The famous Latin maxim – “Si vis pacem, para bellum” – implies several meanings. One is that if you want peace, you should be strong enough to stand up against and defeat your enemy. Otherwise, your wish is likely to be nothing but a hollow dream.
Aggressive, stronger nations do not listen to a weak country when it pleads for peace. If you are not strong, you soon find that hoping for peace is just wishful thinking.
The maxim also implies that a nation planning a war can put its enemies off guard by chanting peace. Thus you should be suspicious of an aggressive country if it constantly or abruptly preaches calm. Historically, aggressive countries have almost always talked peace to deceive a weaker country before they invaded it.
Therefore, you should be alert and prepared for war when a hostile country proclaims peace that turns into a political ideology. Otherwise, you risk being deceived and losing your sovereignty.
Other interpretations of the maxim include the idea that preparing for peace may prompt another party to wage war. That could be another country or a faction inside your own country. Referring to the recent the North-South agreement, a foreign expert recently told 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 added: “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.” His warning is prescient.
Currently, opinion in South Korea is sharply torn between pro-North Korea voices and anti-North Korea voices. 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 sympathisers will support them.
Of course, it would not happen unless Washington pulls out its troops from South Korea. But who knows? A retired US Army general recently wrote that Washington should consider pulling its troops out 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 interventions in the first and second world wars are good examples. If you want to enjoy peace, sometimes you need to take up arms.
Washington my now be considering this option, especially if it regards nuclear North Korea’s launch of test missiles that can reach the US as a symbolic act of war.
The rationale would be that the US has a solemn duty to defend itself and bring peace through pre-emptive strikes on North Korea. Hopefully the May summit meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un will remove this option from the table.
Peace is not given free.
We want it so desperately that some of us are thrilled by the recent Olympic friendliness on the peninsula. It is a relief to be sure. Nevertheless, to be intoxicated by the optimistic mood would be naïve and dangerous. Peace is given only to those who are strong and prepared for war.
– The Korea Herald/Asia News Network
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and distinguished visiting professor at George Washington University.