Pepper Lim studied this ancient war manual under his uncle Prof Dr Ong Hean-Tatt, one of Malaysia’s foremost experts on Sun Tzu’s Art of War. In a letter to his daughter, he offers his take and analysis of our country’s current political situation and how it lines up with the Art of War.

Dear Paprika,

Today, I thought I would try my hand at applying Sun Tzu’s Art of War to the current political situation. Raja Petra often refers to passages from Sun Tzu in his articles and I think there are many parallels between what is happening politically and Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

Pek Kong Ong Hean-Tatt who taught me all I know about Sun Tzu would probably laugh at how I read and interpret the Art of War on Najib, Anwar, BN and Pakatan but here goes.

All warfare is based on deception. 1:18

This is one of the fundamentals keys from Sun Tzu about warfare. Warfare is all about lying, faking and deceiving. An honestly truthful person cannot win wars. You have to make your enemy believe your lies. In this respect, BN is the winner. There are numerous cases of fraud, cheating, manipulation and lying from their side. Yet, they get away with it almost all the time. Their control of the mainstream media is complete. Even the Prime Minister has been caught blatantly lying to the Dewan Rakyat about the existence of his wife’s division within his ministry. The latest scandal is RM40 million of cash linked to Sabah’s Chief Minister Musa Aman.

Anwar has also lied; in 2008, he told the world that he had negotiated with 30 of BNs MPs to leave the ruling coalition so Pakatan could take over the government.

Lie, lie and lie. Then, lie some more.

And, just like war, the real loser is the rakyat.

The skillful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan. Now the shuai-jan is a snake that is found in the Ch’Ung mountains. Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both.

Both sides rely on their allies heavily to aid one another. When UMNO is attacked, MCA comes out swinging for them. When DAP is attacked, PAS comes to their aid.

Recently, DAP was attacked by accusations of aspirations to convert Malaysia to a Christian state. PAS came to their defence with ceramahs and explanations.

BN has numerous allies such as Perkasa and the police, and thus has the edge against Pakatan.

Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose. 11:29

BN has engaged the costly services of PR company APCO yet there have been quite a number of public relations boo-boos. Najib has recently embraced the use of online apps such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Netizens have targeted his accounts to give him “thumbs down” and parody accounts to ridicule him.

I cannot say if Pakatan’s planning is any better; they condemn “frogs” from leaving their coalition yet they embrace frogs who leave BN to join them. By all counts, BN should have the edge here as they have the finances to pay for much needed advice.

Still, there isn’t much the best PR consultants can do when politicians talk without thinking.

It is now November 2012 and Najib has the whole country in election mood since last year yet he has not announced GE13. The rumour is he is still planning. Much planning is what he needs if he wants to win.

When an invading force crosses a river in its onward march, do not advance to meet it in mid-stream. It will be best to let half the army get across, and then deliver your attack. 9:4

You can gain the upper hand by using the river to halve your enemy’s strength. BN seems to be an expert in using this strategy. They have many allies who are deployed to trap the enemy in quagmires and sticky situations. Once caught, panic ensues with much hilarity!

Just the other day, Nurul Izzah was trapped because of a statement about freedom of religion. The next day, she tried to explain what she had meant. That led to more media spin by BN. Now, she has to explain herself further. I read that she has lodged a complaint with JAIS who is also investigating her.

Once caught with half your soldiers in mid-stream, there is nothing else to do but to fight for your life.

Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men. Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes: (1) Local spies; (2) inward spies; (3) converted spies; (4) doomed spies; (5) surviving spies. 13:6-7

Both sides seem to be filled with spies and saboteurs. However, be forewarned: only a wise and kind emperor can properly control spies.

War generals who think they have loyal spies at their disposal have met untimely defeats. Spies are almost impossible to control.

A spy offering secret information is very tempting. Both BN and Pakatan boast of knowing what the other side’s secrets are. In my view, spies are not to be trusted wholesale.

Every leader fancies himself as being able to control spies but Sun Tzu warns:

Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying… 13:27

Only the enlightened (akin to one who has achieved nirvana) and wise leader can use and control spies. I do not see that in anyone within our country. Certainly neither BN nor Pakatan has a “wise and kind emperor” whom they can use to control spies.

Sun Tzu said: Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources of the State. The daily expenditure will amount to a thousand ounces of silver. There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways. As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their labor. 13:1

Any kind of war is exorbitantly expensive. Even with deep pockets, money will eventually run dry. Once that happens, all is lost. Soldiers who are not paid will not fight for you.

I see great truth in this as Najib has embarked on a prolonged election campaign with the decisive battle nowhere in sight. He has just announced the national budget. He seems to be spending more than he has. All this will put a great strain on the nation and the rakyat.

So many generals have lost wars in the hands of the peasants and ordinary people who were caught in the middle of a war they were fed up with.

Wars should be short and decisive.

In this case, Najib seems to be handing victory over to Pakatan, bit by bit.

Finally, I have been reading about Najib’s enemies within BN. The rumour is there is more than one person eyeing his post as prime minister. With enemies from the outside and within, Najib has too many fronts to fight at the same time. Sun Tzu has a way out for him:

…For the men of Wu and the men of Yueh are enemies; yet if they are crossing a river in the same boat and are caught by a storm, they will come to each other’s assistance just as the left hand helps the right. 11:30

Najib could breakaway from BN with his band of supporters, take over a small or dormant political party and join forces with his enemy. He might be able to negotiate one of the top posts with them. This political sleeping-with-the-enemy scenario has happened before in Penang and Sabah.

Then again, I am no politician. I am just an observer. And the sting of the tear gas I suffered at Bersih 2.0 is still fresh in my mind.

Your loving father,


Pepper is the father of two adorable children named Paprika Lim and Saffron Lim. "Dear Paprika" is a series of letters written for posterity. When Paprika is 20 years old, he will be 61. He prefers to...

5 replies on “Dear Paprika: Applying Sun Tzu’s Art of War On Najib And Anwar”

  1. Big Sun Tzu fan here growing up. Read the Asiapac series and the others in the series too. Hilarious stuff. Comics ftw.

    Oh… Had to say this. Nice.

  2. Dear Paprika,

    You do not know me and I am probably one of the people your Daddy will warn you to stay away from :)

    One thing which your Daddy may have forgotten to mention is that, besides your studies on Sun Tzu and others, it is also a great idea to save up your pocket money and buy yourself and Saffron, a Glock 18 each.

    Glocks are wonderful pieces of engineering and the man who created them, Gaston Glock, is a smart cookie just like your Daddy :)

    I am pretty sure that between your Daddy and Glock, you and Saffron will grow up to be good, strong and smart Malaysians. We need more of them :)

    Kind Regards,

    Musa_Ng – just another Internet denizen :)

  3. The translation of SunTzu 1:18 is wrong. All war is based on 'ambiguity'. Lies and deception will lose one's credibility and ultimately the war. This implied by Sun Tzu when he said that if you want to find out who will win the war, identify the person with the better justification or moral basis for the war. Therefore lies and deception will undermine one's moral standing and justification for the war.

  4. Brilliant piece!
    “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles… if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

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