Translation:Exhortation to the military officers

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Exhortation to the military officers
by Trần Hưng Đạo, translated from Vietnamese by Wikisource

I have often read the story of Ji Xin who replaced the Emperor Gao of Han to save him from death, of Yao Yu who took a blow in his back to spare King Chao, of Yu Rang who swallowed burning charcoal to avenge his leader, of Shin Kuai who cut off an arm to save his country, of young Jing De who rescued the Emperor Taizong of Tang besieged by Wang Shi Chong, and Gao Qing, a subject living far from the Court, who insulted the rebel An Lu Shan to his face. Every century has produced heroes who have sacrificed their lives for their country. If they had remained at home to die by the fire, would their names have been inscribed on bamboo and silk to live eternally in Heaven and on the Earth?

But as descendants of warrior families, you are not well-versed in letters; on hearing about these deeds of the past, you may have some doubts. Let us speak of them no more. I shall tell you instead of several more recent events that have taken place during the years of the Song and Yuan dynasties.

Who was Wang Gongjian? And who was his lieutenant Ruan Wen Li? They were the ones who defended the great citadel of Diao Yu against Mongke's immense army; Therefore, the Song people will be eternally grateful to them. Who was Uriyangqatai? And who was his lieutenant Qisusi? They were the ones who drove deep into an unhealthful country in order to put down the Nanchao bandits and they did it within the space of a few weeks; therefore, their names have remained rooted in the minds of the Mongol military chieftains.

You and I were born in a period of troubles and have grown up at a time when the Motherland is in danger. We have seen the enemy ambassadors haughtily traveling over our roads and wagging their owlish tongues to insult the Court; despicable as dogs and goats, they boldly humiliate our high officials. Supported by Kubilai Khan, they incessantly demand the payment of pearls, silks, gold and silver. Our wealth is limited but their cupidity is infinite. To yield to their exactions would be to feed their insatiable appetites and would set a dangerous precedent for the future.

In the face of these dangers to the Motherland, I fail to eat during the day and to sleep at night. Tears roll down my cheeks and my heart bleeds as if it were being cut to shreds. I tremble with anger because I cannot eat our enemy's flesh, lie down in his skin, chew up his liver, and drink his blood. I would gladly surrender my life a thousand times on the field of battle if I could do these things.

You have served in the army under my orders for a long time. When you needed clothing, I clothed you; when you lacked rice, I fed you; when your rank was too low, I promoted you; when your pay was insufficient, I increased it. If you had to travel by water, I supplied you with vessels; if you had to travel by land, I supplied you with horses. In time of war, we shared the same dangers; at the banquet table our laughter resounded in unison. Indeed, even Wang Gong Jian and Uriyangqatai did not show more solicitude for their officers than I have displayed for you.

And now, you remain calm when your emperor is humiliated; you remain indifferent when your country is threatened! You, officers, are forced to serve the barbarians and you feel no shame! You hear the music played for their ambassadors and you do not leap up in anger. No, you amuse yourselves at the cockfights, in gambling, in the possession of your gardens and rice fields, and in the tranquility of family life. The exploitation of your personal affairs makes you forget your duties to the State; the distractions of the fields and of the hunt make you neglect military exercises; you are seduced by liquor and music. If the enemy comes, will your cocks' spurs be able to pierce his armor? Will the ruses you use in your games of chance be of use in repulsing him? Will the love of your wives and children be of any use in the Army? Your money would neither suffice to buy the enemy's death, your alcohol to besot him, nor your music to deafen him. All of us, you and I together, would then be taken prisoner. What grief! And not only would I lose my fief, but your property too would fall into enemy hands. It would not be my family alone that would be driven out, but your wives and children would also be reduced to slavery. It would not be only the graves of my ancestors that would be trampled under the invader's heel, but those of your ancestors would also be violated. I would be humiliated in this life and in a hundred others to come, and my name would be ignominiously tarnished. Your family's honor would also be sullied forever with the shame of your defeat. Tell me: Could you then indulge yourselves in pleasures?

I say to you in all frankness: Take care as if you were piling wood by the fire or about to imbibe a hot liquid. Exercise your soldiers in the skills of archery until they are the equals of Peng Meng and Hou Yi, those famous archers of olden times. Then we will display Kublai's head at the gates of the Imperial Palace and send the Prince of Yunnan to the gallows. After that, not only my fief will be safe forever, but your privileges too will be assured for the future. Not only my family will enjoy the comforts of life, but you too will be able to spend your old age with your wives and children. Not only the memory of my ancestors will be venerated from generation to generation, but yours too will be worshipped in the spring and autumn of every year. Not only will I have accomplished my aspirations in this life, but your fame too will endure for a hundred centuries to come. Not only will my name be immortalized, but yours too will find a place in our nation's history. At that moment, would you not be perfectly happy even if you did not expect to be?

I have studied every military treatise in order to write my manual entitled "Principles of Military Strategy". If you will make an effort to study it conscientiously, to instruct yourselves in its teachings, and to follow my directions, you will become my true companions-in-arms. On the other hand, if you fail to study it and ignore my advice, you will become my enemies. Why? Because the Mongols are our mortal enemies; we cannot live under the same sky with them. If you refuse to fight the Mongols in order to wash away the national shame, if you do not train your soldiers to drive out these barbarians, it would be to surrender to them. If that is what you want, your names will be dishonored forever. And when the enemy has finally been defeated, how will you be able to hold your head high between Heaven and Earth? The purpose of this proclamation is to let you know my deepest thoughts.