Monday, September 25, 2006

The ruler and the general

A prominent Thai female historian in a newspaper interview discussed the recent coup d’etat of her country and said the coup was not a step backward but a way forward for democracy for Thailand. While the West has condemned the coup and may have reservations about the Thai generals who led it, the coup has popular support of the people. Public opinion polls show that 86% of the Thai people approve of the move.

In her interview, the historian observed (a classic case of) the general who did not have confidence of the then ruler (the prime minister) and therefore not given the authority to coordinate the resolving of problems in the south of Thailand. The general had wanted to hold talks with the Muslim insurgents to understand their grievances while the ruler wanted to use force against them. She went on to say that if the general had been a good friend of the prime minister, the coup would not have happened.

How often have rulers missed what the ancients advised? The ruler needs to be humane and just to rule the country for his people (No, not talking about cronies and self.). And to place trust on his general to resolve conflicts and fight wars.

In case there is doubt, we turn to Sunzi for his advice. In the well known military drill of 180 concubines of King Holu of Wu, he was about to execute two of the king’s favorite concubines for flagrant indiscipline when the king beg him to spare them. Sunzi replied, ‘I have been appointed commander, and a general in the field is not bound by orders from his sovereign.’

After the execution, the remaining concubines followed the drill orders accordingly and were made ready for inspection. While King Holu had lost his desire to inspect the troops, he was convinced of Sunzi’s skill as a commander and later made him a general. In the west he defeated mighty Chu, entering its capital, Ying. In the north, he struck awe into Chi and Tsin, and Wu’s fame spread through all the states. All this was partly thanks to Sunzi. (Records of the Historian)

In Hexagram 7 Shih / The Army, the Judgment says: The army needs perseverance and a strong man. Good fortune without blame. And the Image says: In the middle of the earth is water. Thus the superior man (Junzi) increases his masses by generosity toward the people.

Without a strong man, there will be indiscipline. Without the requisite discipline, the army will be disorganized, orders given forth will not be heeded, and misfortune threatens. (Refer to the first line of Hexagram 7)

The second line says: In the midst of the army. Good fortune. No blame. The king bestows a triple decoration.

The place of the general who resolves conflicts for the country is in the midst of the army. Good fortune. The ruler in the fifth line shows his confidence in the general by bestowing awards on him. In ancient times the general shared his rewards with his army. Thus the ruler rewards his general and the army after a victory. (Refer to the Image and the top line)

If a ruler has no experience in war, he has to rely on his experienced general to defeat the enemy. If he or his war minister keeps countermanding and undermining the general’s orders because of face, cronyism, indecisions, or corruption, things will certainly go awry. Many wars down the ages have been lost because of such intervention and by the replacing of good and experienced generals who are both humane and just, with weaker ones. (Refer to the fifth line of the hexagram which depicts the ruler)

When the war has ended successfully, the ruler rewards his generals and ministers (with generosity) and in line with the theme of the entire hexagram this top line advises not to employ inferior people (Xiao Ren).

If readers go through this entry carefully, they may discern that current or recent rulers had made the same mistakes and it could explain why they cannot win decisive wars and pacify the people (of both sides). Perhaps they do not have the generosity and the breadth of character to do so? Sooner or later, such rulers could be forced out of office.

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