The Comments of Lao Tzu on the Iraq War
I believe that the difficulties we are facing with the current Iraq conflict were predicted 2500 years ago by the enigmatic Lao Tzu in his Tao Te Ching. For instance, in the following excerpt he explains why you can’t force your world views on other people:
Those who lead people by following the Tao
don’t use weapons to enforce their will.
Violence, even well intentioned, will rebound upon oneself.
Those who resort to violence
will never bring peace to the world.
The moral man does many things, and when no one responds, he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.
When the desire for power is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral, and you lay the groundwork for vice.
If you give evil nothing to oppose,
then virtue will return by itself.
If a nation is centered in the Tao, if it nourishes its own people and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others, it will be a light to all nations in the world.
Govern your country with integrity,
Weapons of war can be used with great cunning,
but loyalty is only won by not-doing.
Lao Tzu also cautions against the doctrine of pre-emptive defense (i.e. ‘fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here’) put forth by the Bush administration:
There is no greater illusion than fear,
No greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
No greater misfortune than having an enemy.
Whoever can see through all fear will always be safe.
Lao Tzu also warns against underestimating your enemy:
There is no greater disaster
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking he is evil.
Do this and you become he enemy.
When an affirmation is given too lightly,
keep your eyes open for trouble ahead.
When something seems too easy,
difficulty is hiding in the details.
The master expects great difficulty,
so the task is always easier than planned.
If you rush into action, you will fail.
If you hold on too tight, you will loose your grip.
Finally, Lao Tzu explains that the greater a country is, the greater its need for humility:
The more powerful a country grows, the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao, thus never needing to be defensive.
A large country should be like the sea, which from its low position receives all the smaller countries.
If a large country takes the low position,
it will be able to influence smaller countries.
A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults to be his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts.
The United States is a great country, but we have made the mistakes trying to force our world view in a part of the world not ready or unwilling to hear it, of letting fear dictate our actions, of underestimating our enemy, and of failing to demonstrate the requisite humility of a great country. Having made these mistakes, we must admit them. Having admitted them, we must correct them. This I believe.
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