Lessons in the Art of War: Part Two
It was late afternoon by the beach. The waves lapped lazily at the shore, soaking up sunlight. The seas were calm and the skies clear. Peace reigned supreme.
But further inland, a fierce battle had unfolded for hours. Two dancers and five musicians fought a kite-eating tree and lost. Repeatedly. The enemy had even taken three allies hostage: a noble Frisbee, a plucky tennis ball, and a loyal water bottle. Morale was low.
Here, the wind was but a whisper, and the heat was intense. Four orchestra members threw sticks and stones, trying to dislodge their weapons. Their leader, General Yang, was perched halfway up the tree, watching the proceedings with a thoughtful eye. His sword lay nearby, untouched. There was no honor in using it against an unarmed foe. That, and the sword was too short to reach anything anyways.
Prospects were grim. It looked like a losing battle. Maybe...
“Maybe we should just give up,” I said.
General Yang was firm.
“We’re getting that kite back.” And the other stuff too, his silence seemed to add.
I turned towards his troops. Surely they understood? At this rate, we risked losing everything. What would the tree take next? Socks? Sandals? Souls?
Everything they threw came right back at them, sometimes with added ammunition. Nevertheless, they persevered, even grabbing at branches with their bare hands to try and shake the stuff loose.
And then I realized: it wasn’t obstinacy. Their honor was at stake. Even when things looked bleak, they refused to give up.
Maybe hard work did the trick. Or the tide decided to turn in our favor. In any case, the combination of throwing, jumping, and shaking finally succeeded in knocking loose first our Frisbee, then our tennis ball.
There was much rejoicing.
Taking advantage of the win, General Yang switched tactics. If our weapons were useless against the enemy’s superior defenses, then we would fight fire with fire.
“Let’s get a branch,” he said. “We’ll use it to hook the kite and bring it down.”
“We tried that already,” said another. “Even if you climb the tree, the kite’s too far up.”
“We just need a bigger branch,” General Yang replied. “I’ll climb higher, too.”
His men exchanged glances.
“We…won’t know how to get you back down,” one said.
The general paused to consider this. For five seconds.
“Yeah, I don’t know how I’m getting down, either,” he admitted, but started climbing anyways.
Following his lead, the troops went to hunt for a branch amidst the debris. They settled on a monstrous, claw-like candidate at least five feet long. It took two pairs of hands to pass it to the general.
Moments later, he gave it back.
“No, this is too big. Break off the extra branches. I just want one stick.”
Crunch. Snap. Crackcrackcrrrrack!
They did as he requested.
Stick in hand, General Yang pulled himself to full height. His four companions stood circling the tree like a safety net. All eyes watched the stick as it prodded past layers of foliage.
Higher… and higher…
The stick stopped short of the kite. General Yang calculated the remaining distance. He shifted his weight, testing his balance, before taking a step further up the tree.
“Whoa whoa whoa—!”
“Watch the tree limb, man! Don’t make it snap!”
“It’s not worth the risk—”
There was a collective uproar, but General Yang was beyond us now. He reached up...
…and brushed against something with two green tails.
The kite, of course. We all fell silent. I strained to see how the stick was doing.
Poke. Poke. Miss. Poke. Miss. Miss.
“Just a little more…” I thought.
Poke. Miss. Poke. Miss. Miss. Mis—no wait, the kite was moving. He’d managed to hook it at last.
General Yang eased the stick through a leafy maze until he was holding the kite in his own hands. Then, using parts of the tree as ballast, he worked his way down to safer heights.
We expected him to jump off, but he stayed in the tree.
“Hey,” he said. “Somebody get a camera. I want to take a picture.” To remember a hard-won battle.
“So there are five ways of knowing who will win. Those who know when to fight and when not to fight are victorious. Those who discern when to use many or few troops are victorious. Those whose upper and lower ranks have the same desire are victorious.”
~Sun Tzu, The Art of War
May 21, 2012