attacking with fire – chapter 12 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 12

Attacking with Fire

There are five kinds of fire attacks:
  1. Burning personnel;
  2. Burning provisions;
  3. Burning equipment;
  4. Burning stores;
  5. Burning weapons.

Using fire attacks depends on proper conditions. Equipment for fire attacks must be available beforehand. There are appropriate seasons for using fire attacks, and appropriate days for raising fires. The appropriate season is when the weather is dry; the appropriate day is when the moon is at Chi, Pi, I, or Chen. These four days are when there are rising winds.

Generally, in fire attacks, you must respond according to the five changes of fire:
  • If the fires are set inside enemy camp, you must respond quickly outside the enemy camp;
  • If the fires are set but the enemy is calm, then wait, do not attack.
  • Let the fire reach its height, and follow up if you can, stay if you cannot;
  • If the fire attack can be set outside, without relying on the inside, set it when the time is right.
  • If the fire is set upwind, do not attack downwind.
  • If it is windy all during the day, the wind will stop at night.

The army must know the five changes of fire, to be able to calculate the appropriate days. Those who use fire to assist in attacks are intelligent, those who use water to assist in attacks are powerful. Water can be used to cut off the enemy, but cannot be used to plunder.

If one gains victory in battle and is successful in attacks, but does not exploit those achievements, it is disastrous.

This is called waste and delay.

Therefore, I say the wise general thinks about it, and the good general executes it.

If it is not advantageous, do not move; if there is no gain, do not use troops; if there is no danger, do not do battle. The ruler may not move his army out of anger; the general may not do battle out of wrath.

If it is advantageous, move; if it is not advantageous, stop. Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot exist again, the dead cannot be brought back to life.

Therefore, the enlightened ruler is prudent, the good general is cautious.

This is the Way of securing the nation, and preserving the army.


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