Sinbunsha, 1979), p.38.
25 Japan, Defense Agency, NIDS., Dai Honei Kaigunbu, Dai Toa Senso Kaisen no Keii kNaval Section of the Imperial General Staff. Particulars of the begining of the Great East Asia Warl, vol.2, Senshi S?sho Series (Asagumo Shinbun-sha, 1979), p.455.
27 Nihon Kokusai Seiji Gatukai, ed., Taiheiyou Senso e no Michi, Betsukan, Shiry?hen kThe Road to the Pacific War, Appendix volume, Documents sectionl (Asashi-Shimbunsha, 1988), p.512.
28 Ibit., p.554.
29 Ibid., p.557.
30 Fukudome Shigeru, Shikan Shinjuwan kogekikA Private View of the Pearl Pearl Harbour Attack)(Jiyu Ajia Sha, 1955), p.121.
31 Fukudome Shigeru, Kaigun no Hansei kReflection on Pacific Warl(Nihon Shupan Ky?dosha, 1951), pp.119-120.
32 Sun Tz Art of War, Chapter 1 Estimates.
33 Shikan Shinjuwan Kogeki, p.120.
34 Sun Tz, Art of War, Chapter 3 Attack by Stratagem.
35 Kawano Sh, Preliminary Classic Sun Tz(nkasha, 1982).
36 Shigenari Horinokita, Translation of Classic Sun Tz(National Defense Academy, 1960).
37 Yoshihisa Nakamura & Ry?ichi Tobe,gThe Imperial Japanese Army and Politics," Armed Forces and Society 14(Summer 1988):511.
38 Peter Paret,gClausewitz", Peter Paret, Makers of Modern strategy - from Machiavelli to the Nuclear War (Princeton University Press, 1986), p.179.