Of War and Peace


‘If you want peace, prepare for war.’ This famous advice, often attributed convincingly enough to Julius Caesar but in fact first formulated by Vegetius in his Epitoma Rei Militaris concerning the need to prepare constantly for war in order to ensure peace, has evidently been taken to heart, for it would result in a world very like today’s, where all nations spend a large proportion of their wealth on the military. A balance has always had to be struck between preparations for war and the enjoyment of peace. War and war preparations are undoubtedly costly, yet the danger of neglecting the martial arts is that all the advantages of peace - prosperity, and the celebration of everything that is fine in life - may all be swept away by an invasion of barbarians.


The dilemma is epitomised by the history of the Song Dynasty (960 - 1297). The Song dynasty occupied most of what is present-day China, and brought unity and prosperity to their domain for over three hundred years. This was a time, described as ‘the Chinese renaissance’, when cities were developed and international trade flourished. It was a period of unparalleled growth coupled with great artistic and intellectual achievement. The compass was invented. A method of printing had been discovered in a previous dynasty, but the Song brought it into wide use, making literature readily available to aspiring scholars. Ceramics and painting reached a new height of elegance. They invented gunpowder, but, Song-like, used it not for weaponry but to facilitate mining!


However, with this emphasis on philosophy and peaceful endeavour, military matters became relatively neglected. There were military opportunities to enlarge their domain further when their northern neighbours were busy weakening each other with continual squabbles, but the Song disdained to take advantage, and chose instead to increase economic wealth, improve the arts and simply enjoy living.


Eventually the warlike Jin dynasty conquered half the Song territory to the north, and the Song thereafter were forced to placate their fierce neighbours, deterring them from invading the rest of the territory with heavy annual tributes of 100,000 ounces of silver and 200,000 bolts of silk. Their experiment in peaceful living finally came to an end with the invasion from the north by the Mongols led by Genghis Khan. If no provision can be made for Genghis Khans, the condition of a peace-loving country will always be precarious.


What is the moral to this story? It is not that we must renounce civilisation, and instead urge that each nation turn its attention to war and spend its resources so that it bristles with weaponry. The moral is that we must control Genghis Khan.


Next month: With a Song in our hearts: A solution to the problem of Genghis Khan


Harry Davis