In The New York Times this morning, Isabel Kershner begins her news coverage of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s first speech with these words:
In a blunt and belligerent speech on his first day as Israel’s's new foreign minister, the hawkish nationalist Avigdor Lieberman declared Wednesday that “those who wish for peace should prepare for war” . . .
In addition to “blunt and belligerent” and “hawkish nationalist,” Kershner in the course of her article describes Lieberman as “ultra-nationalist,” “unsubtle and often unpredictable,” “not known for diplomacy,” “contentious,” “seen by many as racist,” “often contradictory” and “contrary in his positions.”
It is of course not good to be a blunt belligerent ultra-nationalist unsubtle unpredictable contentious contradictory racist, but it is also possible Kershner did not recognize the derivation of Lieberman’s reference to preparing for war. Here is the portion of Lieberman’s speech in which the reference appeared:
We have seen that . . . after all the gestures that we made, after all the dramatic steps we took and all the far reaching proposals we presented, in the past few years this country has gone through wars — the Second War in Lebanon and Operation Cast Lead – and not because we choose to. I have not seen peace here. . . .
We are also losing ground every day in public opinion. Does anyone think that concessions, and constantly saying “I am prepared to concede,” and using the word “peace” will lead to anything? No, that will just invite pressure, and more and more wars. “Si vis pacem, para bellum” – if you want peace, prepare for war, be strong.
“Si vis pacem, para bellum” is a Latin adage with a long history. It is generally attributed to an ancient Roman military writer. Here, French historian De Bourrienne references it in discussing Napoleon’s foreign policy:
Everyone knows the adage . . . . Had Bonaparte been a Latin scholar he would probably have reversed it and said, Si vis bellum para pacem” [meaning that if you are planning a war you should put other nations off guard by cultivating peace].
Sometimes a “peace process” can lead to war. Sometimes the “peace of the brave” turns out to be a trick. Sometimes a peace agreement does not actually lead to peace in our time. And always, if you want peace, it is necessary to prepare for war and be strong. We’ve known this for nearly 2,000 years, and you should be able to express it on your first day in a new position without being vilified in a “news article” by The New York Times.