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Mozi: War, Right or Wrong

Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Mozi (Mei Ti, Micius)
War, Right or Wrong
Translated by E. H. Hou

(In the fifth and sixth centuries B. C. there were many philosophers and schools in China. Mei Ti was one of the greatest of them. At that time even Confucius could not overshadow him. His well-know “Love All” doctrine was later severely attacked by Mencius, the great follower of Confucius. Not only his philosophy, but also his literary ability, have been greatly admired by his own people. The following is a translation of one of his short essays. By his use of the title “gentlemen under the heaven,” he means the philosophers of his time. – Translator.)

Here is a man going into the garden or orchard of some one else. He steals the peaches and prunes from it. All those who hear of this will condemn him, and the authorities will arrest and fine him. Why? Because he does harm to others and benefits himself thereby.

Here is another man stealing other people’s dogs, chickens, and hogs. He is worse than the first man. Why? Because the more harm to others he does, the more wicked he is and the greater the crime is.

Here is a third who enters through his neighbor’s fences and stables, stealing the cattle and horses. He is considered worse and more heartless than the second man. Why? Because he has done more harm to his neighbor, so his crime is still greater.

Furthermore, the man who murders the innocent neighbor and gets his victim’s fur coat and sword, is worse than the third. Why? Because he has done greater harm, and so he is a more wicked man.

At this time, all the gentlemen under the heaven know that he is doing wrong, and they all condemn him.

Now, then, the greatest of these gentlemen is to attack a neighboring country. Not only does nobody see that this should be condemned, but, on the contrary, every one praises it, sanctions it, and calls it right. Does the world know the difference between right and wrong?

It is considered wrong to murder one man, and there is capital punishment for this crime. Then the crime of killing ten men is ten times as bad as that of killing one, and the punishment should be also ten times as much. The crime of murdering one hundred persons is one hundred times as bad, and the punishment should be also one hundred times as much. At this time, in this case, every gentleman under the heaven knows how to condemn it, and calls it wrong or crime.

But the greatest crime is to invade another country, killing many men. Nobody condemns it, but praises it. Because no one knows it is wrong to go to attack an other nation, they write about their glorious victory in order to let the future generations read it. If they could discover the wickedness of war, what is the pleasure of writing such a record of it?

It is just like a man who calls a little black black, and calls much black white. He cannot tell black
from white. It is bitter when little is tasted. He calls it sweet when much bitterness is tasted. So he cannot tell bitter from sweet. Little wrong is wrong; everybody condemns it. But the greatest wrong, that of attacking another country, is not only left uncondemned, but is honored and praised. It shows that the world cannot tell right from wrong. This is the way in which the so-called gentle men under the heaven teach morality and ethics.

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