George Washington Classical Sun Tzu Strategist and Essay

This essay has a total of 2261 words and 11 pages.


George Washington Classical Sun Tzu Strategist and Master in the Art of War





The American defeat of the British during the Revolutionary War was a direct result of
George Washington’s incredible leadership and generalship which epitomized the
greatness of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”

Introduction
The key to the success of the American Revolution was the George Washington himself.
Faced with a near impossible task of defeating a tremendously powerful enemy, Washington
was required to defy the odds. So how does Washington’s accomplishment of this task
relate to Sun Tzu and his teachings of “The Art of War”? There crucial points
come to light: (1) Washington’s selection as to command the Continental Army and
inherent command capabilities, (2) Washington’s strategy for winning the war against
the Empire of Great Britain, (3) The art of maneuver that eventually lead to the critical
defeat of Cornwallis and the British at Yorktown.

Washington as a Commander
Washington’s selection to be the leader of the Continental Army was the wisest
choice that the newly formed Continental Congress could have made. Washington’s
selection as Commander of the Continental Army did more to win the Revolutionary war than
any other decision made during the conflict. His personal character epitomizes perfectly
the five traits required in a successful general: wisdom, sincerity, humanity, courage,
and strictness. (Sun Tzu p. 65) These five crucial traits will become apparent and
Washington’s strategy to win the War of Independence is elaborated on further

Washington was the embodiment of everything fine in the American character. He had no
delusions of grandeur and was second only to Benjamin Franklin as a diplomat with the
French. In caring for his troops and their families he would spend his own money to help
them. Washington brought more than just military ability and statesmanship to the
Revolution he brought character. General Washington was respected not just by the rank
and file, but also by people in all parts of the colonies. Although he did not inspire
his men to fanatical loyalty as Napoleon or Nelson, the troops under his command knew they
could count upon his valor, military judgment, and fair justice always. (Morison, p.
314-5) Everyone, from the highest gentleman in Congress to the lowest private in the
Army, could depend on George Washington’s character at all times.

Strategy to Win the War
Washington’s reevaluation of the situation after the failure in New York was the
strategy he should have adopted from the start of the war. His knowledge of war fighting
was learned by direct observation and experience. In this, he realized to win he must
more that all else, preserve the integrity of the Continental Army. “Washington
concluded that if the army could be kept alive, the Revolutionary cause would remain
alive.” (Weigley, p. 12) In gaining this insight, Washington set about on a new
course to victory in that the “Art of War” is demonstrated.

Washington first plans for a strategic defensive, thereby preserving his army. He avoids
battle whenever possible and continues to draw the British into a prolonged war of
attrition. It is this continuous maneuvering that gives Washington control of the flow of
the War. For no matter where the British Army strikes, or what city they may take, or
what battle they may win, the Continental Army under Washington’s astute leadership
perseveres.

Next Washington had to attrite or erode the British resolve. Not only take away the
British Army’s will to fight, but take away the people of England’s support
for the war as well. “For there has never been a protracted war from which a
country had benefited.” (Sun Tzu, p. 73) In drawing out the war, Washington
strategy of attrition attacks the very heart of the British strategy for a swift end to
the colonial revolt. Since the British are still at war with France, the drain on
resources abroad in the colonies weakens British strength in defense of England.
“...what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s
strategy;” (Sun Tzu, p77)

Washington avoided confrontations with the strong British Army whenever possible and only
strikes at parts of the British Army, never the entire force. By fighting and winning
small battles Washington builds credibility in the Continental Army while continuously
harassing and tiring the British Army. Through “skirmish” warfare continues
to harass and dog the British forces, especially their lines of supply and communication.
“He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.” (Sun
Tzu, p.82)

In a daring move Washington made and unorthodox winter strike against Trenton. It is here
more than anywhere else that Washington’s true courage comes to light. With the
Continental Army falling apart around him, and badly needing to restore morale and raise
recruitment, Washington boldly mounts an attack on Christmas Day 1776, crossing the
Delaware River from Valley Forge to strike Trenton. Washington defeated the Hessian
outpost and boldly reversed the momentum of the war. (2Weigley, p. 39-40)

Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton established the credibility of the
Continental Army as a force to be reckoned with and demonstrated his capability of
unconventional and unexpected actions. Washington’s leadership and generalship are
validated, the Colonies inspired by his bravery, and more importantly his strategy against
the British is proven. “...a skilled commander seeks victory from the situation and
does not demand it from his subordinates.” (Sun Tzu, p. 93) The British realize
that the war has only just begun.

The War of Maneuver
Washington now needed time to build the Continental Army to a level capable of defeating
the British in a full up battle. So began Washington’s “game of chess”
with the British. “Now war is based on deception. Move when it is advantageous and
create changes in the situation by dispersal and concentration of forces.” (Sun Tzu,
p. 106).

Since the British never knew where the Continental Army would strike, they had to garrison
several major cities that were crucial seaports.

Washington’s movements were extremely simple. By forcing the enemy to follow your
forces, you control his movements; thus, win or lose, as long as the Continental Army
still existed, the British Army would continue to pursue it. And so Washington engages in
this complex game of chess, where superiority in number of pieces is irrelevant if
checkmate cannot be achieved. Washington does a masterful job of avoiding the British
“checkmate”. “He who knows the art of the direct and indirect approach
will be victorious. Such is the art of maneuvering.” (Sun Tzu, p. 106)

Washington’s strategy came together when Cornwallis pulled out of the southern
campaign and encamped at Yorktown. Washington, recognizing that this was the moment to
strike, executed a brilliant plan to engage the British at Yorktown. In a feint towards
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