Military historians have often speculated that Napoleon Bonaparte may have utilized Sun Tzu’s timeless treatise The Art of War in his victorious campaigns, losing only when he failed to follow its rules. Certainly, his often stunning mobility would indicate that perhaps he did. One thing is certain; The Art of War, written over two and a half centuries ago, had been translated into French in 1782 by the Jesuit, Father Amiot and was available to the Emperor. But if he did read and apply it, he wisely kept it to himself. Mao Tse-tung however made no secret that Sun Tzu formed the source of his copious works on military strategy, tactics and guerilla warfare and his writings follow the master almost word for word. And, clearly, the fingerprints of Sun Tzu are indelible when one examines the military defeat of France at Dien Bien Phu ending their role in Indo China, and, in what may be his shining hour, the defeat of the United States of America in Vietnam. The Art of War is probably the finest treatise on the conduct of warfare ever written. But what about its application in other fields, other endeavours?
In recent years we’ve seen a spate of books applying Sun Tzu’s rules of war to business strategy which includes most notably Mark McNeilly’s Sun Tzu and the Art of Business, David H. Li’s Art of Leadership by SunTzu and The Art of War for Executives by Donald G. Krause. And by all accounts they work very effectively. But this should be no surprise. By any measure, The Art of War can be applied and lead to victory in many battlefronts, international relations, politics, business and in our personal struggle for survival in the socio-economic conflicts we daily face. But what about love? What about the sexual battleground?
My father was a British professional soldier. He caught the tail end of the Second World War serving in the Burma campaign at Imphal and Kohema. He returned to South East Asia in 1948 for the Malayan Emergency, Britain’s victorious 12 year battle to defeat communist insurgency in what is now Malaysia. And it was there that my father came into contact with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, an encounter that altered the course of his life.
The final years of my father’s military career were spent in what he called the “backwater” of NATO, a military organism he learned to despise as an expensive tax free social club for well connected civilian and military elites. He referred to it as “America’s Foreign Legion. His experiences there led him to firmly believe that in a confrontation with the armies of the Warsaw Pact, NATO would have been swept aside like a flimsy cobweb.
Throughout his career, my father made no secret of his belief that Sun Tzu should be on the curriculums of all military colleges and even schools and universities and that military promotion should be contingent on a high passing grade in knowledge of Sun Tzu. Unfortunately, as Sun Tzu was obligatory in the political and military organisms in the Soviet Union and of course China, it was considered part of the philosophy of the Warsaw Pact, I believe my father’s open advocacy of him cost him dearly in terms of promotion.
When he retired with the rank of Colonel, he moved back to England and took up his love of fly fishing. But military history was his real passion. And he enjoyed re-visiting historic battles and applying Sun Tzu’s rules of engagement to the great battles of the past.
Visiting dad was, for me, always a pleasure in itself. But it was especially enhanced by the many delightful and lovely ladies who shared his life. My mother died when I was young, a schoolboy, and my father never re-married. Yet he had an endless coterie of lovely girlfriends. I was always puzzled since my father, while a charming and intelligent man, was no film star. Nor was he, strictly speaking, a ladies man. But he was a very successful lover. And his greatest conquest was Tam.
Tam was Eurasian, born in Saigon to a Vietnamese schoolteacher mother and a Danish diplomat father. A lawyer, Tam specialized in international law and worked in SHAPE, the headquarters of NATO’s Allied Command Operations in the Belgian town of Mons. She was employed in the civilian section of NATO and it was there that my father, working in military intelligence, met her. A woman of great beauty, very well educated and of independent means, she was also a linguist in fluent command of Danish, Vietnamese, French, German and English. When I first met her in Brussels she was working on Flemish (Dutch). At 35, she was closer to my age than my father’s and for a while I was jealous. I wondered how he was able to woo such a lovely, young woman, a speculation that was only answered after his death.
After he passed away, as his only offspring, I took on the responsibility of winding up his estate. I had known since childhood that he kept daily journals, but only after his death did I come to know how copious a diarist he had been. Fascinated, I steeped myself in the volumes of neat handwritten records that filled his library shelves. And it became clear that, for my father The Art of War was more than just a military text. For him it was about an overall life strategy for overcoming obstacles, a tool to attain specific goals. Consequently he applied it to most aspects of his life. And this included matters of the heart.
In his diaries my father wrote frankly on the methods used to win the ladies who attracted him. He was not always successful as sometimes the ladies were simply not interested, and not even Sun Tzu could overcome that. But in the cases where he had a glimmer of a chance, but where the conditions were difficult or unfavorable, the application of the Sun Tzu’s Rules won the day. This was especially true in the case of Tam.
As they moved in very different circles and worked in different areas, he saw her rarely and then usually in dry, stuffy meetings in the company of others. She had a luxurious home in Brussels in the exclusive suburb of Uccle, while dad rented a simple Mons flat. But whenever he encountered her alone as he occasionally did, such as in the office cafeteria, she offered a ready smile and he made a point of joining her. Sensing he had a chance, he moved quickly. Above all else, he needed to know everything about her. And so he used spies.
He hired an expensive, high quality and very discreet private detective agency and set them to task. And they were more than thorough. Apart from their normal surveillance they penetrated Tam’s citadel by replacing her cleaning lady for a single visit and that was enough. They handed my father everything he needed. He now knew her tastes in music, literature and art as well as her favorite foods and sports: she was an accomplished and keen sailor and sea kayaker. An accomplished pianist herself, she loved classical music and was an especially fond of Elgar as well as being a jazz buff and a Stan Getz fan. He knew where she shopped for clothes and even the brand name of her underwear. She had been married once to a Danish business man, was now divorced, and had a teenage son in school in Denmark. With photocopies of her diary in his hands, dad had her social itinerary for several months ahead. He also now knew something about the men in her life: his adversaries and how formidable they were. She had many men friends and, it appeared, four serious suitors: an American Major-General in NATO, a senior French Diplomat with the French Embassy in Brussels, a successful Belgian artist, a painter of impressive quality, some of whose works hung in her apartment. The fourth was a rich Swiss socialite. My father’s next step was to know more about them, specifically about their foibles, weak points and vulnerable areas. He was well aware of his own, particularly with reference to the ground where the contest would unfold. Sun Tzu said: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” My father would often quote the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz who said: “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act. Action will delineate and define you.” As Sun Tzu said: “All warfare is based on deception.” And so it was with father’s winning of Tam. He began laying plans.
He steeped himself and became erudite in her interests. He developed a taste for jazz and the Big Bands of the ‘forties; he learned to appreciate Miles Davis and enjoy Stan Getz. He attended a sea kayaking symposium in England and took courses in the sport. And having knowledge of Tam’s social itinerary, he was able to surprise her and appear when he was not expected; such as at music concerts. Often he would bring another lady, but just as often he would appear alone
It was at one such “surprise” encounter, a Mozart event, that he hit her for a date and she accepted for dinner and an evening of jazz in a Brussels club the following week. His foot was in the door. He was in her network. He had joined her club.
My father was entirely objective and quite pitiless in the handling of his adversaries. The French Diplomat was a handsome, charming, smooth tongued roguish character. My father found him, very likable. He was also a roué with a secret vice: a penchant for occasional sex with low class underage hookers in a rough Brussels immigrant quarter whorehouse. A police raid found him with two of them one well under age. Faced with arrest he tried bribery: it failed forcing him to use diplomatic immunity. This worked, but resulted in publicity, embarrassment and his fast recall to Paris. And, of course, the news did not pass Tam by and he was out of her life.
Shortly after the demise of the Frenchman, Tam celebrated her thirty sixth birthday. Dad gifted her a boxed set of CD’s, Stan Getz: The Bosa Nova Years – and a nice bound copy of Sun Tzu. She threw a party in the garden behind her home. According to my father it was an impressive event which included an excellent jazz trio, a great buffet prepared by Tam and superb wines. And, according to dad’s diary entry, it was there he began his campaign to dismantle and discredit the American General in Tam’s eyes. Dad engaged him on the American’s hobby horse – Vietnam. Influenced by drink the General became unpleasant and offensive to dad. Tam diplomatically suggested he apologize which he did, and he then left the party early.
My father learned that despite his high tax free salary, the General had a gambling problem and considerable debts, in consequence of which he had engaged in serious black market dealings with a Belgian group based in Liege. A Financial Police raid on a warehouse revealed the General’s connection. To save face, not to mention his pension, and because of his profile, he was allowed to resign his NATO post ahead of his time and quietly moved back to America.
It turned out the Belgian painter was no threat at all, dad discovered; he was never more than a good friend of Tam’s. My father met him, liked him and bought a small painting from him. But the Swiss playboy was another matter.
Tam and he were old lovers and dad could see why. In his early forties, Hans had everything: a friendly outgoing personality and an infectious smile, good looks, a great athletic physique – and money to burn. He’d never worked or had employment of any kind. He played fine tennis and often coached Tam with her game. But his big passion was motor racing and he drove well and with panache, winning many races. He’d wanted to be a world class professional, but lacked the required discipline and commitment. And it was at a race meeting at Spa Franco-Champs that my father met him. Tam took my father to watch Hans race a Porsche in a sports car event. Unfortunately he crashed out of the race at the complex and infamous Eau Rouge corner while in contention for the lead and ended up in hospital with broken bones and concussion.
My father had no wish to share his women and Tam was no exception. He liked Hans and wished him no ill but he needed to move him from all proximity to Tam’s bed. He was working on that when fate took a hand. Hans suddenly announced from Zurich that he was going to be married for the first time. The lady was a lovely young French fashion model of 21 years. He sent out invites to all his friends including Tam and my father. Tam declined. Instead, she sent him a card signed by her and dad.
Tam remained with my father for many years. I last saw her after his death when she came over to England for his wake. No longer young, but still impressively beautiful, she had retired to live in Denmark. She invited me to visit, but I never took the offer up. She remains to this day one of the most beautiful women I have ever known. I was given my first copy of the Art of War on my sixteenth birthday, a gift from my father. I didn’t read it then and it lay neglected on my bookshelf. Dad would often quote Sun Tzu, reminding me of such wisdom as: “If you know the enemy and know yourself you will not fear the result of a hundred battles.” He would also often quote the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz who said: “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act. Action will delineate and define you.” Father would ask me questions could not answer. This disappointed him, so to keep the peace I got down to it and studied Sun Tzu. And I’m glad I did; what a wonderful it is. It certainly helped me in life.
Did The Art of War work for me in romantic endeavor? Well, yes it did. Following my father’s lead, and being already well aware of its potency in overcoming conflict and achieving victory, using The Art of War as a tool in developing romantic relationships came natural to me. Using the 13 Rules of Engagement to win on the sexual battlefront was remarkably easy. I have also come to believe it has been used this way by many other people. And not just by men. I believe that the great diva, Pamela Harriman, probably the 20th century’s most prominent courtesan used Sun Tzu in her many conquests. I once read an article on her and the writer mentioned seeing The Art of War on her book shelf. And reading of her exploits suggests she applied deception in her strategic and tactical drive to get the men she wanted. But if she did use him, like most people who utilize SunTzu, she took the secret to her grave.
There is no question that the Art of War provides us with powerful tools that can be applied to deal with conflict and difficulties in business or personal objectives. In sexual relationships, for men and women both, it excels no less.