Carthago delenda est!

 (All, I'll be taking another leave from this blog.  I'll be back in China for a month on business and not able to post until the latter part of October.  Yeah, there are some editing issues with this post, but I'm too tired to fix them, or figure out how.   Pls keep your comments coming, I'll be sure to reply to them all!)

People like to talk about the Thucydides Trap. The war made famous by the Greek historian, describing the rivalry between the then dominant Sparta and the fledgling  Athens.

This took place in the 4th century BC.  It of course mirrors the so called situation today between America and China.  However, while we all consider America Sparta and China Athens, was not China the Sparta of its day?

For probably a millennium China was The Big Dog on this Tiny Blue Ball of ours.  Indeed, during the time of the Peloponnesian War, China though deep in a Civil War, the Warring States Period, probably could have easily more than rivaled the overall military power of either Sparta or Athens.

But I want to talk about another episode of history that took place later.  Three hundred years later to be exact.   It is far more relevant today, and yet another example of why we must all take the time to read.  (Be interesting!)

The Romans before they became the Romans that ruled Syria, and present day Israel and nearly all the Middle East, didn't even control Sicily!  Another power did.  A strong naval power in fact.  This power was without question the naval power of its time and strategically dominated the waterways separating North Africa from Italy.  Again, even Sicily was under their sphere of influence.

One must ask how Britain would like it if any of its islands were under the influence of another European power?  Or  how America would react should Puerto Rico still belong to Spain?

Or Taiwan not belonging to China... (Whoops! nevermind...)

Rome was the growing power. Still,  the incumbent power did nothing.  It took a passive view.  Afterall, it had the strongest navy in the world at that time.   Eventually, though, the rising power simply becomes too strong and war of course as expected ensues.  And the incumbent power gets knocked down to size.

A generation later they have yet another war.  This second war ends in 201 BC.

Again Rome is the victor.

By this time, the once proud and invincible power is on the verge of nothing more than a simple footnote on a history page.   Rome is the undisputed ruler of the Mediterranean.  And will last several more centuries.  Six to be precise.  But no one knows this then.

Meanwhile, the once proud nation that has been defeated not once but twice has an indemnity to pay.  An indemnity is what the winners call a "debt".   In the aftermath of this second conflict not only was more land was taken from the loser, but the indemnity itself increased.  How humiliating!  Sicily is long gone!   So strong was Rome, and so unafraid to humiliate or deny Face to its conquered enemy that neither fear nor consequence entered the mind of Rome. 

Was Rome now becoming full of hubris?

Then something happened; you see, this defeated and humbled power, loser of Sicily, and deep in debt, discovered silver mines in Portugal This in turn allowed it to pay off its debts to Rome far ahead of schedule, and quite frankly to also stealthily rearm.  Under the treaty of the 2nd conflict, this once seafaring power not only owed 300 tons of silver to Rome, but was only allowed a quota of 10 warships, the better to ward off pirates.

Similar to how China today needs a navy not so much to threaten or bully the American Navy as much as to simply protect its supply lines of oil going through the Straits of Malacca. 

But now the debt was paid off.  It is here we fast forward some 2000 years, to around twenty years ago actually.  Why?  It was during this time an archaeologist discovered that this former great naval power so decisively defeated by Rome not once but twice was cheating on the terms of the treaty.  We must remember, the Victor writes not only the History, but the treaty as well.

This humbled power it turns out was maintaining not 10 warships but had actually accumulated the new capability of building 200 warships, all hidden from view.  It turns out this defeated foe had yet to learn its lesson about humiliation, but rather still had the gall to "cheat" on a treaty it had signed.

Alas, this former power felt with the indemnity paid off, the treaty from the second war was thus over.  Rome disagreed.

An important era between the 2nd war and the inevitable third conflict saw a great debate spring up amongst Roman Senatorial circles.

This is where an old man named Cato came into play.  A farmer, a politician, and a former soldier, Cato eventually became known as Cato the Elder.   And Cato incessantly believed this former great rival must be destroyed. He famously began to end everywhere speech with the phrase:

Carthago delenda est!

The mining of silver on the Iberian Peninsula had made this rival rich.  And if a people with solid finances and a sense of destiny suddenly became wealthy, they would of course build a Navy, right?  Just as Rome had.  Actually Rome had a bit of luck.  Rome had defeated this naval power by actually copying its naval design.  But the fact Rome "copied" naval designs from a foe it conquered was oh "so long ago". 

It is ironic to learn this former rival defeated by Rome had actually not only been the former naval power in the region, but actually had a treaty  with Rome at one time forbidding it from entering its side of the Mediterranean.  Now Rome owned it all. 

Yet despite Rome's new found domination, it was inevitable that two factions would eventually rise up within the ranks of the Roman Senate.  

One faction was of course led by Cato.  At the ripe old age of 77, when the average lifespan was probably no more than 35, Cato visited the territory Rome had not once but twice defeated.  A place twice penalized with an indemnity calculated to take decades to pay off, as stated above it was paid off in advance.  And now Cato was visiting on a diplomatic mission. An ornery old man with an agenda.

And Cato was quite taken aback with what he saw.  In a word "wealth".   How could a nation twice defeated by the Romans be so prosperous?    Indeed, Cato was taken aback with surprise and possibly even fear at what he had seen.  After all, is not wealth the most important source of military power? 

Upon returning to Rome he gave yet another speech.

For his time, one cannot help but thing Cato the Elder reminded everyone of Churchill's dire warnings against Hitler.   Except this supposed enemy was not entirely a wicked kingdom, and one could be forgiven if one were to believe Cato was simply prone to drama in his old age and a guiltless promoter of fear to get his point across.

Still do we not 2000 years later remember his name?

One famous speech upon his return tells us Cato either simply took off his toga, or released the folds from within and allowed fat figs to fall to the floor.  Apparently in the time leading up to Christ, figs were a fashionable fruit of the era.

The figs were impressive. 

Cato claimed the figs came from a place "only three days sail from here".

Yet as a negative balances out a positive, Cato did have a rival from within.  Someone to challenge his narrative.  A man named  Publius Cornelius.   Who in response to Cato in turn began to end every speech in the Senate with the quick retort:

Carthago servanda est…!

Publius was adamant that Rome needed a rival, or else Rome would simply wither on the vine.  Cato preached fear.  This kingdom now twice defeated was again on the take.  And was Young.  Not unlike Rome many decades previous.

Cato feared its rise.  Publius simply stated in order for Rome to survive and thrive, an enemy was necessary.  A rival must exist.  That a nation without a “close peer” would simply sink into decay and corruption, before being inevitably replace.

Cato however won the day.  Fear over reason triumphed.  (Or was it hubris and ambition over…..everything else?) And who could blame Rome?  Had not Rome once been a simple village less than a century ago?  And had not this power done everything in its possible to keep the “new” rising power down; to “contain” this power?

When Rome was young, the incumbent rival did nothing.  And this was a big mistake.  Rome acted differently from its predecessor however.  It struck before its rival could fully regain its strength.  No niceties were involved. No drawn out threats or communicated ultimatums.  In short, it did not act like the liberal democracy of its era that it was. 

Maybe Rome simply knew its history.  The memories of a rising power displacing the

One nation that once dared to contain Rome.  What if Rome all those years ago had simply done what it was told, and never crossed that imaginary line in the Mediterranean? 

If Rome did not believe in its destiny the world today would be different.

Alas, a third war between Rome and its rival ensued, and Rome won handily.  This time it guaranteed there would be no Act IV.   However the stories we've all heard of salt being plowed into the ground are false.  Carthage was indeed destroyed, its population becoming slaves. 

Carthago delenda est!   Carthage must be destroyed!

Carthago servanda est…! Carthage must be saved!

Today we do not live in extremes.  Those things we write about cannot take place now.  We are civilized, right?
The Mediterranean of our time is the South China Sea.
But I ask, who is Carthage and who is Rome?  Who is the true usurper?  And who deserves to be the ruler and the ruled? 


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