The famous Latin maxim “Si vis pacem, para bellum” means “If you want peace, prepare for war.” It implies several meanings. One meaning is “If you want peace, you should be strong enough to stand up against and defeat your enemy.” Otherwise, your wish for peace is likely to be nothing but a hollow dream.
Indeed, aggressive, stronger nations would not listen to a weak nation when it pleads for peace. If you are not strong, you will soon find that hoping for peace is only wishful thinking.
Another meaning of the maxim is that a nation that is planning a war would, in fact, put other nations off guard by chanting peace. Thus you should be suspicious of an aggressive country if it constantly or abruptly preaches peace. Historically, aggressive countries have almost always cultivated peace to deceive a weaker country before they actually invaded it.
Therefore, you should be alert and prepared for war when and if a hostile country proclaims peace that turns into a political ideology. Otherwise, you will be deceived by your enemy and end up losing your sovereignty.
Other interpretations of the maxim include the idea that preparing for peace may lead another party to wage war. That could be another country or another faction inside your country. Referring to the recent the North-South agreement, a foreign expert recently wrote to me, “No one disagrees with peace on the peninsula, but it could end up adding another sword if not handled properly.
The critical danger is the possibility of dividing South Korea into two -- West and East. If that happens, Korea will be conquered again, this time by the North.” He continued, “A nation that strives to solve issues in such (a) manner always ends up creating bigger ones, and mostly because of lack of an eclectic mindset.” We should listen to his admonition.
Currently, South Korea is sharply torn between pro-North Korea people and anti-North Korea people. The problem is that if the South is divided as such, North Korea will surely take advantage of the situation and try to unify the peninsula under its regime. As they did just before the Korean War, North Korean leaders may once again misjudge the situation in the South and come down, expecting many North-Korea sympathizers will support them.
Of course, it would not happen unless Washington pulls out its troops from South Korea. But who knows? Recently, a retired US Army general wrote that the US government should seriously consider pulling out its troops from South Korea and let South Korea deal with North Korea by itself.
He argues that with its superior armed forces, South Korea will be able to overpower the North. However, how a country that has depended on the US troops for the past seven decades can overpower a nation armed with nuclear missiles eludes me. This kind of American isolationism will put South Korea in harm’s way just as the Acheson Line did before the Korean War.
The third interpretation of the maxim is that in order to maintain peace, you may need to wage war to deter another war. The US intervention in World War I and II are good examples. It is true that sometimes waging war is necessary to bring about peace. In 1907, the US National Arbitration and Peace Congress, chaired by Andrew Carnegie, announced, “Today they say, if you want peace, prepare for war. This Congress says in behalf of the people: Si vis pacem, para pactum. If you want peace, agree to keep the peace.” Indeed, if you want to enjoy peace, sometimes you need to wage war.
This may be what Washington may consider as an option these days, assuming that by launching nuclear ballistic test missiles that can reach the US territory, North Korea has already begun war against the US symbolically and rhetorically.
The rationale is that, therefore, the United States has a solemn duty to defend itself and bring peace through pre-emptive strikes on North Korea. When and if the summit meeting is realized in the near future, however, this option will not be feasible and thus hopefully will be abolished.
Peace is not given free. On the contrary, peace is costly and given to only those who are strong and prepared for war. We should be patient, for peace comes slowly, as W.B. Yates says in his celebrated poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”: I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree/ And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made/ Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee/ And live alone in the bee-loud glade/ And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow/ Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings.”
We want peace so desperately that we are excited about the recent peace mood on the peninsula. It is a relief to be sure. Nevertheless, we should not be naively intoxicated with optimism. Peace is given only to those who are strong and even prepared for war. By Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and distinguished visiting professor at George Washington University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org –Ed.