"One who is skilled in warfare principles subdues the enemy without doing battle, takes the enemy's walled city without attacking, and overthrows the enemy quickly, without protracted warfare. His aim must be to take All-Under-Heaven intact." Sun Tzu
So let's start with a definition of pacifist: holding the belief that war and violence are unjustifiable.
If that is the definition then Sun Tzu straight away isn't a pacifist. Although his goal is to win without fighting, he has explained in several chapters on what to do in times of battle. To Sun Tzu, war isn't the only response, not even a preferred response, but it is a cautious and begrudging option. Thus, he certainly believes that war at times is justifiable.
Yet Sun Tzu was no war monger. The overall impression of The Art of War is a guide of what to do when provoked or in danger. It isn't a book about using war for gratuitous gain. In the very first verse, Sun Tzu said, "[War] is the way to survival or to destruction," which strongly suggests a defensive objective due to an aggressive enemy.
What might confuse some Sun Tzu students is that although the objective is to defend and preserve, Sun Tzu's strategies call for the leader to be extremely proactive, to take the initiative, and be very much on the offense. To quote an old cliche -- the best defense is a good offense -- would be appropriate here. Anybody who has ever implemented this strategy, or be on the other side, would know how effective it truly is.
Epictetus, a philosopher of the highest order, states that it would be shameful that a person doesn't attack an enemy approaching. An image he gives is a bull rushing toward an attacking lion to defend his herd. The bull somehow understands his capability as well as his duty.
Likewise, for an individual, he or she must have the capability and the gumption to attack in order to defend in times of need. This doesn't happen overnight. It takes a winter's training and the confidence to take action. Those who cannot are not only incapable of harming, but also incapable of helping.
Therefore, an effective leader isn't only someone who is kind but also has the ability to protect, promote, and make things happen. Do not be like those who are only strong in good times but wither in bad times. Anybody can do that.
Leaders are strong at all times because they understand nothing stops their noble response and noble behavior, even during great hardship or abundance, when the average person would be discouraged or arrogant. Thus perhaps it would not be helpful to label anyone a pacifist or a war hawk but rather see how he or she acts in times of trouble and success.
For years I have expounded that Sun Tzu's Art of War is really the Art of Peace. They are one and the same. Why? Because conflict, disagreements, and yes, even fighting are a part of life. To be able to handle them with aplomb is what a person needs to truly practice the Art of Peace.
This is analogous to a doctor who specializes in cancer treatment. Nobody can claim he or she promotes cancer just because he or she writes about cancer. That is exactly Sun Tzu's situation when it comes to warfare.
You don't want to go to people who merely speak of peace all the time. They tend to have a habit of avoiding conflicts instead of bravely facing them and gaining the hard but beneficial experience of resolving them. Instead, you want to go to a person who has vast experience in solving real-life problems and asking him or her how he or she did it.
Practical wisdom that Sun Tzu offers takes on reality instead of only focusing on the ideal. One cannot reach the ideal without first fixing what needs fixing. It takes great courage. I believe such high level of courage originates from a high source, which interestingly enough, is present in your heart and mind since the moment you were born.
Take a look at the two ancient Chinese characters at the top of today's blog entry. They represent "Sun Tzu." You can clearly see two individuals reaching up to the heavens. The first character shows a person reaching up to the heavens holding a weapon. The second character shows a person reaching up to the heavens without a weapon. They are in war and in peace, yet both characters exude benevolence.
Now take a look at the peace symbol, ☮. It is a symbol of significant importance, an ideal that's in alignment with Sun Tzu. That's why we acquired the domain name ☮.com. Gerald Holtom, the creator of ☮, later in life wanted the symbol inverted. To him, it is a more uplifting symbol, a symbol of hope and triumph.
This is very interesting, since an inverted ☮ looks very much like the image found in the two ancient Chinese characters of Sun Tzu. Is this not a divine revelation? Perhaps.
In every matter, you can strive to seek out the divine path, because the divine path is the wisest path. It would click. It is where epiphanies come from. It is what sound strategies are made of. It is acting with great wisdom -- whether in war or in peace -- where everyone around you would all be better off because you exist in the world.