Sun Tzu’s over-arching philosophy throughout Art of War is that the most knowledgeable commander will be able to lead his force to victory, even if a battle does not occur. Sun Tzu writes about how much of a battle is won before the battle even begins, because of preparations, deception, and wisdom of warfare. The Naval Academy does not educate midshipmen on how to become such a leader, but it does prepare them to seize the opportunity to become one.
The most important military skill that Sun Tzu identifies and that the Naval Academy teaches is that of discipline. Sun Tzu states that “discipline is organization, chain of command, control of expenditure” (Sun Tzu, 4). The Naval Academy teaches discipline to midshipmen first through explicit instruction, and then through practice and finally through perspective. Midshipmen learn about each factor of discipline through their professional knowledge studies and everyday life at the bottom of the chain of command.
Everyday life of a midshipman also consists of the minimum standard of exceptional organization to any other standard. Each room and desk must be clean and neat every day, and every individual must have a clear understanding of their agenda in order to cope with many extra activities that are often thrown into their schedules at the last minute, such as mandatory briefs or trainings. Along with providing discipline, the Naval Academy offers countless different experiences to help broaden the skillsets of those who participate, which also helps midshipmen to develop a talent at seizing opportunities when they are presented. Sun Tzu also recognizes opportunism and flexibility as military virtues (Ancient China , 46).
Despite good foundational skills regarding discipline and the development of strong military virtues in midshipmen, the Naval Academy does not actually do much to educate midshipmen on how to become Sun Tzu’s prodigious general. The only way to become a general capable of defeating the enemy’s strategy, the best way to win a conflict, is to have firsthand experience doing it. For example, Sun Tzu writes about one of the five main considerations of war: “the Way causes men to be of one mind with their rulers, to live or die with them, and never to waver” (Sun Tzu, 3). At the Naval Academy, many people are here for their own reasons. Such reasons include personal ambition for a promotion, the prestige of being a Naval Academy graduate, the world-class education, the stellar leadership experience, and the unique opportunities within the United States Navy and Marine Corps upon graduation. The brigade of midshipmen does not adhere to Sun Tzu’s “Way”, and so even brigade leadership will not have the opportunity to learn about how to foster such a harmony among those they are supposed to be leading.
The Naval Academy is not capable of producing the omniscient general spoken of throughout the Art of War. However, that is not a failure of the Naval Academy, but rather an acknowledgement that gaining experience through learning firsthand has no parallels. The Naval Academy does do a very effective job at instilling discipline and opportunism into its graduates, two qualities that are essential to being a good leader. The Naval Academy does not transform its midshipmen into exceptional leaders, but it does give them the stepping stones that lead down the right path.
Seth Viani 551
Sun Tzu, Art of War
Ancient China V. Art of War (Sun Tzu)