"Thorn bushes grow where armies have camped."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 30
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
Those who advice the ruler on the Way,
Do not want the world subdued with weapons.
Such deeds bring on retaliation.
Thorn bushes grow where armies have camped.
Battles are followed by years of famine.
Therefore, good leaders reach solutions,
And then stop.
They do not dare to rely on force.
Solutions without arrogance,
Solutions without scorn,
Solutions without pride,
Solutions without benefit,
Solutions without domination.
Things exalted then decay.
This is going against the Way.
What goes against the Way meets an early end.
We are all aware that war is the worst. Still, there are
not many years in history when the world has been free of
wars. Are there any countries that have escaped them completely?
There have been recent claims that democratic
nations have never been at war with one another. That might
be true. It makes sense. The basic principle of democracy is
that it's ruled by what the majority of the people want,
and peace is certainly on the top of that list.
Democratically governed nations are therefore very
unlikely to commence war.
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of nations
governed differently, and there the statistics are less promising.
Democracies have not avoided war, although they never
initiated them. Other countries did. History, from ancient
times to the present, tells us that we should not count on
avoiding wars in the future.
Lao Tzu comes to the same sad conclusion. There will
be wars. What he advices is to avoid them, and if they
commence anyway, to swiftly end them. It's accomplished
by remaining with that priority. Additional ambitions are
only likely to prolong the war. Victory may even turn into
defeat, if the troops are not halted or the peace is not fair.
Not victory, but a swift end to the war should be
the goal. There is a difference. The warrior who hungers for
victory will indulge in it and try to extend it. For each
victory the hunger will increase, and each new enemy will
be treated with less mercy.
The one who longs to lay down arms will not stoop
to arrogance, scorn, pride, and the like. Even in the midst
of battle, the wish for peace must be vivid.
War brings its own rhetoric. The enemy is said to be
evil, so the war is just, no matter at what cost. Hatred arises
in the pain and the fury, and it doesn't stop when the
war does. The winners want to punish their former
enemies, who become bitter and plot revenge.
That's not peace. Although the war might have
been started by the ones defeated, peace is always primarily
the responsibility of the winners. The way they handle it
decides how long it will last.
This is no news to us. We have known it for as long
as we have had wars. Still, it's easily forgotten at the end of
the next one. That may be one of the major causes for the
persistent reappearance of war. Forgive and forget, we say,
but we rarely do.
The last lines of this chapter give the impression
of changing the subject, but the victorious are often
exalted. That's the beginning of their downfall, which is
accelerated if they encourage and participate in their own exaltation.
We quickly get fed up with praising a winner who lacks
modesty. Well, even the modest idols have a hard time
keeping their fans for any length of time.
Heroes of a battle do wisely to escape, well before
the celebration becomes tiresome to those participating in it.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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