Daodejing Chapter 31: instruments of doom

「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 instruments of doom.
Everyone hates them.
Therefore, followers of the Dao avoid them.
When residing at home, a gentleman favors the left side.
When waging a war, a gentleman favors the right side.
Weapons are instruments of doom,
Not the instruments of a gentleman.
When compelled to use them;
He should do so without relish.
Even in victory there is no glory.
Those who celebrate victory are gloating over killing others.
Those who gloat over killing others must never be allowed achieve their worldly ambitions.
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 general stands on the right;
This the same way as the mourning rites are conducted.
When great numbers of people are slaughtered,
We should mourn them all with heartfelt grief.
When victorious in war,
We should observe the occasion with the mourning rites.

Although Laozi recognized that war may be necessary in extreme circumstance, that didn’t stop him from condemning it in very strong and emotional terms – describing weapons as “instruments of doom” because they are designed to kill people and raging against those “gloating over killing others.”

To him a victory should be marked in the same way as funeral not as a cause for celebration, with everyone who fell – no matter which side they were on – being mourned with equal heartfelt grief.

Laozi’s call for restraint is every bit as relevant today as it was on the day he wrote it – and sadly just as honored in breech. The only difference is that our own “instruments of doom” are infinitely more sophisticated and deadly.

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