Instruments of evil

Laozi further expands the condemnation of war he made in the previous chapter with some very strong language, warning against any attempts to glorify slaughter and asking that everyone killed in a conflict, not just the fallen from the winning side, should be properly mourned.

His calls for restraint are every bit as relevant now as they were on the day he wrote them – and sadly just as honored in breech. The only difference is that the “instruments of evil” are exponentially more deadly.

「夫佳兵者,不祥之器。物或惡之,故有道者不處。君子居則貴左,用兵則貴右。兵者,不祥之器,非君子之器。不得已而用之,恬淡為上。勝而不美,而美之者,是樂殺人。夫樂殺人者,不可得志於天下。吉事尚左,凶事尚右。偏將軍居左,上將軍居右。言以喪禮處之,殺人眾多,以悲哀泣之。戰勝以喪禮處之。」
Weapons are nothing but instruments of evil.
They are hated by all creatures.
Therefore, followers of the Way only use them when they have no other choice.
In everyday life, the leader favors the left side.
At war, the leader favors the right side.
As instruments of evil,
Weapons are not tools for wise leaders.
They should only use them when they have no other alternative;
Calm restraint is preferred.
Even in victory there is no glory.
People who celebrate victory delight in slaughter.
People who delight in slaughter will not be successful leaders.
In times of joy, the left side is given precedence;
In times of grief, the right side is given precedence.
In times of war, the second-in-command stands on the left;
The commander stands on the right;
The same as when funeral takes place.
When great numbers of people are killed,
We should mourn them all with sorrow and grief.
When victorious in war,
We should observe the rites of mourning.

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