Ship, Shipmate, Self

Taking a look into Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” parallels can be drawn from it that reflect some ideas , techniques, and tactics that we are taught here at the Naval Academy. The overarching philosophy that Sun Tzu introduces, is the importance of strategy for the good of the state and the chances of success for a military. Looking deeper into the ideals we are taught here at the Academy, the very first thing they teach us, is where our loyalties should lie. 

“Ship, Shipmate, Self.”is  one of the most important sayings the Navy has as a whole, and one of the first ideals instilled in those who decide to serve for the United States Navy. This relates in many ways to Sun Tzu’s philosophy of making calculated decisions for an overall outcome of military success. Before we make any decisions here at the academy, we are taught to consider the pyramid of loyalty, and must keep in mind our motivation should always be for the good of those we serve with, and the mission we are striving to accomplish.

The most effective of these two similar principles however, is the Academy’s approach to the mission, which is to make smart decisions based off a simple philosophy to follow, where as Sun Tzu, while going into detail, may have gone too much into detail, making it hard to follow. Especially when the goal is to inspire militaries to follow the doctrine/philosophy, having something simple, and easy to remember is the most effective way to go.

“Ship, Shipmate, Self,” is also most effective, because it brings motivation, and purpose with in a military. It motivates us at the Academy, to do things for others, and to think of ourselves at the very end. The very first thing, “Ship,” is the mission we are loyal to, and buying into the mission, whatever that may be. Then, “Shipmate,” if there are conflicts that arise while trying to achieve the mission, how does it affect the person right beside you? If there’s anything you can do to fix these conflicts, even at the expense of yourself, then it must and should be done.

So, while Sun Tzu did have revolutionary ideas on making calculated decisions, its overall effectiveness has been shadowed by the ideals that the Academy, and “Big Navy,” instill in its midshipmen.

Click to access FY14%20%20Navy%20Medicine%20Strategy%20%20Final%20(2)_1.pdf

3 thoughts on “Ship, Shipmate, Self

  1. I agree with your comparisons of the similarities of the strategy in Art of War and what we are taught here. I also liked how you highlighted that in order for a strategy to be effective, it should not be endlessly complicated and the Academy as well as Big Navy has done well boiling it down to “Ship, shipmate, self.” One thing that i think may have made your article a bit stronger is the addition of a primary sources quote from “The Art of War.” Especially when you cite it as possibly too confusing or not simple enough, a quote from the book to emphasize this would have added to the paper. However, your point about both presented theories helping to differentiate between personal needs and needs of the organization as a whole strengthens your argument. I agree that Sun Tzu may have been the original thinker behind it, but it has been presented in even better ways since including by Big Navy.


  2. As a whole I felt your blog post made some very interesting comparisons between the Naval Academy and the teachings of Sun Tzu. I fundamentally agree with your connection of the mental edge needed in battle and how it is emphasized by both schools of teaching. Your idea of the hierarchy of loyalties is an extremely interesting and unique perspective I have not seen presented before. The connection between Tzu’s teachings and the specific principle taught to us in our military ethics course is very insightful and the perfect connection between ancient military teachings and modern-day naval teachings. As stated in the essay, both highlight an increased attention to the mental side of battle. This idea can be further demonstrated in the class extra credit opportunity “Operation Sacred Chicken”. As seen in the reenactment of the battle, the mental advantage can become vastly superior to any sort of physical superiority. The Carthaginian fleet had a much more thought out plan of defense than the Romans, leading to a well-positioned fleet and dominant shore defense. As a whole the lessons taught on the mental edge of war surpass generations of fighting. Whether in ancient imperial China, the height of the Roman Empire, or modern-day Naval Academy teachings, these lessons remain relevant to all who head into battle.

    -216 Words
    Matt Benedettini


  3. I agree with your post in that it the saying “Ship, Shipmate, Self” is an effective means in motivating sailors in the fleet and at the academy while simultaneously reinforcing where the mission’s priorities lie. It takes the many possibilities and considerations we must take into account when making decisions and distills them to an easy to recall mantra. I would take your argument one step further as well, in that it does what Sun Tzu should have done with his writings in The Art of War. The mantra takes the extremely lengthy and detailed regulations, instructions, and notices that we are expected to know as midshipmen and simplifies them. The many chapters of Master Sun’s book can be compared to our table of priorities, MIDREGS, and countless Commandant Instructions. However, we have several abbreviations, mantras, and saying, much like “Ship, Shipmate, Self” that help us remember them throughout our daily routines. These “tricks” to help us remember the rules make our decisive decision making much easier so that they become habitual.
    – Quin Ramos
    272 Words


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