15. The general that hearkens to my counsel and acts upon it, will conquer: — let such a one be retained in command! The general that hearkens not to my counsel nor acts upon it, will suffer defeat: — let such a one be dismissed!
The form of this paragraph reminds us that Sun Tzŭ’s treatise was composed expressly for the benefit of his patron 闔閭 Ho Lü, king of the Wu State. It is not necessary, however, to understand 我 before 留之 (as some commentators do), or to take 將 as “generals under my command.”
16. While heeding the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.
Capt. Calthrop blunders amazingly over this sentence: “Wherefore, with regard to the foregoing, considering that with us lies the advantage, and the generals agreeing, we create a situation which promises victory.” Mere logic should have kept him from penning such frothy balderdash.
17. According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one’s plans.
Sun Tzŭ, a practical soldier, will have none of the “bookish theoric.” He cautions us here not to pin our faith to abstract principles; “for,” as Chang Yü puts it, “while the main laws of strategy can be stated clearly enough for the benefit of all and sundry, you must be guided by the actions of the enemy in attempting to secure a favourable position in actual warfare.” On the eve of the battle of Waterloo, Lord Uxbridge, Commanding the cavalry, went to the Duke of Wellington in order to learn what his plans and calculations were for the morrow, because, as he explained, he might suddenly find himself Commander-in—chief and would be unable to frame new plans in a critical moment. The Duke listened quietly and then said: “Who will attack the first to-morrow — I or Bonaparte?” “Bonaparte,” replied Lord Uxbridge. “Well,” continued the Duke, “Bonaparte has not given me any idea of his projects, and as my plans will depend upon his, how can you expect me to tell you what mine are?”