October 09, 2006

Ex bellis bella seruntur

In English: From wars wars are sown.

The saying is adapted from the Roman historian Livy (21.10; you can also read an English translation online). The Carthaginian Hanno is desperately trying to persuade the Carthaginians to come to terms with the Romans. Although Hannibal has destroyed Saguntum (in 218 B.C.E.), Hanno warns the Carthaginians that this victory will in fact prove to be their defeat. I thought I would post this proverb today because of the news today about an alleged nuclear weapons test by North Korea. The arms race has been going strong for my entire existence on this planet, and more years than that - and it looks like it hasn't stopped yet.

As it happens, just this weekend I read an extremely informative and deeply moving book about the arms race in America, conceived as a history of the Pentagon - the building, but also the mentality that has been bred in and by that building. The author is James Carroll (perhaps known to readers of this blog as the author of Constantine's Sword), and the title is House of War. Even though it is enormously long, I read this book through from start to finish. Carroll strikes a powerful emotional balance between the historical account of the Pentagon with his own personal history: both Carroll and the Pentagon were born in the same week in 1943, and Carroll's father was General Joseph Carroll, whose military career is entwined with the evolution of the Pentagon itself.

Today's proverb could serve as a motto for this book, showing how America's belligerent policies over the decades have spawned only more belligerence, with a multi-trillion dollar industry built in the name of war, not peace. We have insanely invested in not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. That is a topic I wish we discussed on the news with the eagerness that people have been poring over the news of the test in North Korea. You think the US arms race is old news? Try reading this article from the London Guardian about the Bush administration's avid interest in developing nuclear weapons with resources the North Koreans could not amass in their wildest dreams:
The Bush administration is planning a secret meeting in August to discuss the construction of a new generation of nuclear weapons, including "mini-nukes", "bunker-busters" and neutron bombs designed to destroy chemical or biological agents, according to a leaked Pentagon document. The meeting of senior military officials and US nuclear scientists at the Omaha headquarters of the US Strategic Command would also decide whether to restart nuclear testing and how to convince the American public that the new weapons are necessary.
Wars from wars... weapons from weapons. Is this a lesson we will ever learn?

In hopes of a future that will be wiser than our past, here is today's proverb read out loud:

3033. Ex bellis bella seruntur.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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