It has been 78 years since World War II. Yet the call for no more wars thunders louder, especially after the Hamas-Israel war broke out. The Russian invasion of Ukraine pushed the conflict between democracy and autocracy wide open. War in the Middle East has torn open old wounds of justice for Palestine. Some analysts fear that an implosion on the Korean Peninsula could be next, followed by a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
A power hungry leader does not care about how many lives are lost, how many families are broken or how many children are denied the chance to grow up.
Even though history has recorded the acclamations of the conquerors, those are just empty words filled with miseries and tragedies.
Modern history, in the name of national glory, security or reunification, repeats war tragedies. The battlefields are dotted with thousands of withered corpses, winners may take it all, but they are slaves of history, idiots of tradition and fools of conviction. There is no greatness without truth and goodness, and there are no winners from war. As afterward, the society that is left is stagnated and filled with backwardness and sorrow.
Worse, the desire for unconstrained power often leads dictators to unimaginable cruelty. More than a thousand years ago, the last Emperor Li (李後主) of the Southern Tang Dynasty was poisoned to death even after he had no longer been a threat to the Song Dynasty, simply because he expressed his misery in his famous poem: “Unbearable to reflect over the motherland in the bright moonlight.”
Modern-day dictators murder not only their subordinates deemed threats to their absolute power, but also those who are simply symbols of opposing values or policies. That is exactly the conspiracy theory behind the recent death of former Chinese premier Li Keqiang (李克強). While Li was the second most powerful man during his reign, he had been “nakedly-retired.” Given that Li’s body was quickly cremated without a trustworthy autopsy report, it hardly supports the official claim of an accidental death. If he was poisoned by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), it would show that the Chinese political system has not progressed an inch in 1,000 years.
“Benevolent government” has always been the highest ideal of traditional Chinese politics. Song Renzong (宋仁宗), the longest-ruling Song Dynasty emperor with a 42-year reign, was respectful, thrifty, benevolent and tolerant by nature. “Ren” (仁) means “benevolence.” Before Song Renzong, no emperor could take “Ren” as his posthumous title, and throughout Chinese history, only six emperors received the temple title “Renzong.”
Song Renzong issued the world’s first paper money, commanded a vibrant economy, flourishing culture and sciences, and retained the most famous and talented scholars and officials in Chinese history. To him, the most important things were the stability of the country, the peace of the world and the happiness of the people.
In foreign policy, he negotiated an almost half-century of peace with the Xia to the west, and maintained a peace treaty with the Liao Kingdom to the north. To the east, Goguryeo regularly paid annual tribute to the Song Dynasty. However, one year he failed to do so. Instead of sending troops to demand tribute, Renzong recognized that Goguryeo “is a small country with an impoverished economy,” so he not only exempted Goguryeo from paying tribute for three years, but also shipped food to help relieve their famine.
Renzong was so considerate that he naturally won love. When he passed away, people mourned throughout the country. After the obituary of Renzong’s death was sent to the Liao Kingdom, “people cried regardless of the distance.” The King of Goguryeo held the hand of the Song envoy and cried bitterly: “No war disturbed us for many years, the emperor is so merciful!”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks defined Judaism vividly: “Judaism was the first religion in history to place love at the heart of the spiritual life: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might. Love your neighbor. Love the stranger.”
He pointed out that this gave the Jewish people the courage to rebuild the state of Israel.
Song Renzong famously said: “A favor of an inch must be repaid with a favor of a foot.” That is how he commanded the greatest respect from friends and foes alike.
As Mahatma Gandhi said: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Military operations can never be a good solution for any conflict.
We must learn from history, or we are not learning at all.
James J. Y. Hsu is a retired professor of theoretical physics.
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