Art of Academy

“The Art of War” written by Sun Tzu offers insight into the most important aspects of war. From his writing, discipline and preparation most closely connect to what the Naval Academy teaches its Midshipmen in regard to preparation for the Fleet.

Sun Tzu claims there are five fundamentals of war: the way, heaven, earth, command, and discipline. “The way” describes the relationship that each person should have with their leader; one with unwavering commitment and willingness to sacrifice. Sun Tzu explains that heaven is “the cycle of seasons” (Sun Tzu 5). By this, he means that everything happens for a reason and whatever happens is done due to a higher purpose. Earth is “life and death” (Sun Tzu 5). With war, one must be willing to die so that others may live. Command is defined with character virtues that each leader and warrior must possess. These include wisdom, integrity, compassion, courage, and severity. These values capture intellectual qualities as well as physical aspects necessary to have a competitive edge over the enemy. Lastly, discipline is the “organization and chain of command” (Sun Tzu 5). In order for a war-fighting organization to succeed, there must be a distinct line of command with warriors who listen and respect those appointed over them. 

Of the Five Fundamentals described by Sun Tzu, discipline most closely resembles what Midshipmen are taught at the Naval Academy. The Naval Academy instills the importance of chain of command. Rather than reporting to the Company Officer for every small problem, Midshipmen are taught to consult with his or her squad leader who then reports to the platoon commander and so on. This is imperative for the success of the organization because the Company Officer cannot deal with 160 Midshipmen at once. Therefore, the chain of command is used to deal with problems on a smaller level before reaching the Company Officer. Not only is this practice exercised at the Naval Academy, but it is also utilized in the Fleet. Becoming familiar with using a Chain of Command while at the Academy will allow Midshipmen to be ready to use this practice in the Fleet upon graduation.

Not only Sun Tzu’s philosophy centered around the Five Fundamentals, but he also focuses on the importance of preparation and having a plan. Sun Tzu writes, “settle on the best plan, exploit the dynamic within, develop it without, follow the advantage, and master opportunity” (Sun Tzu 6). Before going into battle, the necessary preparations have to be made. He emphasized the importance of capitalizing on opportunities. When time and efforts go into preparing for a battle, the energy in preparation has to lead to victory or else the preparation was a waste. In addition, Sun Tzu also thinks that the best attack is the one that the enemy does not see coming. He says that when deploying troops, the army should not be seen. Therefore, the enemy can not prepare and will be at a great disadvantage. This goes back to his point about the importance of preparation. If the enemy does not know troops are coming and cannot prepare adequately, the offensive force has a significant advantage. 

Just as Sun Tzu focuses on the importance of preparation, the Naval Academy emphasizes its importance as well. In order to perform well in any task, it is crucial to prepare properly. Whether it is a sports game, a test, or a parade, Midshipmen prepare. Every week there is a practice parade in order to look sharp for the parades preceding every home football game. In addition, Midshipmen meet with professors and spend countless hours preparing for academic opportunities. Lastly, most sports team practice twice per day in order to be ready to compete when the time comes. There is no doubt that the Naval Academy instills the importance of preparation into every Midshipmen.

From many of Sun Tzu’s insights in “The Art of War”, his emphasis on discipline and preparation most closely resemble the lessons that are taught to Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. Even though the document was written in the 5th century BC, lessons can still be applied to contemporary life at the Naval Academy.

— Adam Davis

Word count: 693

“The Art of War” by Sun Tzu

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