1. He who would assist a lord of men in harmony with the Dào will not assert his mastery in the kingdom by force of arms. Such a course is sure to meet with its proper return.
2. Wherever a host is stationed, briars and thorns spring up. In the sequence of great armies there are sure to be bad years.
3. A skilful (commander) strikes a decisive blow, and stops. He does not dare (by continuing his operations) to assert and complete his mastery. He will strike the blow, but will be on his guard against being vain or boastful or arrogant in consequence of it. He strikes it as a matter of necessity; he strikes it, but not from a wish for mastery.
4. When things have attained their strong maturity they become old. This may be said to be not in accordance with the Dào: and what is not in accordance with it soon comes to an end.
儉武, 'A Caveat against War.' War is contrary to the spirit of the Dào, and, as being so, is productive of misery, and leads to early ruin. It is only permissible in a case of necessity, and even then its spirit and tendencies must be guarded against.
In translating 果 by 'striking a decisive blow,' I have, no doubt, followed Julien's 'frapper un coup décisif.'1 The same 果 occurs six times in par. 3, followed by 而, and Jiāo Hóng says that in all but the first instance the 而 should be taken as equivalent to 於, so that we should have to translate, 'He is determined against being vain,' &c. But there is no necessity for such a construction of 而.
'Weakness' and not 'strength' is the character of the Dào; hence the lesson in par. 4.
From A History of Chinese Political Thought2
2. Where armies have been stationed, thorns and brambles grow. After a great war, harsh years of famine are sure to follow.