Reflections on Chapter 31 of the Tao Te Ching:
Weapons are not good fortune
as they instill fear.
Followers of Tao avoid them.
In ordinary life, masterful rulers
honor the feminine side –
In times of war, they honor the masculine side.
Weapons are not good fortune
and therefore are not the instruments of peace.
The wise woman does not use them.
If unavoidable, she will use them –
But peace is the best policy.
There is no delight in such victory.
There is no glory in the killing of people.
One who enjoys killing cannot expect to thrive in the world.
Happy occasions honor the left.
Sad occasions honor the right.
The second general stands on the left.
The general stands on the right.
This means that war is like a funeral.
The slaughtering of people goes against one’s heart.
Therefore victory can be treated as a ceremony of mourning.
It seems whenever there is a war on the planet and it ends, people celebrate.
What are people really celebrating in that? One would think that they are celebrating that their family members are coming home, the primary goal. Hmm… does the losing country celebrate? I was not old enough to remember the Vietnam War ending. We lost that one. It seems that when we lose a war, the people just come home – no celebration. This leads me to think that there is something in the victory of these wars that causes people to cheer. I am from the U. S., so we have certainly had plenty opportunities during my lifetime to observe this phenomenon.
I think what Lao Tzu is trying to say here is that it is a hollow victory when people are being killed. We have movies where people are being killed and it seems that, if there is a good reason and we have justified this, then that makes it OK. I wonder sometimes if violence in movies is part of some ultimate plan to numb people to violence so that we can accept the wars that are fought so senselessly around the globe. In these movies, they always give us a very good reason to really dislike the people that are being killed so that we can rationalize it somehow in our minds. I have seen a few movies where they have made it a point to emphasize the horror of actually killing someone.
In reality, killing a person changes someone.
My uncle was in Vietnam. He is dead now, but he never spoke of that time in his life. I will never know what he felt about it, but I do remember that it came up once and he was very uncomfortable discussing it so it must have been pretty bad. He was always a very peaceful and happy person. I felt very sad for him having to go through that.
I think when they train people in the military, they train them to not get emotional about killing someone. That is part of their training. They would have a very difficult time, as a soldier, if they were not trained that way. But there is something very sad in that. I think, through the media and films, we also have become desensitized to that for very similar reasons. In a war zone, if you were sensitive to death you would go insane. I think that many people have done that. They have gone insane from the experience of war. Many soldiers come back from war and are struggling with their lives. They are struggling because they have just killed lots of people. There is something to that which is just so sad and horrifying.
People justify war.
They say that it is just a necessary part of life. I don’t believe that. It’s not. We have different cultures that clearly have different ways of dealing with life, but nobody really wants to be sending their children to die. Nobody really wants someone to come and ruin their country with bombing. I was watching an Anthony Bordain show once and they were showing films of current day Cambodia and how they still have little landmines scattered all over their countryside. This was filmed about 40 years after the war itself. The landmines are still there because of the U.S. occupations in Vietnam.
This war had nothing to do with Cambodia, but still the landmines are there, killing many innocent people even 40 years later.
They showed a family whose father had lost a leg because of one of these landmines and the family was without income because he could not work. Yet, these people had invited Anthony (an American) to eat with them. They are a peaceful and forgiving people. They also showed how the people have been working, for decades, on a project to clean up the mess that we left them. And yet, still 40 years later these landmines are killing people and maiming families. That is the true effect of war.
I have been very fortunate in my own life that I have not personally dealt with these effects. The closest I ever came was in London once when the subway stations were closed because of a bomb threat. It was inconvenient, but it didn’t ruin my life. I know that there are many people on the planet who are dealing with these sorts of things on a regular basis. I am sure that it is just awful.
What really is the purpose of war?
If you really break it down, it comes back to control, power and money. How much are those things really necessary? Is it really necessary for human beings to control each other or fight over money? I think not. Perhaps I am just an idealistic flower child from the 70’s, but that is where I stand.
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