If You Want Peace, Prepare for War

By | July 22, 2020

[July 22, 2020]  Experienced leaders understand that not everything they do is intuitive or makes complete sense on the surface of it.  When it comes to carrying out one’s duties, success is often hard-won, complex and ambiguous, and requires good judgment.  That is why the concept – if you want peace, prepare for war – is both controversial and contentious.

“Si vis Pacem, Para Bellum.” – classical Latin, meaning If you want peace, prepare for war1

The phrase is an adaptation from a statement found in Latin author Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus’s works from the 4th or 5th century AD.  The idea that it conveys also appears in earlier works such as Plato’s Nomoi (Laws) and the Chinese Shi Ji.2  It represents the counter-intuitive insight that the conditions of peace are preserved by a readiness to make war when necessitated.

Whatever the source, the adage has become a living vocabulary item itself, used throughout the world with only slight variations in meaning. Undoubtedly, the concept has been around since the dawn of humankind and is reflected in the more recent written philosophies of statesmen beginning with the establishment of city-states.  Its meaning is clear, if a nation wants security and harmony, then it must be prepared to use violence.  Prevention is the key.

It is written in Matthew 5:5, that Jesus said that the “meek” shall inherit the Earth.  The translation from Greek misinterpreted the Biblical phrase.  Meek means, in this context, not someone who gives up or runs away or turns the other cheek, but someone who is capable of force and decides not to use it unless needed.  A more literal translation would meek refers to those who have weapons and know to use them but are determined to keep them sheathed.3

A more straightforward interpretation is “be prepared.”  Be prepared for anything that may come your way.  It is a well established personal philosophy.  For leaders, it is mandatory.  A leader who cannot foresee what may come about in the future is not a reliable leader in times of great emergency.  It’s also the American Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared.

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Si_vis_pacem,_para_bellum
  2. https://www.thoughtco.com/sima-qian-father-of-chinese-history-119045
  3. https://www.theleadermaker.com/leaders-discuss-beauty-the-beast-story/
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “If You Want Peace, Prepare for War

  1. Fred Weber

    No doubt there is an element of truth in this. In the present state of the world, no nation is safe that relies for its safety solely on the honor and good-will of its neighbors.

    Reply
    1. Dennis Mathes

      … also, I will add Fred, that nations that do rely on others for their protection are at risk of falling prey to the will of those same nations.

      Reply
  2. Wilson Cox

    This piece of advice sounds plausible. It means that if a nation is well-armed and ready for war, other nations will be chary of attacking it. In this way it will avoid war and have peace. Whereas an unarmed nation will be an easy prey to any enemy.

    Reply
  3. Max Foster

    Many military thinkers have modified Vegetius’ ideas for a different time, such as to the shorter expression of “peace through strength.” Roman Emperor Hadrian (76–138) was probably the first to use that expression. He has been quoted as saying “peace through strength or, failing that, peace through threat.” In the United States, Theodore Roosevelt coined the phrase “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

    Reply
    1. Gil Johnson

      Ronald Reagan brought “peace through strength” back into the limelight in 1980, accusing President Jimmy Carter of weakness on the international stage. Said Reagan: “We know that peace is the condition under which mankind was meant to flourish. Yet peace does not exist of its own will. It depends on us, on our courage to build it and guard it and pass it on to future generations.”

      Reply
    2. Linux Man

      His writings had little influence on the military leaders of his own day, but there was a particular interest in Vegetius’ work later, in Europe.

      Reply
  4. Harry B. Donner

    FYI …
    The original Latin of the expression “if you want peace, prepare for war” comes from the book “Epitoma Rei Militaris,” by the Roman general Vegetius (whose full name was Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus). The Latin is, “Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum.”

    Reply
  5. Valkerie

    Pow, you hit the target with this article. Very educational. Thank you General Satterfield.

    Reply
  6. Dale Paul Fox

    Well said guys. This is another of the better blog posts because it hits at the heart of leadership and how great leaders can properly prepare their community and nations. It also applies at the much lower level such as the family. To be at peace (stability and security) then you must be ready for war (chaos, emergencies, etc.). This is no small thing. I wish that I’d been educated on this earlier in my life.

    Reply
    1. Yusaf from Texas

      We all wish we had. If you are like me Dale, you grew up before the Internet and email. We had to physically go to the library and then no one pointed us in the right direction on what to read.

      Reply
  7. JT Patterson

    The meaning of “if you want peace, prepare for war” has indeed been around since the beginning of mankind and is endemic in ALL civilizations, including those that have fallen – like Carthage. Good article worth all of us reading a couple of times to get the full meaning.

    Reply
  8. Army Captain

    Gen. Satterfield, well written article on an amazing idea. Be Prepared. Too many people today live paycheck to paycheck and have put nothing aside for an emergency. Like they believe stability is the norm while that has never been the case. Same applies for nations and cities. Be ready for war by holding onto your sword.

    Reply
    1. Roger Yellowmule

      Good point, Army Capt. I must say you nailed it today. Just like Gen. Satterfield noted several articles ago that we must be “meek” …. not a wimp, but have our weapons at the ready and have the good judgment of when or when not to use them.

      Reply
  9. Wendy Holmes

    Excellent article, thanks Gen. Satterfield. I had never seen the Latin version before but the fact that ancient peoples discussed and debated the idea – and it floated to the top of great ideas – says a lot about its veracity.

    Reply
    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Yes, key idea that none of us should over look while reading this blog.

      Reply
      1. Newbie Yunger

        Wendy and Tom, you are correct about how ideas that are the most correct and most powerful drift up to the top of the heap. That has always been the case. This one is a meta-idea. Never forget it. 😊

        Reply
    2. Greg Heyman

      Same here Wendy, I never saw it either. Now, just how to you pronounce it in Latin? Guess that we will never know.

      Reply

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